Stephanie Szostak is a French American actress. Szostak is best known for having appeared in the films The Devil Wears Prada, Dinner for Schmucks, Iron Man 3, and R.I.P.D. Szostak starred in the USA Network original drama series Satisfaction and the ABC series A Million Little Things.
So inspired by Stephanie Szostak’s own mental health journey, the book Self!sh is built around eight self-reflection exercises that guide readers to create their own personal Playbook for their mindset; a unique tool kit to cope and grow in everyday life. Woven throughout the book is a collection if inspirational stories of overcoming great odds from ambassadors of the mental health organization “Give an Hour,” to which Stephanie is donating 50% of her proceeds.
“I didn’t plan on writing a book about mental health or well-being, but my personal experience led me to create a Playbook to help quiet down the noise and cultivate a healthy mindset” “I didn’t plan on writing a book about mental health or well-being, but my personal experience led me to create a Playbook to help quiet down the noise and cultivate a healthy mindset”
Stephanie is passionate about mental health fitness and has developed and personally used the tools in her book for over a decade help overcome personal challenges improve her everyday mindset—from the feeling of imposter syndrome while working with Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd on “Dinner for Schmucks,” to dealing with feelings of insecurity as a French immigrant, and even improving her golf game.
I had the pleasure of interviewing her about the book and what this mean for her.
You are an actress, what drove you to write a book about mental health?
I recently came across an interesting statistic: within 15 minutes of waking up, we consume as much information through our phones as the average person did over the course of one week 50 years ago. The result? We’re stressed, distracted, anxious, fearful, sleep deprived, and angry!
What if we could flip the script? Start our day by choosing the ingredients we feed our minds and souls, rather than allowing someone else to cook up the fear, doubt, and alarming content (that may do well with viewership but so poorly for our well-being)? Imagine how much better we would feel, and how much better we would respond to the inevitable challenges and obstacles of the day.
We all understand the importance and benefits of having a physical fitness practice, maintaining personal hygiene, and following a skincare regimen (yes, even that!). Isn’t our emotional health just as crucial?
I didn’t plan on writing a book about mental health or well-being, but my personal experience led me to create a Playbook to help quiet down the “noise” and cultivate a healthy mindset. During the pandemic, I shared this concept with Give an Hour, a national mental health non-profit, and they asked me to do a Webinar Series. Then, a local entrepreneur from my town, who’s business was struggling due to COVID, suggested I write a book to guide people to create their own playbook. In short, that's how SELF!SH got started.
¨”I learned tools to unlearn toxic inner-dialogue and thinking traps that were well-grooved in. I developed a sense of self-worth that wasn’t tied to other people’s opinions or career success”
Here’s the backstory: I started acting at age 30 and did not have any mental fitness regimen. Often my identity and self-worth were all tied up in my career. The problem with that is when I faced rejection after rejection, had a slow quarter, or a “very quiet year” as my manager once pointed out, my confidence started to rattle.
Surprisingly, things got even worse when I finally got a big break. Ten years into my career, after hustling to find work, I landed my first lead role in a big studio movie. Hollywood finally opened up its door, let me onto the Paramount lot, but once I was there, fear took over. Instead of being on set and ‘playing,’ I was judging my every take—“That sucked, they’re going to think it sucked, they’re going to think I suck, I do suck. I’m going to get fired.” There I was on the set of Dinner for Schmucks, playing opposite Paul Rudd and Steve Carell, being directed by Jay Roach of Meet the Parents and Austin Powers and my confidence crumbled. I was in a new environment, feeling like I was the least experienced one there (which I was), the least successful one there (which I was), and I felt like I didn’t belong. I did my best to snap out of it, countering with positive self-talk like “just do you,” “be yourself,” “this is what you’ve been working for,” “you earned the right to be here” but none of it was enough to debunk the doubt. I didn’t have the tools to recalibrate.
The upside of all of this is that it drove me to address my mental game. I turned to books and podcasts and discovered strategies that helped with confidence and self-awareness. I learned tools to unlearn toxic inner-dialogue and thinking traps that were well-grooved in. I developed a sense of self-worth that wasn’t tied to other people’s opinions or career success. And I adopted practices that brought calm and peace of mind. I got the best kind of makeover out there — a mindset makeover.
But the challenge was, how do I make it stick? How do I remember all this guidance and insight and not allow it to get lost on my laptop, phone or get completely forgotten. This was the basis for my Playbook: have a common place to consolidate and thread together all that helps me think better, feel better, and do better. I created my Playbook back in 2018, and starting my day became like doing reps at the gym, except those reps aren’t for physical strength but for mental strength. The more consistent the reps, the better prepared I find myself to respond (vs. react) to the day.
So, I never thought I’d write a book about mental health or well-being and trust me, this process has given me a healthy dose of self-doubt (what am I doing?) and some fear (actual professionals are going to laugh at this!) But one of the most rewarding aspects of sharing this concept has been seeing some of my closest friends and loved ones create their own playbooks, and attest to the value it brings to their lives. Just a couple of weeks ago, a friend shared that she helped her teenage daughter start her Playbook. It’s moments like these that drive me to share Self!sh, knowing many more can benefit.
What is the added value of the book? knowing that there are many books dealing with the same subject.
There are many books out there on the subject of growth, and self-improvement, or dare I say “self-help” but what sets this workbook apart is that it gives you a tangible tool to walk away with: a self-created, personally designed Playbook. After reading most books you read the book, get great insight but often the concepts don’t stick. So how do you stay on track? SELF!SH offers a framework that continues to serve you long after you’ve finished reading. The hope is that you’ll keep adding to your playbook as you grow and use it as a daily practice of mental fitness.
“SELF!SH offers a framework that continues to serve you long after you’ve finished reading. The hope is that you’ll keep adding to your playbook as you grow and use it as a daily practice of mental fitness”.
The most recent addition to my playbook, came after a phone conversation with my 88-year-old dad. He’s been an inspiration throughout my life, he still works, and I was telling him about a challenging situation I was facing (I had to prepare a speech I am giving next month, my son had to have surgery on a broken ankle, and I had to promote this book while SAG is on strike - yet, nothing seemed more important than taking care of my son so I was ready to dump everything else). My Dad shared his wisdom with me : “Life is like a series of hurdles to overcome. When faced with a somewhat overwhelming problem, break it down to a series of attainable sized hurdles, with little victories at each step passed. And thus, a little more confidence. And sometimes resulting in real momentum going.” I loved it so much, I asked him to repeat it, and now it’s in my playbook. Seeing it every day, not only serves as a reminder to put his advice into practice but also makes.
As a reminder to put his advice into practice but also makes me think of him, smile, and feel grateful for our relationship.