I first heard the term Shine Theory when I thanked a friend of mine for sending me a job opportunity she had seen online. I had previously told her that I was looking for more corporate roleplay work. I am a writer and a performer, and roleplay was something I had always been interested in and now felt ready to embark upon. A few days later, my friend emailed me a screenshot of a callout for roleplay actors. I applied, booked a meeting and subsequently booked a job. The next time I saw my friend I told her the good news. She nodded, smiled and said the words ‘shine theory.’
Created by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman, Shine Theory ‘is a commitment to asking, “Would we be better as collaborators than as competitors?’ Society has permeated the idea of women being in competition with each other. We’re encouraged to compare ourselves to others and resent those who seemingly have it all. Shine Theory is about overturning our insecurities and genuinely befriending the people whose success and confidence intimidates us. Simply put, Shine Theory is the understanding that when we empower each other, we all benefit. We all shine.
If we are judged by the company we keep, then why wouldn’t we want to surround ourselves with people we look up to? People with confidence and personality, knowledge and experience. We learn and grow when we share space and time with people we admire and genuinely care about.
The keyword being genuine. Shine Theory isn’t a glorified networking exercise. It relies on a genuine mutual investment in a person.
Shine Theory is something that I am conscious of as a freelancer working in the performing arts. The performing arts are a notoriously oversaturated industry and competition is fierce. A recent study showed that 90% of actors are unemployed and that ‘as low as 2% of actors are able to make a living out of acting.’ With these types of statistics, it’s no wonder that people might be tempted to keep their cards close to their chest.
When I first started in the industry, I felt uncomfortable being encouraged to view my peers as the competition. I’ve been in situations where when asked I’ve told someone about the project I was working on, they whipped out a notebook from thin air and furiously wrote down the details of what I was saying. The conversation ended after they closed their notebook.
Superficial attempts at networking are not Shine Theory. If you’re hoping to befriend someone in the hope of riding on their coattails, it’s not going to work.
I’ve had more blatant experiences with colleagues who I thought were friends. Conversations were a list of questions about the other person’s career, which were really thinly veiled attempts to find out ‘is she doing better than me? Am I being left behind?’
This encourages competitive relationships rather than allyships, even friends. We convince ourselves that if we share too much we will miss out on opportunities. When obviously there is room for all of us.
A prime example of Shine Theory in action was back in 2016 when Barack Obama was president of the United States, his female aids adopted a strategy of amplification. The women began supporting each other’s suggestions by repeating them and crediting each other so that the ideas couldn’t be reclaimed by anyone else. In a highly pressured, high powered job it was integral to create a support system like this where the women were united, rather than struggle individually against the dominating male voices in the room.
Unsurprisingly, the minute I started to befriend people I truly admired, I found I became more confident and positive. The challenges of freelance life became easier to navigate. There were safer spaces to vent about our situations. People turned up to shows as friends first and colleagues second.
True Shine Theory is an investment in a person. It’s an understanding that one person’s successes are not another person’s failures. We should be reaching out to each other, lifting each other up, not tearing each other down.
After all, the world becomes a brighter place when we empower each other.