21 Insights For Actors
The past two years, with everything which has been happening in the world, has been many things for us all: challenging, scary, enlightening, uncertain, disappointing; but most of all this time has been a teacher to us. Everyone I’ve reconnected with since the most recent lockdown in my hometown has emerged from this hibernation period as a changed person, more clear about some things, more aware, more grateful. A recent Thanksgiving lunch I attended was proof of this. Everyone sitting around the table had a newfound appreciation for certain things in their life, and this outpouring of gratitude inspired me to compile a list of lessons I’ve learnt over the past few years.
I started collecting these insights as I read, encountered or thought of them, and made a small voice recording about them. This process has been really rewarding for me, and one I would highly recommend you to consider for yourself. There have been several times where I have been able to pull myself out of a particular state by reconnecting with a lesson from months before. These are lessons which I have collected from many sources – some from books and other published media, and others from wise friends of mine. There are also a few I have come up with, too, just to keep things fresh.
I feel that each of these items is of particular use for actors to consider, though the items are not specifically related to the craft of acting. This is a list of insights about actors careers, mindset, self care and best practises. Now, remember one thing: there are SO many rules, lessons and insights being thrown around in the world at the moment by people who feel they have some divine right to tell other people how to live their lives. As with ALL of these points, you must weigh, measure and assess their efficacy and applicability to you and your life, not anyone else’s. Some of these points in this article may resonate with you, and some may not. That is ok. Take from this what you will, and what you do take I hope is of significant benefit to you, your life and your career.
- You Are Not Alone
- Memento Mori
- Back Yourself
- Habit is Everything
- On Kindness
- Energy is Never Destroyed, it Only Changes Form
- Relationships Take Time
- Persist, Pivot, Concede
- Watch the Weather Roll in
- Get 1% Better
- Own it Instead of Want it
- What Role Do I Want to Play?
- External Accountability
- Prime Your Environment
- Wedding Speech Moments
- You’re Better When You’re Busy
- Be Clear About Your Finances
- Find Empathy In Rejection
- Document Your Success
- Engage, Disengage, Re-engage.
#1 You Are Not Alone
Let’s begin with a lesson which has been of great value to me personally over the past 12 months in particular: You are not alone. The pandemic has thrust the population of the world into a period of stress, challenge and tragedy. Everyone has had to adapt and find ways to overcome the multitude of hurdles thrown in our way. For some the challenge has been manageable, for some the challenge has been catastrophic.
What has emerged amidst this chaos is a cultivation of community and connection. The illusion of connection through technology and social media has become much more apparent to us, and there seems to be this shift for people in seeking out genuine and fulfilling ways to connect with friends and family.
This time has taught me that even in the face of enforced isolation, we are not alone. Whatever we are experiencing, no matter how challenging, there is always someone we can reach out to and connect with who will either understand what we are going through from personal experience, or be willing to simply listen to us and be there for us. These people can be friends or family, but they can also be professionals, like doctors, therapists or psychologists who we can connect with and feel assured of the safety of the space we are in.
#2 Memento Mori
“You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.” – Marcus Aurelius
Stoicism, like many schools of philosophy, emphasises the importance of regular contemplation of our own mortality. The phrase used by the Stoics is, Memento Mori. This phrase translates as “Remember you must die.”
This sudden lapse into morbidity may have some of you feeling a bit deterred, which I absolutely understand. This is one aspect of Stoicism which I find particularly difficult to actually practise. It is terrifying to contemplate our own mortality, but the Stoics urge us to do this for the clarity of life it may provide to us. Feeling that this practise is morbid and depressing is to miss the point of the practise. Seneca writes, “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing.” Like Carpe Diem, this principle reminds us to take the action we wish to take today, to stop living our lives for tomorrow.
As an actor, I have spent years of my life delaying important actions, for fear of missing out on things that may happen in that time. Let me be more deliberate: I want to live overseas. This is an experience I’ve never had before and it is something I feel will enlighten me, and remind me of how beautiful the world is and how small I am within it, (another liberating reminder from the Stoics). I have lived in Australia my entire life, and I have never left because I’ve always worried that something will come up whilst I am away. Moving overseas has always been something that will be better for me to do next year. What this pandemic has taught me is that next year I might not have the option. Tomorrow I may not have the option. Memento Mori: remember that I must die. I may not wake up tomorrow morning. I need to take action today on the things that are most important to me, and I think you should do the same.
#3 Back Yourself
As time goes along and I progress deeper into the experience of being an actor, the divide between actors who back themselves and those who doubt themselves grows larger and clearer. As a person who has struggled with self doubt a LOT myself, this is an alarming thing to realise. This world and this industry seems to reward self assurance. This doesn’t mean arrogance, necessarily, but it does mean that actors who appear confident in their ability inspire confidence in people who are in casting and decision-making roles.
People don’t like risk, especially not where money is involved. If two actors are in consideration for a role who both have minimal prior experience or ‘proof’ of their ability, then the self assurance of the actor is going to be hugely influential for the casting director. If an actor is not confident in themselves, then that may make the casting director nervous. If the actor seems sure of themselves and their ability, that makes the casting director feel a little bit safer. It’s their taste on the line, after all. They have a difficult job in assembling an ensemble for a project. They need to feel as confident as possible that the actors they put forward to the creative team of the production are as capable as possible.
There’s just one small issue: actors, generally speaking, are riddled with sensitivity and self doubt. It’s kinda a necessary part of the gig… There’s a special kind of empathy and emotional charge which is required from the actor for them to truthfully access a character. This emotionality can manifest as insecurity and self doubt. It’s no easy task, therefore, to simply brush that aside and ‘be confident’. I get that. The takeaway from this year however is that there is a lot of value in faking it till you make it. People won’t necessarily question an appearance of self assurance or confidence. Do whatever you can to feel these things truthfully for yourself, sure, but also starting with a lie in this department is ok, even if you’re lying to yourself.
Simply telling yourself that ‘I got this’ can be a huge boost in morale for you. Your mind is geared towards supplying evidence to you of whatever you’re focusing on or believing. If you believe you are not good enough or incapable, your mind will supply you with evidence to support this narrative. If you tell yourself the opposite, however, that you’re totally good enough to be selected for this role and that you got this, even if it’s a total lie, you will gradually begin to move your belief systems in that direction.
Back yourself, even if you don’t feel a reason to, and you will start to see the shift in your life around you.
#4 Habit is Everything
The title says it all. We are what we repeatedly do. Actors are often lacking in structure, and we will frequently find ourselves between jobs and having to generate our own motivation and routine.
The key to routine, the key to productivity, the key to success – is habit. Generating positive habits and overcoming negative habits is really one of if not the most important thing we can do in our lives.
The book which I have found most useful in this task is Atomic Habits by James Clear. This book is FULL of insights about the importance of habits, and how to take charge of them in our lives.
The process of forming good habits starts today, and there is a direct line of connection between us as we are now, and the person who we are striving to become, if we can master ourselves through our habits.
#5 On Kindness
So, there have definitely been moments in the past couple of years where it has been hard to be kind to myself. The doubt and fear surrounding the pandemic, the change in routine, the isolation and the decrease in exercise and health habits has made for some turbulence in my mental health. I have spent time feeling really disconnected from my pursuits as an actor, and I have been hard on myself as a result.
But the self-kindness eventually came back, though not in a way which I expected it to. Self kindness returned to me through being kind to others. Kindness is an active and powerful force which can really alter your current state, if you allow it to.
Now, I’m aware that it sounds pretty selfish to be kind for our own benefit – of course this is not only what I am saying. Kindness is a really important force in changing the world for the better, and the effect it can have on us as the giver of kindness is simply an added bonus.
As Portia from The Merchant of Venice states about Mercy:
“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
The same is true for Kindness. Both the giver and receiver are blessed by it.
So, if you’re at a loss for kind words to give to yourself, find them for the people and the world around you. Search for opportunities to be kind to others, and you might just find the ability to be kind to yourself.
#6 Energy Is Never Destroyed, It Only Changes Form
Heads up – I am not a scientist. Like, I’m really not a scientist. I flunked high school Biology big time. So don’t take this introduction of thermodynamics as anything other than poetic rumination. The first law of thermodynamics is as follows:
“The first law of thermodynamics, also known as Law of Conservation of Energy, states that energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another.”
It occurred to me a few months ago that this principle is useful for actors to consider if we treat our efforts to succeed in this industry like it is the energy which is being spoken of in this law.
I’ve been a professional actor for seven years now, and one thing which is becoming more and more clear to me is that our efforts are never futile or meaningless. Everything we do in this industry has a lasting impact on our careers, either for better or worse – an important lesson to learn. There have been projects I’ve been asked to audition for or take part in because of work someone had seen me do several years before. Friends of mine have booked work in really significant projects because of a professional relationship they had formed in an amateur short film. The converse is true too – reputations have been tarnished by one thoughtless action and careers halted by carelessness. The energy you put into this game is never inconsequential, and this is really important and rewarding to remember.
I know what it’s like, we can be doing endless tapes or unpaid work and it feels like we’re not moving in any direction. But trust me, you’re moving, it might just take some time to realise that. The energy that you are putting into the industry right now can’t be destroyed, and it will exist for the rest of your career and hopefully even after it.
Take a wider view of your efforts. Consider your 12 month, 5 year and 10 year trajectory. What do you want it to look like? How can you begin manifesting that reality in your life today?
No matter how fruitless or pointless an audition or a gig might seem at this moment, it has a significance beyond your current comprehension. Trust that and keep going down your path.
#7 Relationships Take Time
As an introvert who has struggled from time to time to meet new people or make new friendships, a nice realisation for me this year was that relationships take time to form. Friendships and professional relationships don’t form overnight. It was tremendously beneficial for me to realise this in order to be able to take the pressure off a first meeting with a stranger. I’d frequently feel stressed and anxious about meeting new people, feeling like I need to make a good first impression and be liked by the person.
By relieving myself of the obligation to ‘form a friendship’ upon first meeting, I was able to stay more present in the moment of meeting someone. I could tell myself “This is the first of many times I will speak to this person”. By telling myself that, I was more able to just listen to the other person and trust that things will arise within the conversation as they need to, all in good time.
As Seneca says, “Life is long if you know how to use it” – so trust that there is time. There’s no rush.
#8 Persist, Pivot, Concede
Ok this one is lifted straight out of Mathew McConaughey’s book Green Lights. I read this in January 2021, and found it very insightful. McConaughey’s career has been fascinating, and to be able to read an insight into his journey was very valuable for me.
One of the tips he relays to his readers is that we all, at any given moment, have the ability to make a choice: persist, picot, or concede.
Discovering that we have choice is empowering. I have certainly felt that I have been banging my head against a wall from time to time, or not getting where I want to get to as an actor. Reading those words opened my eyes to the agency I possess: I have a CHOICE. All of these areas in my life I’d just been persisting with endlessly, trying again and again to achieve a different result through the same methods (definition of insanity).
I have three options. Persist – keep doing as I am doing, and through the passage of time I will grow and succeed. Pivot – Perhaps this approach is not serving me well, is there some other way of achieving my goals? For actors, this could mean moving cities, going back to classes, trying a new method. And finally – concede. To concede means to surrender or yield. Let’s follow this train of definitions; to yield is to produce, or to give way under a great mass or pressure. Bridges and buildings must have yield built into their architecture, or else they will fall and collapse under their own weight. Surely this is the same for actors, there are situations where we must yield. We yield, we concede defeat and in doing so we release ourselves from pressure and are able to produce further results down the line. ‘Surrender’ is another word in line with these definitions. There is great tranquility and release to be found in surrender, and that surrender may just give us the strength to get back up and try again somewhere down the track.
So, consider those words for yourself and how they might apply to you and your current situation. Your actions in like, the choices you are making to achieve something, are you persisting where you might need to pivot? Are you persisting where you may need to concede? Making these choices are what McConaughey calls ‘Green Lights’ – the go ahead from the traffic light spurring you further down the path to achieving your goals.
#9 Watch the Weather Roll In
This point is a really lovely insight from a friend of mine. His takeaway from lockdown was that he learnt the ability to separate himself from his own emotional experience and watch them roll in and out of his life like a change in the weather forecast. This was such a wonderful and clear metaphor for me, as someone who is frequently bogged down by my emotional experience. I am often identifying with my emotional state as the ‘truth’ of my situation: ‘this is how I feel so this is how I am’ if you get me.
What my friend has learned to do and express in this simple sentiment is momentous. By not identifying with his emotional state he is able to live without judgement of his emotional position – he is able to exist without branding his state as good or bad. Personifying your emotional state as being like the weather is a total relief, too, in that we all know and understand that whatever is happening right now will eventually pass. Oh God, am I about to start singing, “The sun’ll come up tomorrow?” Deary me…
The sun’ll come up tomorrow…
Bet your bottom dollar…
Watch the weather patterns of your emotions, folks, it’s a really useful tool! Nothing is permanent.
#10 Get 1% Better
One of my companions this year was Coach Bennett from Nike Run Club. Coach Bennett accompanied me on dozens of painful runs whilst I attempted to solve all my life’s problems whilst jogging through my COVID lockdown restricted local government area.
Two of the main lessons I learned from Coach Bennett were the following: Start easy (Going like a bull out of the gate will only leave you spent and exhausted) and the 1% rule. Actually, a third lesson from this experience was the importance of having a coach – get one if you haven’t had one before, the accountability is amazing!
The 1% rule is simple: Every day, get 1% better. That’s the only task we have to achieve in life. Especially as an actor I often feel the push to be ‘the best’ immediately. There are academy awards to win, after all. Focusing on these grand results and desperately pushing to attain them is an unsustainable approach. As is always the case, we need to focus on what is within our control – and winning an Oscar is SO out of our control, for so many reasons. All I can control is this task of 1% improvement. This could mean directly as an actor, sure, but there are SO many areas we can strive for 1% improvement each day which will assist us in our goals as an actor. 1% improvement on fitness, knowledge, craft, voice, accent, self-awareness, you name it. It’s all worth it.
Distill and condense your improvement goals into something immediately attainable in a day’s work. You want to be able to run 20km? Great. That starts with putting your shoes on and stepping out onto the road. If you’re never done that before and you do that today – you’re 1% better.
1% daily improvement leads to the exponential growth of you as a person and an actor. If you’re wondering about the potential power of exponential growth, check out this parable about rice and chess.
#11 Own It Instead of Want It
I practised this one today, actually. I really, really wanted to book a role on a TV project. I loved the project, I loved the role. I wanted it bad. And then a reminder from Green Lights came to me – when was the last time I owned a role, instead of just wanted it? I have only owned a role a handful of times. Without arrogance or delusion, I just knew that I’d be a great fit for the role, and that effortlessly I could slip into the shoes of the character. Great, so much of the anxiety of performance was removed with this simple realisation.
So, ask yourself this question – how can I own this role, rather than just want it? Wanting something breeds neediness and desperation, causing the risk alarm in the casting directors mind to go off (Like we spoke of in the ‘back yourself’ section). Owning the role, walking into the room as the character, by contrast inspires confidence in those who stand to give you the job.
Do your homework and practise, sure. But when it comes to crunch time and you’re putting down your work on camera, leave wanting at the door. Own it.
#12 What Role Do I Want to Play?
This is a provocation for you which actually isn’t about goal setting or finding your dream role. This is about you asking yourself this question in regards to how it applies to your life. What role are you currently playing in your social and professional circles, and more importantly is this the role you wish to be playing? In many ways, we have been cast in the roles of our life without our consent. Our upbringing, school, culture and society has been hugely influential in casting us in the role we are currently playing. The ‘roles’ we play vary greatly. We may still be playing the role we were cast in in school, the class clown, the jock, the geek, the victim (I find myself embracing my geek identity more and more each day). We may be playing a role in our professional circles too, with our identity having been previously determined by people other than ourselves. have a think for yourself as to what the role is which you have been cast. Is that actually who you want to play, or would you like to make a change?
This awareness and shift in identity may cause tension in your world, but that is ok. Change causes friction, but that soon will pass. Establishing yourself with confidence as the person whom you wish to be is worth it.
It’s hard enough to get cast in the roles we wish to play as actors, so don’t do yourself the disservice of playing a role you’re not willing to play anymore in your real life.
Decide, and do. I’ve had dozens of ideas for creative projects which have kept me up at night. The number of those ideas which I have decided to pursue and seen to completion is very small. I’m telling you right here and now though, that if I had decided to actually do (or even properly begin!) those projects, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. Shakespeare says it best through the character of Lucio:
“Our doubts are traitors
And make us lose the good we oft might win
By fearing to attempt.”
– William Shakespeare, Measure for Measure
Doubt doesn’t serve us, decisions do. There is great power in deciding to do something regardless of whatever fear and doubt arises for us. What’s important is not the result – it doesn’t actually matter what we are able to produce and distribute at the end of the day. The most important factor is the initial decision, for it will lead to a thousand discoveries on its path.
Artist Sol LeWitt’s advice to sculptor Eva Hesse articulates this in far more effective a way than I could hope to achieve in this article, so why don’t you have a watch of this video featuring Andrew Scott, on the importance of the word ‘do’: click here.
Whatever you are ruminating on at the moment: an idea you’re considering, an opportunity which has presented itself or even a choice which may take you off your current path, what’s most important is that you make a decision, rather than remain at this halfway point of indecision for too long.
The problem of decision making often presents itself to actors who are considering choices which will lead them away from acting for a time. They want to travel, study or work and it’s difficult because then they may not be as available for acting as they have been. It’s ok! Decide! go and study, go and travel. The roads will lead you where you need to be, but staying stationary won’t take you anywhere.
Jimmy Page and Robert Plant wrote the following lyrics:
“Then as it was, then again it will be
And though the course may change sometimes
Rivers always reach the sea”
Ten Years Gone, Led Zeppelin
#14 External Accountability
We’ve already identified the fact that we are not alone. This fact is tremendously reassuring for us, especially with all the uncertainty buzzing about. What’s also useful about this lack of alone-ness is that there are always people we can turn to for help and support in motivation and productivity.
Actors have a tough gig when it comes to life structure. In a more typical, 9-5 existence, businesses provide plenty of systems and support to ensure that the businesses quotas and expectations are being met, and that their employees are working in an efficient and sustainable way. I’m speaking generally, of course, as there is absolutely variation in how much support each business is willing to provide to their employees. For actors, there is a serious lack of this support until our careers really begin to take off. Once we’re off and running, we’re able to really make the most out of the managers and agents attached to us. But until then, finding structure in our professional lives can be really difficult.
Over the past few years, where structure has been near impossible to find, instigating external accountability with friends of mine has been invaluable. The set up is quite simple, and it has applied to many areas in my life. I have external accountability for practising self-tapes, exercise, writing, reading. This may be more necessary for me than it is for you, as I seem to be far more focussed and productive when I am accountable to someone other than myself.
Identifying and agreeing on an outcome with a friend and obligating yourself to that outcome – setting a time and place you will meet or complete something may be an antidote for the actor’s gift and curse of a flexible lifestyle. And what’s more – actors are often in a similar position, so an accountability agreement will often be mutually beneficial. so, if you’re struggling to complete something or get motivated, involve someone else in the challenge. Tell them what you wish to complete and how they may be able to keep you accountable, or how they may be able to benefit from the agreement, and work from there. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be far less likely to let someone else down than you will yourself (which is probably also something we should process at a later date!)
#15 Prime Your Environment
Flowing off the back of the last point, striving for structure and productivity whilst floating in the ocean of ambiguity which is the actors lifestyle, we have this point about optimising our environment. This one comes straight from Atomic Habits by James Clear, a fantastic book riddled with valuable points.
Clear talks about the need to prime your environment in order to maximise the chances that you will actually do the task you need to do. For me, this was about writing and self taping. Working from home due to the pandemic began as an absolute blessing, I loved the freedom and the peacefulness of it. But it soon turned into a bit of a curse. The lines were blurred for me between work and play, and I’d often find myself procrastinating and unable to get motivated. The task of getting started was the most challenging thing, which is where Atomic Habits came into use really well. Clear states,
“Reduce the friction associated with good behaviours. When friction is low, habits are easy.”
Anything which stands in your way of completing the task you wish to complete will reduce the chances you will actually do that thing. If you want to go for a run, having to clean your shoes or dig out a clean t-shift will make it more likely you’ll find a comfy seat on the couch in front of the TV. Having to get your yoga mat unrolled before stretching will make it less appealing to stretch. Having to clear your desk before sitting down to write will make it less likely to write. I know these things make me sound like the LAZIEST person on the planet, but oh well. Here I am – accepting my flaws and trying to find a way to work well in spite of them. By practising the tool of priming my environment, as in, reducing the friction for when it comes to me completing my desired task, I have increased my productivity hugely.
I want to stretch in the mornings, so I unroll my yoga mat in the evenings. I want to journal in the morning, so I leave my book and pen out on a clean desk in the evening. Whatever the task is, if I am able to reduce the friction between me and it prior to me actually attempting the task, the likelihood of me doing the thing skyrockets.
As I said earlier, structure is hard to find as an actor. We have no boss breathing down our neck to get our work done, so it’s only up to us. We want to find as many ways to reduce friction for ourselves as possible. Priming our environment for productivity and success is one such tool.
#16 Wedding Speech Moments
In a brief gap in lockdowns in my city, I was able to go to a wedding. A friend of mine from high school was getting married, and the day was wonderful, for so many reasons. The joy in the room was palpable. People were able to be together, celebrating in the same room. I cried a lot that day, but I love a good cry at weddings – if not then, then when?
Something that occurred to me that day was whilst I was listening to the speeches being given by the wedding party and the parents of the bride and groom. The things these people were speaking about, the memories they were recounting and the qualities of the bride and groom they were commending were not superficial. No-one was talking about how successful they were or how good they were at this or that. No, they were speaking about qualities of true value. They were speaking of kindness, generosity and wisdom. They were speaking of moments they had had with the bride and groom where they had been truly present and considerate. This I found intriguing. So much of my life, and many actors’ lives, are spent striving to win, or striving for success. Gotta book that audition, gotta get that job, at all costs. What occurred to me at that wedding was that actually, we should instead be trying to fill our lives with as many ‘wedding speech moments’ as we possibly can. Conduct ourselves in the way we wish to be spoken of in a wedding speech, where people (embarrassing anecdotes aside) are attempting to recount the true virtues of you to an audience.
Now, I’m not sure what this looks like, exactly. There are plenty of virtues which are worth pursuing, so perhaps the starting place is asking ourselves that question – “How will people speak of me at my wedding (Or similar public event)?” How do we wish to be spoken of? How do we wish to be remembered? This point is about legacy, it’s about memento mori. It’s extending our field of view to the future and attempting to construct a life for ourselves which we feel is truly of value.
So, there’s a task for you. Fill your life with wedding speech moments, and then finally when the day comes where someone you love speaks about you publicly, revel in the things which they say about you.
#17 You’re Better When You’re Busy
This is a big one for me, personally, and is quite straightforward. There’s a saying which goes, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person”. I know and feel this to be true. The rule applies for the busy person, as well – if you want to achieve more, do more.
There has been a lot of down time for me over the last little while, and whilst that was really great and necessary at first, it soon became a sluggishness and inactivity I wasn’t proud of. Now, as the world is clambering back to a sense of normality, I finally find myself regaining an exciting level of activity which is inspiring me to do and complete more.
It’s an upward spiral: the more we complete, the better we feel about ourselves, and the more we are willing to take on and then complete. The opposite is true, too. The less we do, the less we believe we are able to do. Our sense of self is so tied into a lot of these points I’m listing.
Of course a balance needs to be struck. Before the pandemic, a lot of us were too snowed under with work and tasks to complete that we were stressed and unhealthy. Lockdown showed us that this pace and productivity wasn’t normal or sustainable. So, as a provocation to you – what is your optimum level of activity, and how can you cultivate that pace? For me, I know where the sweet spot is of work and freedom. Yours may be completely different, so identify that level and work towards moulding your lifestyle around that balance.
#18 Be Clear About Your Finances
This one has proved to be completely crucial for me, especially this year. Be clear about your finances. I’ve chosen that word clear carefully, for I do not wish to give you financial advice, necessarily. Clear does not mean open, or even transparent, it just means clear. Be honest, with yourself, at the very least, about how you’re doing financially at the moment.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Our income streams will always be varying as actors, and we will have peaks and troughs of financial comfort. This is ok, there is nothing wrong with that. Where problems begin to arise is when avoidance and denial creep into the situation. If we’re in a trough but acting as if we’re at a peak – that will become dangerous very quickly.
Where money is concerned, I have always found it far more comforting and clarifying to stare it in the face. If I don’t, if I avoid thinking about it, the stress and pressure it puts on my life will become insidious and grow in my subconscious mind and become an even bigger problem than it needs to be.
Being clear about your finances can mean many things. It can mean simply checking in with your accounts regularly. It can be about speaking to someone you trust who can give you advice or an honest account of your situation and trajectory. It can also be about becoming interested in finances, generally, by reading about tips and tricks (The Barefoot Investor was incredibly clarifying for me) and getting advice from the professionals. What these actions do is relieve you of shame. They allow you to realise that money is a stressful factor of many, many people’s lives, and it’s ok for it to be scary and stressful for you, too.
So, this initial step may take courage. Finding the strength to face up to your finances and get some clarity may be difficult, but it’s worth it. We are, as actors, our own business, and even though we’d love to not have to deal with the numbers and figures side of things and focus solely on the fun creative stuff, it’s necessary for us to get clear.
#19 Find Empathy in Rejection
As actors, rejection is an experience we must combat all too often. 9.9 times out of 10 we will either hear ‘no’ or nothing in response to an audition. This is not a natural experience for people to have to deal with. An audition is like a job interview, and people typically only go for job interviews every few years. In prosperous patches for actors, we’ll be auditioning once a week or more. Now, this is exciting, and the opportunities may keep us buoyant and optimistic. But experiencing rejection that frequently will of course have an effect on us, it’s delusional for us to think it won’t.
One useful tool for managing rejection, which I’m borrowing from Debbie Millman, is around finding empathy for those who have to reject us. This sounds kinda crazy at first, I get that, but hear me out. Experiencing rejection is a self-centred ordeal. When we feel it for ourselves, and our attention is focused inwards on whatever pain is arising. By finding empathy for those who are rejecting us, we take the focus off ourselves and onto the world around us in a really healthy way. In empathising with the ‘rejector’ whether it is the casting director, agent, producer or whomever, we realise that they are not actually deriving any joy from rejecting us. They are not sadistically lavishing the opportunity to crush our hopes and dreams, they are just doing their job. In fact, we can realise through this empathy that their decision is likely not about us at all, it isn’t personal. There was simply some factor, completely outside our control, which led to their decision.
By empathising with the people making the decisions which influence us, we reduce our own resentment and we regain clarity about the simplicity of the casting process. Though a job may be a life changing prospect for us, for the people casting it is far more practical and unemotional.
Going one step further, by empathising with the casting team, we can feel how hard it may have been to turn us down – another thought which may reduce the intensity of our emotions and make us feel less alone in our experience.
#20 Document Your Success
Journalling is a practise of immense value, and is something that successful humans have been doing for thousands of years. It is clarifying, therapeutic, comforting and inspirational. Taking the time out of your day to get the thoughts out of your head is one really effective way to become more present and free from inner turmoil.
The insight for me around journalling which came this year was about the content of the journalling. For me, journaling had primarily been a chance to process the challenges of my life; I’d exorcise all my demons onto the page in the hope of gaining relief and clarity. What I’ve learnt this year, however, is that journalling is actually a fantastic way to document success, and to learn about what keeps you healthy, happy and productive.
So, see if this concept can be applied to your self-care practises. Are you employing strategies for self care only when you are feeling down? What can you be doing in times of prosperity which will help you down the track when things are more challenging?
Document your successes as well as your challenges, and you’ll find yourself learning more about yourself and how to manage any situation you find yourself in.
#21 Engage, Disengage, Re-engage
Alright, I’ve thrown a lot of thoughts your way in this article, and I hope at least some of them have resonated with you. To finish up with, this is a simple one which has been essential for me to become aware of. When am I engaged or disengaged? Am I in either of those states consciously or unconsciously, and if I am disengaged, when and how do I plan on reengaging?
If I’m being perfectly honest, this idea came to me as a result of some advice from a therapist and from a metaphor derived from a video game. The therapist and I were discussing the state of disengaging and avoiding that people can fall into from time to time, and what that looks and feels like. The game I was playing was one where you were a pilot in a plane trying to shoot down other planes, you would fly around, engage a target, hopefully get some shots on the enemy, then disengage safely (I know, super macho, right? Sorry.) What this combination of things (The therapist and the game) made me realise is that I have the ability to choose what state I am in as it pertains to my career.
I have disengaged several times over the past few years. I have hibernated and switched off, which has been really beneficial in many ways. What the next stage was, however, was to re-engage. Re-Engage with my dreams and my passions and my pursuits. The necessity for this came from the video game – If I’m disengaged, flying off into the distance and avoiding all risks and encounters, sure. I’ll be safe, for the time being. But I don’t stand the chance of actually scoring any points, either. I may be safe for the moment, but I’m running out of fuel. By engaging in the task at hand, sure, I’m risking getting shot down, but there are plenty of respawns. Moving away from this cryptic video game metaphor, If I continue to disengage from my dream of becoming a successful actor, sure, I may avoid the pain of that pursuit: the rejection, the failure, the jealousy. But I also will achieve nothing from being disengaged. Actually what I stand to lose is far greater, because I am moving further and further away from the person I want to be and it will take more and more energy to turn around and engage with the dream.
What’s most useful to note about this analogy is that we have a choice. When we are burnt out, tired, down and out, we can take a break. We can disengage, we can let go for a while. But then we need to know when it’s time to re-engage and keep on moving down the path of what we wish to achieve.
So, take stock of your current position versus where you wish to be right now. Are you engaged but exhausted, and needing a moment to stop? Great, disengage. Has the pandemic caused you, (like it caused me) to disengage? That’s completely ok. Take note of that, and when you are ready, re-engage. Jump back in the deep end, because you stand to gain so much more.
Happy New Year!
So, there you go! There’s 21 more rules/lessons/insights for you to consider adopting or researching more about in your life. At the end of the day, what seems most clear is that living an examined life is far better than living an unexamined life. Though self awareness can be challenging and painful to develop, it’s truly worth it. We’re actors, after all. How can we expect to be able to understand how someone else works if we don’t understand how we work?
I hope this past couple of years has been… enlightening for you. I hope, though I’m sure it has been challenging beyond measure at times, that you are now stronger because of it. I hope these insights can fuel your progression into 2022 as a stronger person and actor, and you feel energised and inspired to take on the world in the new year.
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