5 Life Lessons I Learned from Being an Actor
1. Nothing is personal. It’s not about you.
Also known as, “we already have the brunette.”
The first time I heard a variation of this phrase uttered, it was while I was working as a casting assistant and it was in regards to race, not hair color. The client, in search for a “multi-racial representation of his business” stated that while he really liked a particular actor for the commercial, that actor’s race was already represented among the other actors already chosen.
Though he said it way less smoothly.
I was both horrified and relieved. You mean THAT’S how it works?
It actually is not solely dependent on your talent?
Nope it isn’t. Few things in life are.
In life, rarely is a decision made based on ANY one factor. And yet, we pick ourselves and situations apart trying to “figure them out.” There are too many variables to waste your time in that game.
2. Create your own opportunities in order to best showcase your talents
Life is a fast moving machine. If you are waiting around for someone else to give you the opportunity to shine, you may be missing your chance to share your gifts with the world.
Yes, there will be many opportunities that others give you. And if you are getting plenty of those, then carry on.
But for those of us who feel like we sometimes have more to offer the world, than the opportunities the world is offering us, then do something about it. Create those opportunities.
I am a performer and entrepreneur. I had to accept a long time ago that I would probably never just look at the “job listings” and find my life path represented in a nice, full-time job with benefits. I learned that I would have to create my own opportunities to get what I wanted from life. I am grateful to have the resources, emotionally and financially to do that. But, let me be clear, most of those resources ALSO came from my efforts. And I won’t pretend they came easily. But, I’ve learned a lot in the process. While it may feel easier to have someone hand you your opportunities, there is a lot to be gained about creating your own.
3. Saying “Yes and” furthers the scene. Listen and create value for others.
Every good improviser does this on stage.
Theatrically, it means that when a fellow improviser declares a statement in the scene, you agree to it and add something to the scene that supports their statement and heightens the scene. i.e. “It sure is hot out today, Bob!” “Sure is, Bill. Good thing we put our speedos on today.” “I’m just glad we didn’t wear our matching ones like last time, because that was awkward.”
Ok. That was the first thing to pop in my head, but you get the idea.
So, how do Bob and Bill’s speedos translate to life?
Many people walk around so immersed in their own “story” that they are rarely actually listening to the people around them to hear what is being said, and how they may contribute to the situation in some way.
When you stop and really listen to people, you will hear ways that you can support them and they can support you.
You can create friendships, partnerships, career opportunities, ways to be in service to others and ways to get your own needs met, simply by listening, acknowledging and contributing to “the scene.”
4. Goals are healthy. Expectations are dangerous.
When I was in my twenties, I had some pretty high expectations of myself, in regards to my theatre career.
Goals are healthy. Expectations are dangerous. When you don’t accomplish an expectation, you feel like a failure, which paralyzes you from moving toward your goals. At least it did in my case.
So, what’s the difference? Attachment.
Make your goals, but recognize that there are other factors at play in your life.
Some will distract you from your desires, and some will lead you towards other things that are equally important and satisfying to your life, if you allow them to be. Whenever we get attached to a goal, a concept or a person, it can limit us from recognizing that the thing or opportunity in front of us is actually more in alignment with who we are now.
5. Don’t listen to the critics
If you are “lucky” in theatre, you get reviewed.
Sometimes they are gushing with compliments and sometimes they tear you apart. I remember, as a young actor, being advised to ignore ALL of it. And while I understood that point conceptually, I really preferred to listen to the compliments and feel horrible about anything else (including not being mentioned at all).
And then, I decided to take that approach into the rest of my life as well.
What I learned from doing that was this: Don’t do that.
Here’s the deal. To quote Abraham Hicks, people will love you and people will hate you and none of that will have anything to do with you.
Though it’s easy to take credit for the former and dismiss the latter, or really embrace the love and feel devastated by the hate, doing that is unproductive. You can definitely learn from both, but feeling worthy ultimately has to come from within and when it is sourced from inside of yourself, both the compliments and the critiques will carry the same weight.