There’s No Such Thing as a Self-Made Success

What if you won the lottery? The really big one.
Would you take a different approach to your career? You might take more risks knowing you had a safety net. What if, as a child, you went to a private school for gifted students? You might have more confidence. So the next time you compare yourself with someone who’s more “successful”, remember they got there because they had help – as far back as a well-supported childhood.
 
 

For most of my life I’ve worked in a “dysfunctionally independent” manner. I foolishly believed that if I asked for help, it meant that I was

Fifth Grade Me

incapable or lazy. I actually believed that successful people were those who only did everything on their own. If it’s meant to be, then it’s up to me! …..right? When I was a working in Chicago, I had it in my head that if I took a class from a casting director, then I was “cheating”. For me, the only way to be a respectable actor was to get an agent, audition, and prove myself worthy with a long resume. Yeah…

In preparation for my move to L.A., I took an on-camera class from a casting director’s assistant, but never expected him to help me. Turns out, that’s how life works. While I did well at my first TV audition, it was his good word to the CD that tipped the scales in my favor, and I got the job. (Some gal named Tina Fey was also up for that role. I wonder whatever happened to her?)
 

Once I landed in L.A., a friend turned me on to CD workshops, and by gum, they worked! Later, an acquaintance cast me in a staged reading of his screenplay which got me an audition/booking for a national commercial! So random. An old friend from Chicago got wind of my little successes and walked me into her agency where I landed an agent! Then the dry spells came, then success, then – you know the drill. I started to wonder if there was something missing, something that I still didn’t know? At my age, what else could there possibly be? Turns out, a lot.
 
So I invested in career coaching. I used a system that worked well for awhile, but doing the same thing over and over again, hoping for different/better results eventually lost its flavor. Without knowing were to go next, I released the need to figure it out. And as life would have it, a perfectly timed email arrived in my inbox that gave me my answer.
 
I immersed myself in a higher level of coaching. It taught me the difference between being a “list doer” and being an explorer. When we explore, we learn through real-life experience. We move from knowing about something to actually knowing something. My decisions came more quickly, my creative flow became easier, and my definition of success completely changed. But it’s not just the exploration that brought me rewards. It was the letting go of the idea that everything was solely up to me.
 
I no longer resist the undeniable give-and-take between me and my wisdom, all of mankind, and the Universe.

The Secret Value of Joy

Survivor’s Guilt.

It’s what happens when a person finds themself to be the only person who’s survived a tragic event. This past year, in spite of the pandemic, my auditions have surprisingly increased. Sometimes I feel guilty that I don’t feel guilty about this, so I try keep it to myself. Are you keeping the good things in your life a secret?

As soon as I came back from my family vacation, I was hit hard with non-stop auditions. In July, I had fifteen of ’em in nineteen days, including two callbacks (see video above). Some say it’s not cool to mention this when so many actors are suffering dry spells, but attempting to control other people’s feelings is a losing game.


 
Two years ago – when I had 22 in-person auditions in 21 days – I had some wisdom to share. Now confined to at-home auditions, I have something new to share: Discouragement seeps into our psyche when we no longer see what it true. What I know to be true is that there are infinite possibilities. I’ve lived too long not to see that anything is possible. (Don’t confuse this with the folly of “This could be the one!”) I see possibilities, but am attached to no specific results. Even if I suspect that some of these potential jobs might have already been cast, or that my tape may never be shown to producers, the only thing I see is opportunity. Opportunity to have fun.
 
There is value in joy.
Yes, auditioning two to seven times a week can be exhausting, – especially when some of them are deeply emotional and/or several pages long – but acting is what I love, and so I also relish in the “art of the audition”. From first downloading the script, to recording it on my audition app, to planning my wardrobe, to setting up the camera, I love the process of creating character and story. In fact, we’re all here to create, no matter what our profession. And now that I’m working in an age range that spans over twenty years (40s to 60s!), I get to add yet another layer to the creation process. How fun is that?
 
When we allow ourselves to experience joy, we feel connected to every living thing. This connection has us feeling/seeing the world differently. During a worldwide pandemic, we can either grab on to what is wrong with the world, or what is right with the world. So instead of assuming the future is bleak, why not grab on to what is true: The future is full of possibilities.

Overworked and Unpaid

Recently, I read the article, Dear Hollywood: We Don’t Want to “Go Back to Normal.” Normal Wasn’t Working. While it was written from the perspective of a professional crew person dealing with insane hours, on-set bullying, and impossible expectations, it made me look to see how actors were affected – specifically with commercial auditions. While the author’s complaints were legitimate (thousands have agreed with him), one could say “Well, at least he was getting paid”. Actors don’t get paid for auditions, but it absolutely is work.
 
I’m not here to suggest paid auditions. I knew the deal before embarking on this career, but back in the day, we had higher earning potential. I missed the “golden era” where an actor could buy a house from one commercial. Four years ago, I did two national network commercials – a car company and an insurance company, arguably big money clients – but my combined pay was lower than the national poverty level.
 
Since Quarantine, there are fewer auditions, but commercial casting directors are accepting more and more self-tapes. The ad agencies’ audition demands have moved from the casting offices, to the actor’s home. Not only are we freely giving these ad agencies our talent in the form of auditions (also giving them new script ideas in the process), but now we’ve become unpaid session runners, location scouts, editors, and DPs. And here’s the kicker: ad agencies have yet to sign on to safety protocols recommended by our union. So even after jumping through hoops with self-tapes and editing, we’re not even guaranteed a safe set.
 
Who needs actors? More and more we’re seeing auditions requiring real families, friends or couples who are quarantined together with “no experience necessary”. I used to feel a camaraderie with actors who booked, because I knew they pounded the pavement on the regular, but now we’re seeing non-actors booking spots – not by luck, but merely because they live with a professional actor.
 
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to our eyes. Silently and imperceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and at last some crisis shows what we have become.” Brooke Foss Westcott
 
Sure, the current conditions give ad agencies a good excuse. But just like the article mentioned above, the industry is growing comfortable asking us to do more (like re-shoot auditions, record different angles, submit within 24 hours, etc.) Capitalizing on our fears, the industry expects us to ask, “How high?” whenever they tell us to jump. Home schooling will begin soon, but the demanding audition requests will continue, because they assume we have more time and that we we’re desperate and grateful for any crumb of an opportunity to work.
 
Whenever I look back to why I became an actor, I’m reminded of my truth: I’m an artist who mirrors human behavior within the human condition. It has nothing to do with television commercials. I look forward to navigating what is next with grace, and with my dignity in tact.
 
“In every crisis, doubt or confusion, take the higher path – the path of compassion, courage, understanding and love.” Amit Ray 

 

 

Man Plans, God Laughs.

“Well, given the current situation we can’t plan anything anymore!” How often have you heard that these days? We can’t seem to move forward unless we have a set of givens. For the first time ever, we’re experiencing our lives with no certainty and no predictability.
 
Or are we?
 
This pandemic has reminded us that life isn’t predictable. Turns out, the only things we ever planned for were the things we were pretty sure about. Now that the important things are coming to the forefront, we see the true nature of life… is unpredictable.
Man planning with markers on wall.
Let’s look at goals and plans. The first is a vision, an aspiration, or a great desire, while the second is a “how to” strategy. Plans, while helpful in some areas (construction, engineering, creating systems), are completely useless when it comes to a vision. Once we know where we want to be or what we want to do/have, we can choose to either be open to infinite possibilities, or we can stick to one, rigid plan. Take notice of how many times something wonderful happened when we barely lifted a finger. When I decided to move to L.A. 22 years ago, I had no plan. When I arrived, I simply followed what was in front of me until I had booked three network TV gigs and a national commercial within my first year. And I had planned nothing.
 
When business started to shut down in March, I noticed how fearful people had become. As time progressed I noticed the urgent attempts to locate “reliable predictions”. People wanted to know what was going to happen and when it was going to happen so they could relax and move on with their lives. But it’s the other way around, really. Fear breeds the need to control. It’s opposite is surrender. When we relax into our world instead of trying to control it, only then can we move on with our lives. We can choose to plan every moment of our lives, or we can surrender to every moment in order to live.

R U Leaving Your Soul in the Seat?

“When someone fears losing your affection, he or she will strive to keep it. Perhaps you have strived to keep someone’s affection, too. Fear of loss is not love.” – Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul

So you’ve got all of your tools in place. You’ve explored your Brand (I like to use the term, “Essence”), you’ve got your perfect headshots, your reel is up to date, you’re in class, your resume is growing. Congratulations! But there’s something no quite right. There’s this intangible part of the business that seems to open doors for everyone else, but you haven’t quite got it yet. What is that?

An actor friend of mine spoke about his early career mistakes, and it took him awhile to understand the biggest one. He had the looks, confidence and talent, but every time he left his seat in the waiting area to walk into the audition room, he said he left his soul in that seat. He didn’t know why, but he chose to leave the most authentic part of himself outside the door. Perhaps, he thought, no one wanted to see that? He thought professionalism was the ability to compartmentalize. In his mind, “Leave your sh&t outside the door” also meant “Leave your self outside the door”. He paid the price for hiding his best parts.

When I was in my twenties I knew that it was the time for making mistakes. I loved turning thirty, because I knew I was done making mistakes. Boy, was I in for a big surprise! As my mistakes continued, I mistook that for not being good enough. Thus began my downward spiral of contorting myself into a more “palatable” me. I played small and stayed safe. While my peers’ careers got sidetracked by starting families or dealing with serious life issues, my career got sidetracked by my lack of self worth.

Life immediately changes when we relax into who we are. When we relax into our own skins we no longer need to prove anything. The adolescent cry, “You don’t know me!” morphs into the quiet knowing that it’s perfectly OK if most people don’t get me. The most attractive people we know are those who know there is nothing to prove. And when we can enter the room with our whole self – free of the need to book the job and free of outside approval – doors will open.

BRING YOUR OPINIONS/QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS TOPIC TO MY TUESDAY FACEBOOK LIVE, 12PM PST

 

Cookies Are the Cure

There’s this great scene in the film, Soapdish (1991), where Sally Field’s character – an aging temperamental soap star – is depressed. Her assistant asks if she needs to go to the mall. Through tears, she nods “yes!” Jump cut to her bedazzled self descending down the mall escalator where slowly but surely more and more people recognize her and soon she’s surrounded by adoring fans who want her autograph. Depression cured. Alas, we are not soap stars, nor do we have malls where validation awaits to greet us. Any validation we do get is fickle and unreliable. Others’ opinions of us are based on how they’re feeling that day, after all. (And we cast our opinions in the same manner.)

At least once a week, I see a post from someone who is getting kicked in the teeth by life. Friends try to cheer them up with virtual hugs and well-meaning, but overused sayings. The truth is, if we don’t pick ourselves up, we’re gonna slide right back into the muck. Coming up with a pep talk in the middle of a personal slump, however, is nearly impossible.  Or is it? Here’s how we can prep our pep talk in an honest, look-at-the-facts sort of way before we need it: Make some cookies. I’m not talking empty calorie cookies, but “cookies” that shift our perspective in just one bite. This idea comes from ultra-marathon runner, David Goggins.

Get a jar  – or a vase, or a box, (or ziplock bag you can keep in the car) – and fill it with notes spelling out all of your personal achievements. Their size doesn’t matter, just as long as they matter to you. Here are some of mine:

  • You returned to college at forty, did the work, and graduated as class valedictorian.
  • You traveled the U.S. staying in four star hotels, because you showed up as an actor.
  • Your rode your bike from St. Paul, MN to Chicago, because you decided to.

So when you’re feeling like you can’t possibly get through a painful time, or recover from a gut wrenching blow, reach into that cookie jar and tell yourself the truth.

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Disciplined. Or am I?

As I write this, I am between my fifth and sixth day of doing the Master Cleanse. For those

Ingredients for the Master Cleanse

unfamiliar, it is a fasting ritual that cleans the colon and other major organs over the course of several days. Each morning begins with a saltwater flush (good times!) and every evening ends with a cup of herbal laxative tea. Nothing – absolutely nothing – is eaten the entire time. A homemade organic lemonade with maple syrup and cayenne pepper gives the body all the nutrients it needs. Sound crazy?

Call me crazy. I don’t write this to demonstrate how “disciplined” I am, nor to convince anybody to follow suit. I’m simply using this as an example of how others may see discipline. Throughout my life, friends have commented on how disciplined I am, but I’ve seen myself as quite the opposite. Until I discovered what discipline really means.
The root of the word is disciple. And what is a disciple? Someone who simply follows what he loves. Well now, that makes sense! Every “admirable” act of discipline I’ve ever executed – riding my bike over 500 miles in the AidsRide2, sticking with acting for over 30 years, doing the Master Cleanse – has always been about following what I love. Well, maybe the Master Cleanse in and of itself isn’t what I love (can I have some papas y cerveza, please?), but rather it is a means to what I love. I love renewing my digestive system, feeling energetic, light, and sharp. I love the vision of myself never having to be on medication. As author Michael Neill, puts it “Discipline is remembering what you want”.

 

And that’s it. What is it that you want? Really, really want?
Remember it, and discipline becomes a labor of love.