Well-meaning coaches everywhere are telling actors to treat their careers like a business. We’re told to be the “CEO of our own Company”. We’re expected to spend a minimum number of hours working hard at our business. But working towards a bottom line “at all costs” is a prescription for anxiety and depression.
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.
Over the last 5 months, I’ve taken money education classes through the Actors Fund in Los Angeles. The first seven weeks we examined our earliest money memories, our family history, our assumptions about money, and more. This was not easy, but with carefully guided homework and weekly discussions led by a professional social worker, we saw things more clearly. We discovered that while we (all artists) claimed to be broke or bad with money, none of us had the same amount of it. None of us had the same parenting around it, and none of us had the same “script”.
For years, I thought my script was one of “scarcity issues”. Turns out, that’s just a catchphrase used to sell wealth seminars. When I discovered what my true script was, the clouds parted, and I was ready to take on the next phase of unearthing my real numbers. Discovering exactly what I earned and spent each month – down to the penny – was both terrifying and liberating. Louise Hay says, “In order to clean your house you have to see the dirt.”
Money is just one facet of our lives that needs identification. It also applies to our talents – if we don’t know what are talents are, we will never use them wisely. When I work with entrepreneurs and artists (one in the same, really) I say, It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you. And we must begin with ourselves. What do I want? What kind of person do I want to be known as? What brings me joy? When we recognize who we really are, it frees us to fully express it. We no longer give away or talents, but instead we use them wisely, and life no longer slips through our fingers.
One year ago, the beginning of my downward spiral began. On September 11th, my boyfriend’s father called to say he didn’t have long to live. I drove my boyfriend to the airport, supporting him with strength and optimism. I thought he’d be back in two weeks. Instead, he spent four months tending to his dad’s declining health. From September to January, I drove back and forth from my place to his – over the hill and back – to forward his mail and personal items, water his (now dead) plants, and care for his cat. Kitty’s renal failure required special care. As bad timing would have it, I began to suffer from painful facial eczema that greatly affected my quality of life. My strength and optimism were beginning to wane. Just before Thanksgiving, my computer died. With all my running around I had no time to see friends. I was quite alone, and started to feel it. We decided it was best if I moved in to his place. I felt a sense of relief, but now I was looking at having to purge thirteen years of my life. On New Year’s Eve, I gave my thirty days’ notice, and on January 3rd, my boyfriend’s father died. I had my phone turned off when he tried to call me. Epic Fail.
I jumped on a plane to help with his dad’s funeral, but didn’t expect to help with his mom as well. Dementia was setting in, and now her son had a new reason to stay even longer. Back in L.A., I had to either sell or give away most of my belongings before I could move. It wasn’t until March when I felt I could finally catch up with my business and my life. (Really, there is no “catching up”).
Now six months had passed, and my savings were drained. Commercial auditions were unusually scarce, and theater jobs trickled. I still suffered from the eczema, but could no longer afford a doctor. In May, Kitty was diagnosed with cancer and needed even more care. In June, my theatrical agent went out of business, I had a terrible falling out with a friend, and my dentist informed me that I needed a $1000 crown. July was a very dark month. Then on August on 29th – in the vein of “what else could go wrong?” – my parked car was totaled by a reckless driver.
Don’t’ ask me if I can see that “everything happens for a reason”. That’s a question to occupy the mind, not the heart. Here is what my heart awakened to: Every terrible thing I experienced gave me something concrete to fix/solve, and every single time, it revealed itself as a distraction. Everything distracted me from working on my art and on my business. This is not to say that I place no importance on these outside events. I very much do. What they’ve brought to my attention, however, is my willingness to put my art and my business aside in favor of them. There are no clear outcomes, no guaranteed results in creative endeavors. To do the work for the sake of doing the work is “poo-pooed” in our culture – How can you enjoy (fill in the blank) when (fill in the blank) has happened? Are you making money at it? Are you forwarding your career? These questions are nothing but excuses for not showing up to the canvas. During hard times, it is more acceptable to self medicate in front of the TV than it is to expand ourselves. What we must see is that exercising our talents – with no societal agenda or audience approval – is how we feel better, feel joy, and reap the rewards.
What is that thing you’ve been yearning to do that will expand your talents and put a smile on your face? Are you too busy checking off your to-do list to get down to the real work? Are you doing the work, but repeatedly coming up for air to see if someone is clapping? Expanding our talents is what we are meant to do. It is not selfish. It is mandatory, and it gets us through the hard times.