While I'm a big advocate of making plans and writing down goals (and the writing-down part is key, by the way), I'm an even bigger fan of vigilant review. And nothing needs more vigilant reviewing than one's relationship to this crazy business of acting. I've spent a lot of time analyzing why people are drawn to acting as a profession. And while I'm no psychologist, 10+ years of close observation leaves me fairly confident in my analysis. Besides, if you've been acting for any amount of time, you've probably seen one or more of these reasons in action, especially on a really gnarly day in scene study class.
So without further ado, I give you...
THE FIVE REASONS YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT BE AN ACTOR (AND THE ONE REASON YOU SHOULD)
If I had to guess, I'd say more people get into acting for want of love than any other reason. And there's nothing wrong with loving the love -- hey, it's niiiiice! But if that's all you're in it for, you're in for it. Because there will never, ever be enough to satisfy you.
My best been-there, wanted-that advice? If you suspect you're in it for The Love (as opposed to the love of it), give some thought to professional help (i.e., shrinkage). Even if you come out of it with nothing more than information to the contrary, that information will make you a better actor. (You know that whole "know your instrument" thing.)
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: money has got to be the dumbest reason to get into acting. In fact, I'll go out on a limb, here, and say that if you are pursuing your dream of acting because you have somehow confused it with your dream of being fabulously wealthy, quit now. Seriously. I won't trot out that clichÃ©d, possibly apocryphal 'statistic' about 5% of SAG actors earning more than $5000 per year. Let's just say there are a bajillion better ways to earn a buck, or several million of them, if that's what you're after.
Some people, me, for instance, fall into things for lack of imagination, or stay in them because of entropy. I became a copywriter out of school because (a) it's where I had the most connections, and (b) it was an obvious job I could picture myself doing. I think a lot of actors pursue acting for the same reasons: even if the odds are insanely stacked against them, at least they know which wall they're supposed to hurl themselves at.
The good news? If you're reading this with any sort of attention, you're probably not in it for the hell of it. Just keep on examining, no matter where you're at on your acting trajectory. Remember, if the unexamined life isn't worth living, that goes triple for the unexamined acting career.
Like love (see #1), only more so. And it pays to be scrupulously honest with yourself here. Because if you're in it for love, you might scrape by. Love can be had for a killer turn on stage and one person to witness it. Hell, you can get the love in rehearsal, for that matter.
But if your idea of happiness has more to do with red carpets and acceptance speeches than shuttling between your day job and rehearsal, you might want to rethink things. Not only is it notoriously difficult to get to this level, it is impossible to stay there. Period.
Even the people with 'enduring' fame, the ones who seem to be in the public eye all of the time, aren't. There's only so much bandwidth or newsprint or (your medium here), it's reserved for What's News Now, and you have zero control over it.
Of course, I've never been famous, so this is all speculation. But I have seen too much reality TV not to know in my heart of hearts that too many sad stories started with a hope for fame. Caveat actor...
Most professions attract their share of the mentally ill (and I've heard tell there are a few in the mental health care industry itself). But the tolerance for crazy behavior is much higher in music or comedy or acting than in most businesses. It goes without saying that if you think you might have a serious problem, you should get help, and not use your work to work it out.
So why do it? What are the "right" reasons to act? As far as I can see, there's only one: because you can't see yourself doing anything else. Again, clichéd, but for a reason, it's true.
How to tell if your heart's desire is really acting? Aside from the obvious, a willingness to do whatever you can for no other payoff than a chance to act, I think there's a joy you find in acting, period. Actors who really love acting love other actors, love working with other actors, love watching other actors. My first hint that I'd maybe gotten into this for (ahem) less than noble reasons were the pangs of envy I felt watching others succeed where I felt I was failing, or outright jealousy over what they could do that I couldn't.
Which is not to say there won't be a touch of longing inside of you for love or fame or money, either your own or other people's. But it's just that—a touch. And you're in touch with it, and truthful about it. You're aware of shifts in your thinking and feeling, no matter how minute.
In other words, if you're really meant to be acting, you're doing it already...