People care most about the people who care about them most. Being supportive turns you into one of those people. This is a multi-part series. Part 1 describes the overall principles. Part 2 dives into the specifics of being useful by providing great information.
A quick recap on usefulness
As I said last month, being useful means doing things that add value to other people's lives. Am I saying not to act in your own self interest? To the contrary: I'm saying that serving other people first is the way to serve yourself best. Because (news flash) we're all looking out for #1. So the more you take care of other people, the more likely they are to think well of, and take care of, and spread the word of, YOU.
The second prong of utility is being supportive, which I define as using your own beautiful light to shine on someone else's beautiful thing.
What support is: generous
If you've ever had friends turn out for your one-person show on a slow night in bad weather, post a glowing review of your hilarious guest spot on their Facebook wall, or even send you a cheery text just to let you know they were thinking of you, you know the warm, glow-y feel that support can bring. We love the people who support us in our time of need (and as humans, not to mention actors, we basically live in that state perpetually).
While individual instances of support can be striking, especially if they involve large sums of money or changing tires in the rain, it's the pattern of support that's most important in building a career. Support is really about consistency over the long haul, being dependable and reliable, a known quantity who shows up over and over. It's not a one-shot deal; it's ongoing maintenance for a lifetime.
What support isn't: fake
No matter how much we dig the people who dig us, we're suspicious as well: why do they dig us? Are they just digging us so we'll dig them later? What's the catch, and how much will it cost me?
Support has to come from a genuine place of love. If you're seething with jealousy, your so-called supportive blog post or email or comment will carry the taint of that, not attractive, and definitely not a boost to your Awesome Quotient.
Similarly, if you're only offering support today because you know you're going to demand payment in kind tomorrow, you're playing a dangerous game. You may get away with it once; you may even get away with it several times, with different people. But sooner or later, people catch on, and will want no part of your support, nor will they feel motivated to support you.
So how do you go about providing support in a genuine way that helps you while enriching other people's lives? By creating containers and processes that make it possible. In other words, by building a support structure for yourself to assist you in supporting other people well.
Building your support structure
Since support is an ongoing activity, try using that to your advantage. Schedule being supportive where you can, getting birthdays and anniversaries into calendars is a good start, and/or setting up a few times during the day to either fire off a few emails, jot some handwritten notes (NOT promotional postcards!), and make calls.
Set up groups of friends, colleagues, and other contacts in your address book. Make sure that the address book fields are well-populated with information, too. That way, when someone puts out an S.O.S. for a great costume person for their film, or someone else is looking for accent training, you can be super-supportive by hooking them up.
I also have friend groups set up in Facebook so that I can keep an eye on more stuff than the "Top News" feed delivers (and less than the firehose-levels the "Most Recent" feed spews).
Support is a way of life
While the tactical stuff can help you to stay organized, what you're really looking to do is create an automatic, supportive mindset to replace your rusty, broken, selfish one. (Okay, not you; that selfish guy next to you.)
Instead of thinking "me me me," give some thought to them. Could they use a friendly word? A vote of support? A shout-out to raise their profile? When you see good things in the world, think of how you can share them. When you see things that need fixing, think of how you might help fix them.
If we're all looking out for each other, none of us will have to worry about ourselves quite as much. Being supportive not only makes you awesome, but it makes the world more awesome, too.
Next month: Putting your gift for entertainment to work for you.
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BOOK OF THE MONTH: Do the Work, by Steven Pressfield
Whether it's mounting your own show, mastering a new craft or just making your way as an actor, the means to accomplishing great things is through work. Steven Pressfield's newest book, Do the Work, is full of practical information for getting that work done: tools for overcoming procrastination, for busting through blocks and for generally wrestling Resistance to the ground so you can get to the finish line. As of this writing, you can get it free for Kindle thanks to a sponsorship by GE, or you can buy your own hard copy on Amazon for (well) less than ten bucks. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.