It's hard for any of us to see herself clearly. Allow me to mirror back what I've been seeing, so that you can get a better look at yourself.
Over the past month, I've been reviewing past columns and correspondence to see what's working and what's not. Because while I think it's very important to have goals and stay focused on them, so much so that I write mine down every day, I also think it's critical to do periodic check-ins to see if I need to alter course a bit. (Mid-year is a great time for this, and yes, I've written about how to conduct your own review.)
What's struck me as I've done this review is how many of the same problems come up again and again. So I thought I'd devote this month's column to the five ways I see people shoot themselves in the foot over and over again. It may be painful, but if you are willing to look carefully, you will learn and ultimately, you'll gain from them.
1. Not focusing. It is hard enough to do one thing really well. It is nearly impossible to do 20 things well. Yet we all seem to want to do this, both as actors (the infamous "I Can Play Anything" disease) and human beings (squeezing 42 things into a 10-items-max day). Even now, in 2010, when everyone should know better, I still see people who don't know what their brand is: they have 14 headshots or submit themselves for everything or even just think of themselves as someone who can play anything. This is a recipe for heartbreak. Focus focus focus. On the other hand, there is also the second-biggest mistake:
2. Not diversifying. Scott Adams (the creator of Dilbert) has a great column on ways to make a splash in the world: they boil down to "work like crazy and be the VERY BEST at one thing" and "work like crazy to be the best person who fuses two or three things." Note that both require focus. (As well as work, but hey, you knew that, right?) You do not have to do 85 things well. But you should be a special fusion of things, a distinct brand or type, or as close as you can get yourself. A girl next door with a dark side. The housewife with a stinging sense of humor. Whatever. You get the idea. Have it come from you, but have it. Cultivate it. It's in there. You are unique and distinct, and that's what producers want: an archetype, but a distinct flavor of an archetype.
3. Not staying grounded. There's a panicky quality to a lot of the correspondence I get: Should I move to this market? Take this job? Sign with this agent? These are all good questions, and any big decision, even a smaller decision, warrants a certain amount of consideration, just as anything you're uncertain about mandates a little research. But when the hysteria level hits a certain point, you're hurting, not helping. Relax. Slow down. I swear, most of the time, it really is not a matter of life and death. Be in yourself. Learn techniques for centering yourself. It creates less dependency on external forces, keeps you on your Right Path and helps take the pressure off of individual decisions.
4. Putting too much weight on one thing. This is a close companion to "not staying grounded," and is usually surrounded by the same kind of fretting. Everyone thinks this play/film/YouTube video is what is going to make their careers. (Don't lie; I thought it, too, once.) It's not. Well, most of the time it's not. And you have little to no control over whether it does, even if it does. So, yes, do work at finding creative ways to get industry out to your shows and at spreading the word about the good things you create. But mostly, keep making them. More good stuff vastly increases your chance of making it, as does having fun while you do it. (People like working with people who like working!)
5. Being solipsistic. It is not about you. When you are asking other people for help, it is SO not about you. Think about how you would like to be asked for help. Better yet, see how you can do everything else to help yourself before you ask for help. Then, when you finally do, make it as easy and wonderful as possible for that other person to help you. And when the wheel turns, as it will, help the next guy.
Want a little more help wrapping your head around this stuff?
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