Your Acting Career: Tips for Staying (Mostly) Sane When You’re in This for the Long Haul – Part 1

1. Understand that your career is a marathon, not a sprint

Too many actors move out to Los Angeles or New York City with the idea that they’ll give themselves 6 months, or 1 year, or 5 years, etc, to “make it” in their performing career. I like to blame the media for perpetuating this frustrating myth of overnight success. Think about it: how many stories have you read about actors who were “discovered?” Just happened to be in the right place at the right time? Were plucked from obscurity by some powerful agent or director who just instinctively noticed the actor’s blinding talent from across a room, hired them on the spot, and transformed them overnight from a Midwestern transplant into a bonafide movie star? The media loves a fairy tale, and the public eats it up. The real story, however, is almost never as magical. Don’t believe me? Next time your eye is caught by a talented new actor or actress in a film or tv show…or you see a magazine article lauding a performer in a great breakout role…do a quick search for that actor’s credits. More often than not, you’ll find that this “brand new star” has been working steadily for years, cutting their teeth and honing their craft in the relative invisibility of student films, indie movies, probably some under-five appearances, a bit part or two in movies of the week…until all of their tenacity and hard work finally pays off (not to mention, the stars coming into alignment with that perfect, undefinable mixture of talent, experience, work, contacts – and, yes, luck) and they land that coveted role that elevates them to a household name. Now of course, there are exceptions but they are just that: exceptions. Please expect that your personal career journey will be far from a straight path. Expect that there will be twists, turns, false starts, and even inevitable setbacks – and that you may not see the fruits of your labor until far later than you’d ever imagined. Does it make sense to get to certain time-related milestones and reevaluate (modifying, if need be, or perhaps changing altogether) your position and your plans? Absolutely! But embarking on this career with false expectations and an unrealistic timeline will do nothing but cause you needless frustration and grief.

2. Celebrate the small wins

The “big wins” are the things that everyone sees and acknowledges: landing the role, releasing the film, earning the nomination, winning the award… These are amazing achievements that, when achieved, tend to draw a lot of accolades, attention, and well-deserved pats on the back. One of the reasons these are so attention-grabbingly remarkable, of course, is that they’re quite rare. (Even the greatest actors in the world don’t have an Oscar sitting around for every single year they’ve worked, right?) So what about all the other positive things that happen in your career on a more regular basis? The smaller, less flashy milestones and developments? The trades may not be beating down your front door to cover a story on the amazing meeting you just had with a new potential manager, or how you finally finished the first draft of your upcoming self-produced web series…but those are exciting things in your career’s journey that you deserve to take a moment to enjoy!

Also, keep in mind that the general, non-actor public (and yes, that probably includes your otherwise-well-meaning family members) doesn’t really understand the sort of tedious processes and procedures inherent in an actor’s daily life and pursuit of work. When it comes to the idea of an actor getting cast in a role, they likely see it in terms that are pretty black and white: either he got the role (success), or he didn’t (failure). As an actor, however, you know that there is much more to it than this. Perhaps you are going out for a role in a big, upcoming commercial… You audition once, against 300 other guys who look basically just like you. You do so well, you get called back- alongside a much smaller group of those guys- to audition a second time. You do such a great job again, that you are invited to a third callback. This time, the powers that be decide that they like you so much, they’re going to call your agent and have you put “on avail” (which means that you’re on the short list- usually, the very short list of actors to be cast in a role for a commercial). Then, you don’t get the job after all. Frustrating? Of course! Painful? Oh, you know it. But the truth is that, regardless of the disappointing final outcome, beating out 298 other actors for that job-you-almost-got was a pretty amazing achievement, and certainly a testament to your talent. Will the rest of the non-acting world see it that way? Probably not. But you certainly should. Bottom line: you don’t have to put off getting excited (and feeling proud and good about yourself!) until you’ve achieved something the entire world will stand up and applaud.  Get in the habit of celebrating the small wins as they come. This is great for your mindset and your morale and is the surest way to keep your wits about you as you navigate the ups and downs of this actors’ existence.

3. Surround yourself with the right types of people

In this industry – or any industry, really – the best type of people to befriend and spend your time with are people who are positive, passionate, uplifting, and supportive. We’ve all heard the stereotype of the “typical” Hollywood person: superficial, vain, backstabbing… And sure, there are plenty of those out here. But there are plenty of amazing, great, down-to-earth people as well and those are the ones you want on your team. Steer clear of people with negative energy – emotional vampires – as they’ll just bring you down. Avoid those folks who seem to enjoy doing nothing but complain. Sure, venting feels good from time to time but too much of it will only serve to prolong the time it takes for you to begin moving toward better things, and keep you firmly mired in your current negative circumstances. Instead, make friends with people who are going places, doing things, dreaming really big and working hard as they reach for great goals. Try spending some time with a person who is really excited, energized, and ambitious…then notice how you feel afterward, compared to when you’ve spent time with discouraging, bleak downers. Chances are, you feel more energized and capable, yourself– about your own life and your own career. And that’s the other beautiful thing about these positive, enthusiastic, aggressive people: they’re usually excited not just about their ideas, but about others’, as well. Instead of jealousy or resentment (a dead giveaway of insecurity on the other person’s part anyway), you’ll get camaraderie and support. And in a career filled with as much rejection and uncertainty as this one, we all need every bit of encouragement we can get. So find those friends (hopefully you already have a few in your life!) and nurture those friendships. Weathering bad news is always easier when you can do it with a supportive friend at your side…oh, and a bottle[s] of wine.

Stay tuned for Part II!

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Elizabeth Elizabeth Sekora is an actress and classically trained soprano living in Los Angeles. She has 24 years of experience in theatre, film, opera, television, and voiceover work, and holds a Bachelor of Music degree from University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

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