Act Smart!: How to get the perfect job

Wherein I finally reveal what you’ve been waiting for: the secret to booking happily ever after.

We’ve all been there: it’s a role we’re perfect for. The description in the character breakdown doesn’t just read like you, it is you, down to the the most minute physical characteristics. The skill sets align. The history is similar. The scenario you can relate to completely.

Not only that, but unlike other terrific roles you’ve spied, an audition for this one has landed in your lap. Plus, you have plenty of time to prepare for it! Still, as a smart actor who knows that it’s never a good idea to take anything for granted, you work your butt off, specifically, thoughtfully, with the right help, beforehand.

It’s as though the Magic Fairies of Acting have conjured up a part that would be exactly, completely perfect for you, and only you. You head into the interview, give the audition of your life to a roomful of people who are clearly thrilled, and exit gracefully. What happens next?

You get the job! Or you don’t get the job! And guess what? It doesn’t matter.

Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?

Actor/teacher Jack Plotnick shares a wonderful story on his website about The Job That Got Away. You should go read the whole thing yourself, along with the rest of his incredibly helpful and inspiring series of essays, “New Thoughts for Actors“, but the gist of it is this: we don’t always know what the “best” job (or move, or whatever) is for us at any given time, because we simply don’t have a big enough perspective. Like the Chinese farmer in the ancient story whose “bad luck” winds up saving his son from being sent off to war, our perspective in the moment, however well-informed, cannot possibly be all-knowing.

The secrets to getting the perfect job

So if you don’t have control over whether or not you get any job, much less the perfect one, or even knowing if it is the perfect one, how do you go about getting the perfect job? I said I’d share the secrets, and here they are:

1. Always be prepping

You’ve heard the expression “Luck happens when preparation meets opportunity.” Or if you haven’t heard that one, you’ve heard “Success is 99% inspiration and 1% perspiration” (Thomas Edison). Or you’ve heard me quote my all-time favorite thought on the subject, American opera singer, Beverly Sills: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.” All the affirmations in the world will not make up for actual, real practice. If you doubt me, consider this: would you rather fly with a pilot who has been properly certified after the required hundreds of hours of training, or a “pilot” who did double that time in really, really strong affirmations? I’m not against them, done correctly, but they should augment preparation, not replace it.

2. Learn concrete skills in letting go

While it’s critical to have passion for your pursuit (and if you don’t, you should consider a new one), it’s equally critical to be able to detach: from the need for the job, from identifying with the job, from stuff in general. This is another area where you cannot afford to be unspecific: you must develop a series of tools and practices that can help you let go of attachment to specific outcomes. There are a crazy number of these available to you. Some people swear by meditation, yoga or chanting. I like Morning Pages and talk therapy and plain, old, long walks. I’ve also found that my ability to let go of things mentally has been vastly aided by my practice of letting go of physical objects. If you want to explore decluttering from this standpoint, I especially recommend the books Clutter Busting, by Brooks Palmer, and Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui, by Karen Kingston, but I have an extended list of books on decluttering here.

3. Get a life first

I am ridiculously mono-focused: I basically like writing, talking and reading. That’s it. I don’t “do” hobbies, sports or travel; I rarely go to movies and plays anymore. I don’t even read, write or talk much outside of what some people would call a fairly narrow spectrum of interests. But I have a life that gets me out and about, seeing friends, taking walks, meeting new people, occasionally eating something. I use my time off to feed my soul and my brain with new energy and new ideas, which I in turn try to use in my work to share with the world.

I know it can be incredibly painful, not to mention confusing, when you don’t book that job you were “perfect” for. But the truth of it is that even if you were perfect for it, it may not have been perfect for you. Learning to put your time and attention into preparation, detachment and glorious life itself will bring you closer to making every job, big, small or “imperfect”, the “perfect” one to book right now.

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30-minute-or-less tip of the month: One of the most effective things I have done to help me achieve my BIG goals is also, mercifully, the simplest: write them down every day. Some of the magic is about keeping them in front of you; some more is actual science-based stuff involving your brain and how it receives, perceives and processes data. You can watch a short video describing my method; I’ve also included links to some more really helpful (and easy-to-read) articles. For more 30-minute tips, click here.

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Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Every month I send out a free missive about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you. Check it out, then sign up.

Email me your questions: If you’ve got stuff you’d like to see addressed in a future column, do email me. But please, check the archives, first!

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeakerlayabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good and not evil by helping people learn how to get there faster by getting out of their own way.

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