Act Smart!: What keeps you from finding your way

Beware of anyone telling you the way to success, including me. Learn how to take information from a variety of sources and make your path truly your own.

You are your own best cartographer.

There are two chapters in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, marketing genius Seth Godin’s book, that you should go out and read immediately, even if you have to do it standing up in the bookstore.

The first is a stunning tour de force on Resistance, the bane of all artists and people who would create things that change the world.

Resistance is the voice that tells you to hit the snooze button instead of getting up to work on your vocal technique before you go to your Stupid Day Job. It’s the evil spirit that lures you to the TV and computer, whispering understanding nothings about how you’re so tired, you deserve a night off, watching reality TV or aimlessly surfing the Internet. It’s what makes you choose consuming stuff over making stuff, and it is relentless in its pursuit of you as unproductive, timid, obedient sloth.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I am personally quite familiar with Mr. Resistance, as is author Steven Pressfield, who devotes much of his artists’ bible, The War of Art, to the insidious power of Resistance. Read up so you can (hopefully) see him coming the next time he strikes. (And Pressfield’s regular Wednesday features on writing also offer incredibly valuable insights for actors.)

The second must-read chapter is the shortest in the book but the one I feel may be even more important to you in your scary, brave, wonderful life as an artist: “There Is No Map.”

As in, no one can tell you how you will succeed in your artist’s career. Not me, not Seth, not your teacher. Not any of the wonderful sources of advice you turn to for guidance, for illumination, on which is the best option out of a vexing array of options, and certainly not any of the evil ones. The best anyone who has succeeded can do is to explain what worked for them, but guess what? It will not work for you. Some of it may, but not all of it. Never all of it. Because not only is each of us a special snowflake, but the time in which we fall from the sky to the ground is different, as are wind conditions, temperature and myriad other factors.

So if no one can tell you what to do, what should you do?

Educate yourself. Study what has worked for those who have gone before you, but don’t try to copy it. Learn the rules of the game as they’re played the best you can, but train yourself to see the bigger context in which those rules operate.

Mostly, your job boils down to two things: getting yourself to a state of perfect readiness for the marketplace of your specific, chosen profession, acting, with all that it entails; and, paradoxically, learning to release that desire for external validation (here’s a hint: there is none that will ever satisfy you) that usually comes along with being an actor. That’s right: the only way you will ever be a successful actor is by not needing to be an actor, but choosing to be an artist.

I understand that this is not the kind of happy-happy, list-centric, juicy good info column that you may have come to read. I am deeply honored that you’ve chosen to read this far. But I’m writing this rather gloomier than usual column to spare you (if we’re both lucky) some of the agony I went through in my own acting career, and the havoc it wreaked on my personal life and well-being.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Read up. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at what everyone who’s smart in every area of the business (and out of it) recommends, then read the cross-section of stuff that’s risen to the top of each list. Start with Outliers, read my interview with Seth, then read all the other interviews and reviews.

And mostly, take good care of yourself and your instrument. You are here to change the world, and the world needs you more than ever.

Want a little more help wrapping your head around this stuff?

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!

Yo! Disclosure! Links to the books in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. This means if you click on them and buy something, I receive an affiliate commission. Which I hope you do: it helps keep me in books to review. More on this disclosure stuff at publisher Michael Hyatt’s excellent blog, from whence I lifted (and smooshed around a little) this boilerplate text.

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