Act Smart!: What worked this year?

An honest look back at what worked—and what didn’t—can make the difference between a truly happy new year or a tired old retread.

While I’m less a fan of New Year’s resolutions than I once was, my love of learning different people’s processes for wrapping up one year and heading into the next has not dimmed one bit. And my favorite methods seem to incorporate variations on the same tool: making a thoughtful list of successes and failures, and writing a bit about learning I got from each, and how it can help me moving forward.

I’m also a big fan of two tools when it comes to personal growth: writing things down and finding accountability. I may do a more in-depth version of my successes and failures elsewhere, but I thought it would be helpful for both of us if I did a broad strokes version here.

1. Asking for what I could give, rather than what I could get

This runs counter to everything in me. Not that I ever want to get caught asking for anything. Heaven forbid! You might then think me a rude and selfish person! This is more of a way of thinking I’ve come (slowly) to adopt over the past few years, but that I kicked into high gear this year. What it looks like from a practical, tactical standpoint is letting go of baser motivations (How can I get this person to cast me in their project? How can I get that person to like me? How many “likes” will this get me?) and latching onto loftier ones (How can I help support this person’s project? What can I do to gain in myself more of these fine qualities I’m attracted to in someone else? What can I post that will inform/support/entertain people?)

2. Asking for help

On the surface, this might seem like the kind of grabby, me-me-me stuff I am looking to avoid in #1, above. But really, it’s about humbling myself enough to admit I don’t know everything and I can’t do it all alone. It’s a really elastic kind of goal, incorporating everything from getting honest with my struggles (in the appropriate venue) to “bookending” (calling someone before and after a challenging task) to simply running my genius ideas by another human being before implementing them. (I am constantly amazed by my non-brilliance when it comes to some of my ideas. The word “cockamamie” applies. Also, “insane.”)

3. Doing things, rather than buying things

For a variety of reasons, I cut way back on my spending this year. I learned that I don’t need nearly as much to live on as I’d thought, and that I tend to use shopping as an escape. Hitting the 99-cent store for plastic tchotchkes scratches that same itch that making art does, but alas, the satisfaction is fleeting. Far better to ride out the uncomfortable feelings and end up with a newsletter, a drawing, a column. Not to mention economical.

4. Quitting all mind-altering substances

I actually did this a couple of years ago, but it’s only been this year that I’ve really started to see the difference that clarity makes. Sometimes I miss my bourbon, and I miss my (sob!) coffee every single morning, but my emotional life is richer and calmer without them. (I still drink weak black tea, but I have yet to have a single jacked-up feeling on it.)

5. Writing every day

Apparently, Jeffrey Gitomer is credited with the stark, startling line “Writing creates wealth.” I don’t remember hearing it from him, but I do remember hearing it echoed throughout the blogosphere back when we still said things like “blogosphere.” My writing is literally the foundation of my own wealth: it’s how I made money, as a copywriter, which led to making money as a commercial actor, which led to creating a show and a blog, which led to giving talks for money. Somehow, when I fell out of love with the speaking circuit, I fell out of writing. I’ve been writing every day for 78 days, and it feels good. It feels right. Why am I mentioning this in an acting column? Because I know that it can be hard to act every day, but anyone—even an actor—can write every day. Whether you’re writing in the hopes of directly making money (screenplay, freelance journalism, etc.), writing for your future self (webseries, solo show, etc.) or “just” personal-blogging or journaling, writing clarifies thinking, aids communication, and adds up to you being a richer person—metaphorically, always, but frequently, literally as well.

If you want to read more about some good systems for goal-planning, I happily refer you to: (1) my smart friend, Chris Guillebeau; and (2), my favorite goal-setting book, Your Best Year Yet, by Jinny Ditzler.

* * * *

Book of the Month

In addition to mining your own past for the gold of what worked (and not so much), why not take advantage of the wealth of successes and disasters of those who’ve walked the path before you? Carol Leifer, whose career as an actor, writer, and stand-up comic has spanned more decades than you may yet have lived, has collected all of her wisdom in one small, smart, enjoyable book: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying. It’s no dig-me fest, nor is it a dishy tell-all. She drops some names in the course of telling stories, but only to provide necessary context. Is the advice earth-shattering? No. Nor is it out of left field. But that’s a good thing. It’s very commonsense, with plenty of real-life results to back it up.

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