By: Madison Davidson
Last week I wrote about some mindset tips to have when you feel like you’re starting from Square One. Whether you’re at square one or are several steps into your acting career, there’s one very important tool you need to have with you and it’s your own internal compass. Call it your gut, your intuition, your internal Jiminy Cricket, it is important to become intimately familiar with how to access this guidance inside yourself and here’s why:
It can be so easy in this business to create a formula for success based on the way we’ve seen others succeed. As actors we are keenly aware of the world around us and we learn to copy or mimic it truthfully. But this tendency can go a step too far when we take the roads to success that we see other actors take and begin to strictly adhere to their formulas for ourselves without consulting our own guts first.
Common things I’ve heard other actors say (and that I’ve even said myself) are, “my next goal is to sign with an agent” or “book an under-5 role.” These are typically regarded as the first solid stepping stones in an acting career. They are fantastic goals and are probably good ideas for a lot of people. But slowly coming up in the world of network television or signing right away with an agent may not truly be the desired path for every single actor.
Because this business is so nebulous we often desire a concrete roadmap, any roadmap at all, as long as it makes us feel that we are headed somewhere. Before you jump on anyone else’s bandwagon, I’m going to walk you through an exercise that will help you consult your gut to know if the advice you get from others is in harmony with the path you really need.
The two big questions we ask ourselves, no matter what stage of our careers we're in are, “What do I want next?” and “How do I get it?”
This is normally when we become filled with anxiety, get overwhelmed and then run to friends and advisors to ask them what we should do. Before you head down that rabbit hole, grab a pen and paper and try this exercise.
"What do I want?”
We all possess an inner child, a version of ourselves that’s probably between the ages of 6 and 9 years old that resides somewhere, deep down. He or she usually comes up to the surface when we are both incredibly hurt and when we are having an incredible amount of fun. This is the version of us that probably started making things for the first time with some level of strategy and concentration (whether it was drawings, mud pies, plays or blanket forts) and it’s not yet the age when we searched for approval or applause for what we made. It’s the age when making things was pure fun. So, you’re going to have a conversation with this internal you on paper. Get magic markers, crayons, whatever you would have written with at that time and start a dialogue that may look something like Harry Potter having a conversation with Tom Riddle through the diary in Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets.
Write a question to your young self and watch as an answer quickly comes to the surface. Ask your young self the questions about what you want to be doing. Your young self, to whom making things and finding joy in it comes easily, will have A LOT to tell you about where it is that you want to focus in your creative journey. You may be surprised by the response. It may be that you want to dive into something you hadn’t really thought about before. Maybe you want to try clowning, audition for a cop show, work on a traveling cruise, try your hand at directing or props-making. Who knows? Only your young inner self knows and listening to him or her will help you focus on what will truly bring you satisfaction and tell you where you should be headed.
"How do I get what I want?"
Imagine that you are nearing 85 years old and are finally retiring from a long, fulfilling acting career. Whatever your personal vision of yourself at that time is, get a clear picture in your head. Where do you live? What have been some of your career highlights? What is your morning beverage? This internal vision of myself looks strikingly similar to Judi Dench, lives in a flat in London, goes to the theatre every week and has a wry, caring sense of humor. Whatever your inner Judi Dench looks like, get a clear image of him or her. This is the person you will write to for advice about the how.
This future version of you has already been through your struggles. They remember just how hard it was to be where you are now and they want to give you advice. They know all the steps you need to take. So imagine them sitting by a fire, with knowing eyes and a wizened smile, waiting for you to write to them with your questions about how to get where you want to go. Choose a different writing utensil for them and begin your questions.
Again, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the most sagely advice will spring forth out of the back of your mind. Your older self helps you remember that you already know deep down the direction you need to take and the actions that go with it. Summoning them will help you avoid running around like a chicken with your head cut off only to realize much later that you had the right game plan lurking in you all along.
This is a writing exercise that I go back to ALL THE TIME. Whenever I am struggling, playing the characters of my young self and my old self help me to identify what I genuinely want and need and how to get it. Life is far too short to spend time manically pursuing someone else’s desires by someone else’s formula.
Taking advice from others can be EXTREMELY useful and can help you by leaps and bounds, but only if it matches up with what you truly want for yourself. After you have some direction from your internal compass, you’ll be able to discern the useful advice from the advice that will take you off the course that’s right for you. With your newly-honed discerning palette, you’ll be able to use the suggestions from others and the directions from yourself to write you own, unique and highly effective formula for personal success.