It’s not bad to ask for advice and take into consideration what people tell you, but at the end of the day, the question you need to ask yourself is: “Am I an actor? Or a re-actor?”
I was actually stuck in my own business for seven long years because of being too reactive. I’d hear about a special business marketing strategy from a book, course, or friend and immediately want to implement it! I’d work hard on it for the next few weeks, and inevitably before I knew it, I’d have moved onto another strategy.
I don’t think I ever followed through on the same plan for more than two months!
There’s actually a name for this affliction freelance creatives face. It’s called Shiny Object Syndrome.
It’s the idea of wanting to keep jumping from one thing to another believing that, “If I only had THAT,” all my problems would be solved.
We keep looking for a magic bullet that doesn’t exist, and it leads us to getting talked into spending time, money and energy on things that feel good at the moment, but don’t actually make a difference long-term.
When we look back years later, we wonder why we’re still in the same place!
Here are some examples of shiny objects:
-“Take this new workshop about how to more deeply understand the life behind the character, and you’ll start booking more jobs.”
-“Buy this new course that shows you the top ten most effective ways to book acting work through social media, and you’ll get tons of new opportunities.”
-“Join SAG-AFTRA and you’ll immediately have access to high-level, career-altering auditions.”
And as every actor who has done these things can attest to, nothing life-altering happens after you get that shiny object.
So why pursue these shiny objects in the first place? Well, the answer is a bit counterintuitive: It’s because our brain wants to avoid two primary fears:
1. “People might get annoyed at me because I tried to get something I shouldn’t have.”
2. “If I’m actually given the opportunity I tried to get, I might mess it up.”
These two fears keep us stuck in almost every area of our lives! Whether it’s the fear of asking someone out (or that if they say yes, we won’t be good enough for them) or the fear of asking for a raise at work (and then worrying that if we are given the raise, we’ll mess up and not deserve it).
As Tim Ferris says in The 4 Hour Workweek, “What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do.”
Here are some ways these fears play out in the acting world:
– Reaching out directly to ask casting directors to consider us for a role: “Is it OK to send an email to a casting director? I don’t know, so I’ll spend my time updating my website instead.”
– Contacting your agent because you’re concerned they’re not submitting you for the right projects: “I’m worried if I ask my agent to meet with me and submit me for different projects, he or she will think I’m needy and drop me. So instead I’ll take that branding class someone recommended and hope my agent notices and reaches out to me for a meeting.”
– Asking your friend to introduce you to a great manager who can boost your career: “I don’t want to bother Jim about introducing me to his manager because he might get annoyed at me for asking… and what happens if I’m not a good fit for his manager? Instead, I’ll just ask to get together with Jim for coffee and then only ask about his manager if he happens to bring up the topic first.”
Successful actors have built their careers in many ways, from simply knocking on doors over and over again until they got a yes, to building their own production companies from scratch and using them to meet well-known directors. There is by no means only one way to get there, but there is one common trait that almost all self-made successful people have:
They faced their two primary fears and took action in spite of them, moving from being reactive to proactive.
They decided on a long-term goal that they wanted, created a strategy to get there, faced their fears and followed through for YEARS.
When people told them to get a new headshot because the background was too dark, they simply thanked them and filed the idea away to come back to it when they were ready. They didn’t let outside influences like friends, articles or books control them by giving them excuses to avoid the hard and scary actions they knew they needed to take.
They became professional “pro actors” by choosing to no longer be “re-actors.”
Shiny objects can be tantalizing because they make it sound like there’s an easier way to get what we most want. They play into the idea that it’s possible to reach our biggest goals without facing those two primary fears.
But at the end of the day, the fastest route to any goal worth pursuing is the long, slow, hard route.
As long as we continue to “re-act” instead of “act” by looking for shortcuts and ways to avoid facing our fears, we will always find ourselves staying right inside our comfort zones — which means five years from now, we’re almost guaranteed to still be in the same place.
To truly grow, we must ask ourselves this simple question, “What do I most want, and who can I ask to help me get there as quickly as possible?”
After coming up with an answer to that question, the next question to ask is, “Will I choose to face my fear and ask? Or will I choose to stay in the same place?”
If you choose to ask, the final step is clear: go out and ask for what you want, over and over again, slightly modifying your approach with every no until you get a YES.
No amount of self-reflection, studying, or “prerequisite” work will ever make you feel ready because there will always be another shiny object your brain will try to distract you with to keep you in your comfort zone of not feeling “ready” yet.
At the end of the day, the reason we pursue high goals is not about what we’ll get, but about who we’ll become in the process: A true leader in life. Not a re-actor, but a pro actor.
Martin Bentsen uses “outside the industry” thinking to help actors book more work. He’s helped over 6,000 actors with their careers and actor headshots since 2009 and his photography studio City Headshots is ranked #1 on Yelp. He’s spoken at NYU, The New England Theater Conference, The Actor’s Green Room, and other venues.