Back in 2018, there was a point where I got so fed up with my headshot photography business that I decided to walk away from it for almost three months. I was sick and tired of feeling stuck, like no matter what I did, nothing would change and I’d never be able to break through my plateau.
During my “sabbatical,” I remember having a sudden “aha” moment, where I heard of something that COMPLETELY changed not only my perspective on life, but the actual results I was getting in my business. A few months later, my income went up by over 20%, my website traffic quadrupled, and the amount of free time I had increased drastically (even after I ended my 3-month “vacation”).
I later shared what I learned with some actor friends of mine and they were excited by not only how much it helped them in their careers (some more than DOUBLED the number of speaking roles they booked), but they also loved how simple it was. So that’s why I’d like to share it with you today.
For years in my business, it was always the same thing: I’d hear about a new strategy, book, or course and get super excited to try it. After a few weeks of implementing what I learned, I’d start to get the feeling that maybe it wasn’t working as effectively as I’d hoped, and so I’d move on to try something new.
I repeated this pattern for years. I took new classes, hired new people, followed new marketing strategies, and kept looking for the fastest and easiest ways to grow my business.
Almost a decade later, I finally looked back and asked myself, “Am I really in a better place now than I was back then?” And the unfortunate (but honest) answer was no.
I was earning the same amount of money. I was booking the same kinds of work. I was working with the same kinds of people. And I was feeling just as stuck, confused, and overwhelmed as ever.
I’ve learned that most hardworking, goal-oriented people can be broken down into one of two categories:
Type #1: I’m going to keep doing the same thing for the long haul.
This person continues doing what they’ve always done, waiting for their big break to come. They work hard, stick with it, and hope to eventually get where they want to be.
Type #2: I’m going to keep learning new things and trying every possible solution or shortcut until I find one that works.
This person constantly attends new classes, learns new strategies, and tries implementing everything they can as quickly as possible, hoping to break through sooner than later.
For the longest time, I was Type #2. I’d work like crazy to implement every possible idea into my business and, rather than sticking with anything for more than a few weeks, I’d keep changing my approach, never really giving any strategy enough time to work.
It wasn’t until I turned 30 and decided to slow down that things began to change. It was then that I had my “aha” moment:
I learned about a common professional affliction called Shiny Object Syndrome, which is where you’re always looking for the fastest, quickest, and easiest solution to your problems.
The problem with Shiny Object Syndrome is that there will ALWAYS be more magic solutions to try — more seductive shortcuts, tips, and tricks to help you get faster results.
But until we accept that there is no secret solution or magic bullet to building a successful acting career, we’re bound to keep spinning our wheels, feeling overwhelmed, and wondering why we don’t have the credits, representation, connections, reel, or social followings other actors seem to have.
Whether you’re Type #1 or Type #2, it’s time to take a step back and accept that luck is unlikely to strike.
There is only one tried and true method to getting unstuck, whether in your acting career, your business, or any other personal/professional area of your life. It’s something we’ve all heard before, but hearing it again and in a new way might just be what’s necessary to kick us into gear:
1. Figure out what you really want.
Not just a “nice to have” vague want, but a realistic, measurable goal you’d be willing to focus on 100% for the next 3-6 months.
2. Come up with a ton of steps you could take to get there.
Brainstorm and research, writing down at least 15-20 possible “action steps” you could take to reach that goal.
3. Narrow those 15-20 action steps down to the 2-3 you think would have the highest probability of getting you to where you want to be.
Don’t just pick the easy or fast steps. Instead, pick the ones you’re almost 100% certain would work, even if they seem scary or difficult.
4. Cut out everything else you’ve been spending your time on.
You need to free up time and energy to stay fully focused on those 2-3 actions for the next 3-6 months.
5. Schedule and follow through.
Set a daily reminder so you don’t get distracted, and then keep taking action over and over again on just those 2-3 key items until you reach your goal. In the unlikely scenario you’re still not where you want to be after 3-6 months of hard work and focus, restart the process, but this time, pick 2-3 different action items.
Yes, I know that process might sound boring and simplistic. But that’s why it’s effective. Sometimes practicing the basics is all that’s needed to make the difference.
The approach above is based on two critical principles: 1) Analyzing what’s working and what’s not, and changing your approach when things aren’t working, and 2) Being sure to follow through long enough for the new approach to work — or at least to be certain that the approach will NOT work.
The fastest route to any goal is often the long, slow, hard route. Looking for shortcuts or waiting for luck to find you is bound to keep you stuck.
Now, if you do decide to follow the five steps I’ve outlined above, I just have a few simple tips to increase your chance of success:
When cutting things out, be ruthless.
It’s OK to stop doing things that aren’t serving you as long as you’re not hurting other people (and if you are going to disappoint someone, use your best judgement and be honest with both them AND yourself).
Yes, some of the actions you wrote down might be scary.
This especially applies if those actions involve asking people for things. But it’s often the scariest actions that are the ones we most need to take.
Don’t be afraid to invest in yourself.
An unwillingness to spend money on your career (like better headshots, reel, attending networking events, etc.) subconsciously tells your brain you’re not worth it, and that mindset can trickle into other areas of your life, holding you back in many ways.
So as you finish reading this, take a look at your acting career honestly. Are you feeling stuck? Are you still in the same place you were years ago?
If the answer is yes, follow the five simple steps above, and I can almost guarantee you’ll no longer feel stuck after 3-6 months.
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Martin Bentsen has used “outside the industry” hacks to help actors book more work since 2009. He’s helped over 6,000 actors grow their careers through his 1-1 consulting, digital courses, demo reel production and actor headshots.
His photography studio City Headshots is ranked #1 on Yelp and Google and he’s spoken at NYU, The New England Theater Conference, The Actor’s Green Room, and other venues.
Want to book more work by thinking “Outside the Industry?”
Download his free Actor’s Toolkit and start creating new opportunities for yourself.