Monday, August 15, 2016

And There's Nothing You Can Do

Jill came to her session reporting on the disappointment of a recent audition.

"As soon as everyone started singing, I could tell the director wasn't interested in me.  Then he called back the two women who looked nothing like me.  Well," she huffed, with a hint of disgust in her voice, "I could see where this was going."

So could I.  Another artist too personally invested in aspects of their professional career that are out of their control.

And this attitude is not exclusive to the arts. Plenty of us invest too much of our self-worth into  institutions - schools, universities, corporations, non-profits, any business actually - thinking this is a key to a fulfilling life.

Let me state this as clearly as possible.  There will be people who are not interested in what you have to offer.  And there's nothing you can do about it.

Actually, that's not completely true.  There IS something you can do.  There are two things you can do:

#1 - develop the ability to be less personally invested in business outcomes.  Jill hasn't yet recognized that casting decisions are not always based on talent, desire ("God, I hope I get it") or personality.  Therefore, every time she doesn't get cast, she feels personally rejected.  This is not only emotionally exhausting, it is flat out unhealthy. 

In fact, I find this is one of the main characteristics that separates those that work from those that don't.  Those that work have found the ideal investment level.  They know the circumstances that are in their control (finely-tuned skill sets, consistent attention to opportunities, the best materials/portfolio available to them) and those that aren't (appropriate skill sets, decisions made by others, timing).  If they're not hired for a project, they let it go and move on to the next possibility.

Is this challenging?  Yes, I think it is, particularly for creative types.  So many of us were first recognized as unique, talented people because of our creativity.  So we get used to the adoration and the acknowledgement.  Learning how to grow beyond that initial buzz ("You love me, you really do"), to have confidence that your creativity is of value, even if you don't get hired, is vital if you want to survive as a real human who creates for a living.

#2 - focus your energy on finding the ideal projects for you.  

Let's imagine you run an online interior design service, specializing in upscale condos located in major metropolitan areas. Would you market your services in rural Kansas?  No!  You can see the absurdity in that immediately.  

Let's imagine you write a novel about an early 20th-century integrated baseball team traveling through the South.  Would you market that book to Donald Trump supporters?  No!  Another absurdity.

Yes, you see the absurdity in both of these examples, yet I encounter creative people all the time who use incredible amounts of their energy to focus on projects for which they are not right.  Actors, singers, writers, composers - I can think of examples of each one.

Get smarter about the opportunities you pursue.  Take a serious look at your strengths and weaknesses.  Seek the opportunities that play to your strengths first.  Research as much as possible to find out if an opportunity is the best one for you.  If it isn't, let it go.  Use that energy to find a better opportunity.

Simultaneously, work on turning your weaknesses into strengths.  If you're a writer who can also illustrate, pursue writing projects first, but don't let your illustrating skills atrophy.  If you're a dancer who can sort of sing, seek out dancing roles first. This is tricky work to balance, but crucial. You never know when those secondary skills become the difference between you getting the project and someone else getting the project.

It is true that figuring out where to focus your energy can be tricky. What am I best at?  Where do I belong? But you know what I say.  If you're not sure, find an expert in the field, pay them their fee and get their ideas and opinions.


  1. I'm not following the Olympics much, but heard the Table Tennis coach give some similar advice...If you miss a point, you'll win another point. Don't dwell on it. Learn from it and move on. Thanks for the good pep talk for creatives and athletes!