Success is such a relative word. How do you measure your own success? I was recently talking to my brother about this while I was delayed in the Portland Maine Airport. We couldn't decide how one measures success for themselves, and therefore if there was a scale upon which you could relate one's successes against another's.
It was told to me by a New Yorker while I was still in college that to be successful in the Acting field is to work. To work more than others. To consistently prove you are in the upper echelon of the field. That is the only way to success. Or so I was told.
That sounded exhausting to me. So I chose a different path. I forged my own. I decided right then and there that I would work hard, and tirelessly for me. Not for comparisons, and not for the sake of people telling stories about me, or for my parents to brag. I decided to work hard, every day, for me and me alone.
I was fortunate enough that after college, I was employed essentially straight from June 1st until the end of September. I used that time to focus my craft, cultivate friendships, and most importantly, enjoy myself. It's easy for me to forget that I do this because I love it. I feel truly alive in the moments where I remember that I am lucky enough to not have a job that I hate, that I'm able to support myself on my art, and that I'm able to be surrounded by some of the greatest people I've ever known.
I have been very fortunate in my first year post-grad, having not stopped working with the exception of a period from october to mid December; and in that unemployment period, I worked hard to hold on to that feeling of success. What that meant in my world is that I went out to auditions daily. I got up early, got there in time to be among the first few in line. Waited all day. Got seen. Didn't get seen. Worked my songs. Worked my monologues. Read my sides. Actively went to pieces of theatre and worked to meet people afterwards. Started writing a play in my free time. Organized events with friends so I wouldn't lose sight of what keeps me going. I worked 50-60 hours a week at two jobs. I was happy, and I was fulfilled. I was unemployed in my field, but I was working to make ends meet, and I felt successful.
The reason I say this, is that too often in the last year, I find many of my friends asking me how I'm getting my "success". What is my secret at auditions? What are my tricks? I hate these questions. I usually get super awkward and have trouble answering it. The easiest explanation is this:
Luck has been on my side, I have been in the right places at the right time, and I have the disposition and work ethic to capitalize on and take advantage of that luck. That answer always appeases people, it makes them feel like it can happen to anyone at any time, and I myself am a firm believer in that adage.
That answer doesn't feel truthful to me, though. I feel like I'm cheapening myself, and my success. I feel successful so why do I have to chalk my successes up to chance? Why can't I celebrate in my victories? If it was all luck, I would never be in this industry. I don't play chance. I don't gamble with my life. So I have had a hard time coming up with an answer to this question that satisfies others, while still feeling satisfied myself.
Before long I was off again, 6 months of employment at two different theaters, taking me from the day after christmas until June 4th. I was ecstatic. There was something different, though, about this batch of employment. It started great, the jobs themselves were wonderful, but my attitude started souring. I was feeling less fulfilled, more stagnant, which made no sense. I was working, so I wasn't stagnant. Then how is it I felt more fulfilled auditioning and unemployed, than when employed, and employed well? Rather than try to answer the question, I took my solace in my success. I rested on my laurels. I began bragging to myself. I started comparing my employment streak to others'. I officially became everything that I hated in the initial answer I got in college. I was "successful", but I was unhappy. Over the course of those 6 months I found myself having more and more emotional roller coasters. More bad days. I found myself increasingly irritable, and having to constantly fight to keep my happy disposition with myself and with others. I would lock myself in a room and watch hours of Television when I wasn't performing. I found myself having to work harder and harder trying to find happiness in others and my art, and I found almost none in myself.
Those of you who know me well, know that's not me, and never has been. I am happy in my work, but it's always self-fulfilling. I don't need work to be happy. I simply need to be satisfied with myself to find happiness. What I was finding is that it is true, I am happy when I feel successful, and yet despite being an amazingly successful actor, I didn't feel like I had achieved success. I had lost something, and I didn't know what. I was "unsuccessful", now, despite my successes.
About six weeks ago I was talking to a dear friend of mine who is also an actor. He graduated in 2011 from a different program than I did and made the absolutely inspiring choice to not try and fight the masses. He was going to take time to move to the city, get a job or two that he really loved and get settled. He took the time to become a New Yorker, learning the ins and outs of this city that he had spent so long idolizing for his career. He went to no auditions, he worked 50 hours a week, he loved every second of it. He saw friends, he went to theatre, he didn't go to theatre, he joined a soccer league, he made new friends, he got a girlfriend, he paid his bills, and saved money, he went to bed at normal hours, and he went to bed at ungodly hours. He got very into Yoga. He taught himself how to cook. He lived his life as he wanted to. He kept up on his training, mind you. He took voice lessons, went to dance classes, enrolled in an acting class. When I talked to him those six weeks ago, he asked me what it was like to have not stopped working since I graduated in May of 2012. I told him I'd been pretty unhappy personally in the last couple of months, despite being ecstatic with my professional life, and I couldn't figure out what had changed. I asked what it was like to have taken a leave of absence from his chosen career. His answer changed everything for me.
"It couldn't be better, I have successfully achieved everything I set out to achieve when I graduated. I don't mean to be rude, but compared to many of my fellow graduates, who are constantly miserable, exhausted, broke, and unhappy? I'm a success story."
You're damn right he is. He is a success story, and I wasn't anymore. I had been a success story, and outwardly, to others, I was still perfectly successful, someone to aspire towards, someone to ask advice from. The difference between him and I, was that he had found personal success. He was happy, content, and self satisfied, and I wasn't. I took that lesson with me. I went back to the basics. I reevaluated, and I learned. I started trying to remind myself what it was that made me happy in the fall. I began writing again. I started looking forward. I no longer rested on my laurels, but I also didn't sink myself in fighting for the next job. I called friends that I'd lost track of and caught up. I sat down and I changed myself, and I found happiness within myself again.
Immediately after doing that I booked my next job. I had been auditioning for about 10 weeks at this point with no callbacks and no responses, and yet with just one life adjustment completely unrelated to theatre, I booked a job, but it didn't start until mid-August. I came back to New York, renewed, and ready to spend my summer in the city. I was unemployed, but excited to audition, and to live my life again. I auditioned only once in the week after returning to the city, and I booked that job as well. It will easily be the best thing that's happened to my career yet, and I can not even begin to tell you how excited to start working on this new musical.
Guess what? My friend called me yesterday to say he went to his first audition last week since he graduated college in 2011, and got a callback along with only five other guys. He just found out he's booked that National Tour in a leading role, and will be gone for a year. He took two years off of performing to center himself, and he's truly a success story, both to himself and to others, and someone I aspire to be like every day.
So how do you measure success? I recommend finding success in your own happiness, and not happiness in your success. When you are happy, your life is infinitely better. People can tell those who are happy, self-satisfied individuals, and they want to hire them. They want someone who's easy to work with, who's fun, who doesn't bring a lot of baggage to the table. In the 10 weeks of auditioning with my soured mood, I had all sorts of baggage that I'm sure people could read from a mile away. I shed that baggage, and changed nothing else about my audition technique, hell I even continued to sing the same songs, and here I am, a success story once again.
I find my happiness in myself, and I measure my success in my happiness, and I am proud to say that I have once again found success.
Photo by Danny Bristoll
(fac·to·tum | \ fak-ˈtō-təm) noun - a person having many diverse activities or responsibilities
I find myself hilarious, and I use this blog to stroke my own ego. Thanks for indulging me.