On Being Nice

Nice.  For a word that has as it’s 5th definition “pleasing, agreeable, appropriate, fitting” (frankly I’m surprised that’s the 5th definition!  The first one is “wanton, dissolute” who knew?) it’s almost become a not so good thing to say about someone.  But I do believe that niceness wins out.  The other night I was running an errand when the news came on with a story about a very talented NFL player who was – surprise, surprise – unhappy where he was playing and was dropping hints he’d like to make a team switch.  This player is on his 4th team so far and he was looking to add a 5th if anyone would take a flyer on him.  The thing is, even though this player is immensely talented, the response from possible teams was underwhelming, at least in the press I was hearing.  The player has a reputation for being difficult, selfish and polarizing.  In short, not very nice.  His schtick is wearing thin.  He is now a veteran of over a dozen years, his age is starting to catch up with him and teams are no longer interested in paying his non-monetary price for skills that aren’t as sharp as they once were.  He isn’t nice to be around and they no longer need to tolerate him as new players had risen to the top.  Now I’m making some really huge assumptions here based on press reports and reported behavior.  I don’t know this person nor do I know anyone in the NFL.  Although I do have “aging veteran” John Carney‘s college jersey from Notre Dame as I once had a crush on him.  It kills me when they call him that-I’m older than he is.

Anywho, back to the point at hand.  I don’t know if this player will end up at another team or make peace where he is.  But the facts of the story illustrate that people will tolerate genius without courtesy for only so long.  The almost-as-good person that is great to have in the locker room, part of the sales team or on a set will have a much longer and more lucrative career than flash in the pan man who’s only out for himself.  I try to keep that in mind whenever I go in for an audition or a meeting.  I may not be as skinny, talented or pretty as some of the other ladies, but I know I can be one of the nicest and most professional.  That way I can hopefully have a 22 + year career just like John.  Only I hope I keep all my hair.  Sorry John.

Whoa! Reality Check please

Sometimes you go through life thinking that things are one way and suddenly you are smacked between the eyes with a 2 x 4 also known as a Reality Check.  This happened to me the other night when I was given the opportunity to watch an audition of myself.  Now I get that the lens they used was a wide angle and the lighting was atrocious, but what came glaring through was how not good it all was.  Not just the performance, which really wasn’t that bad, but all the negatives that were magnified and enhanced up there on the 42 inch screen.  I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been booking and I think I just found a big part of the answer.  YUCK.  But this post isn’t to elicit complements or reassurances, I’ve accepted what I saw and am taking steps to correct it, but to point out that things aren’t always what they seem to be.  I had an idea of my appearance and facial expressions but was way off base in what they really were.  I’m grateful I got to see myself and do a realistic assessment of what I was presenting.  I could have gone on for quite a while in the mythical land of my perceptions.  When you are the product, it’s very hard to do an objective assessment of what is being presented.  Stepping back and looking at the product you are selling, whatever that may be, is imperative.  Otherwise you labor under misconceptions that have no basis in reality.  Another’s perception is your reality.  It sounds harsh but it’s something to keep in mind with everything you do.  So often we believe that if we are thinking one way, EVERYBODY must also be thinking the same way.  Hello my friend, that ain’t the case.  Being aware there are as many perceptions as there are people and that is your reality.  Be objective in the product you offer and make it the best  you possibly can.

Verbal recycling

Ran into a bit of a problem the other night.  I was most happy to be invited to a friend and her husbands house for dinner and got to meet her parents.  I love going to this house because they have two Brittany Spaniels who’s noses are just the right height to rest them on your knees while we were eating.  I miss that.  Anywho, it was the first time I’d met her parents so all my stories and material was new to them.  However, my friend was a regular reader of this blog.  Which I love but which also presented me with a problem.  I never realized how much I recycled my stories and anecdotes.  I’d written 2 postings before I left for their house.  Not normally something I’d take note of but I was deep in the middle of a story when I realized I’d used it for the blog post.  And now it was going to be a repeat to my friend.  I was airing reruns just like the networks do in August.  This kind of stopped me cold as I pride myself on being able to talk to anyone about pretty much anything.  One of the many skills picked up over years of sales.  But since my circles and acquaintances rarely overlapped, I was able to get lots of mileage out of my observations and one liners.  Now I was in jeopardy of becoming a verbal cliche.  Horrors!  I guess I’ll have to keep pushing myself and keeping in mind who I’ve told what to because everyone knows the ratings go down when repeats are on.  Hope I can withstand the pressure of it all.

26.2 miles

Yesterday was the Chicago marathon.  The past 2 years we’ve had freakily, if that’s a word, warm weather, in fact, 2 years ago they had to cancel the race midstream due to the heat and runners suffering severe dehydration.  This year the weather was on the really cool side, perfect conditions for long distance runners and predictions were records would fall.  Sure enough the 10 year old course record was broken by 1/100th’s of a second with the winner finishing in 2:05:41.  That time just blows my mind.  In slightly more time than 2 episodes of 60 minutes, a man ran from downtown Chicago to the Motel 6 in Dundee Road in Palatine IL.  If you’ve ever watched a marathon, the elite runners appear to be mythical creatures.  They fly by in a group and you can’t even hear their feet hit the ground.  There appears to be no effort, no strain, no difficulty on their part as they complete their trek.  It’s all in a days work to an outsider.  But the truth is in what you don’t see.  These people train daily, watch every single calorie they intake, analyze every aspect of their stride and improve the minutiae that will enable them to take 1/100th’s of a second off their time.  That’s what a professional does.  They labor in obscurity for months and years perfecting every aspect of their chosen craft until they burst on the scene in a blaze of glory.  The proverbial 20 year overnight success.  So many times we see a person on the screen, or in an arena, or on the microphone and think “I could do that, it doesn’t look that hard”.  To achieve the appearance of ease while attempting the impossible makes one elite.  It’s something I struggle with all the time.  I’m smart, competent and trainable.  It just frosts my cookies when I don’t master something the first time.  Pretty arrogant of me.  I fall prey to that nasty vice of instant gratification.  Keeping the long term goal in mind and continuing to put one foot in front of the other, do one more audition, learn another monologue will keep those baby steps adding up and someday I’ll be proficient enough to run my marathon effortlessly.

Green Lights

I just read a statistic that just sent me into a tizzy.  The average person loses 2 weeks of their life waiting for a light to turn green.  Can you imagine?  2 weeks of your life gone while at a complete standstill waiting to be given permission to get on with your life.  One doesn’t think about the 40 seconds here, 75 seconds there, or if you  live in Chicago and there are no left turn lanes on any street, 4 minutes every time you approach an intersection.  But those seconds add up and then you have some real time.  Basically a really nice vacation you can’t take because you are sitting at a light.  I’m not sure where I’m going with this rant, other than to encourage physicists, engineers and mathematicians to hurry up and perfect a transporter for heaven’s sake.  Maybe just to make sure I don’t waste any of those precious seconds available to us in our lifetime.  They could be used for learning, progressing, loving, laughing and just plain living.

Now that I’m working from home most of the time, maybe my average will go down.  But I do have to admit, I’m the chick in the next car putting on her makeup and mascara.  Hey, 4 minutes is all I need!

Pearl Harbor, 1941

I happened to catch the movie Pearl Harbor the other night.  I know it was panned by the critics but every time I see it, I am transfixed by the images.  My family has a very strong connection to Hawaii and to Pearl as my Mom, her parents, Nana and Grandpa, and her 2 siblings were living there when Pearl was bombed.  Grandpa was an electrical engineer employed by the government to set up communication systems for the territory as it was then.  Nana had a full time job working in the phone company which was unusual for women in that time.  She was the head operator and used to roller skate up and down the switchboard line helping out the other girls.  I always get a giggle when I think of my 4 foot 10 inch Nana on roller skates.  In fact, Nana was working the morning of December 7th and got the call from Fort Shafter that they were under attack.  You may remember that the timing of the Japanese attack was supposed to be simultaneous but there were some glitches in their plans.  Fort Shafter spotted the incoming planes before the other 2 targets, Pearl Harbor and Hickam Air Field, were bombed.  She called Grandpa to find out who she should notify as he knew all the admirals and generals on the island.  After Grandpa gave her the information he scooped up my Mom, her sister and brother and headed up to a high point overlooking the Harbor with his camera.  They watched the attack from there and Grandpa snapped away at the devastation.  Being an amateur photographer he usually developed his own film but he wanted a professional to handle this precious cargo.  When the developer saw what was on the film, he called the OSS and they confiscated the film.  We’ve never gotten it back.  I often wonder when I see pictures from the hill overlooking the harbor, if those were taken by Grandpa.

As I watched the movie with all the chaos and destruction, I am transported back to what it must have been like for my family.  My mom was too young to remember all that happened, she just remembers how wonderful and idyllic their life was on the island.  I can only imagine the fear my grandparents felt for themselves and their children.  Nana was pregnant with her fourth when all civilians were ordered back to the mainland.  They endured a month long journey by ship back to the States where one of the other transports was hit by a Japanese torpedo and everyone had to be offloaded onto the other ships.  All while being pregnant, seasick and dealing with 3 kids.  When I used to ask her about it, she’d brush it off saying “it was what we had to do” but I doubt if I would have been as strong or courageous as she was.  When I feel life is difficult for me, I think back to what they endured and help myself to a big dose of perspective.

Reaching for the stars

In my past life, one of the advertising agencies I used to work with was Leo Burnett.  The very famous story about this man and his eponymous agency is that he started it at the height of the Depression of the 1930’s with one client.  His contemporaries thought he was crazy and a Chicago newspaper columnist predicted he’d be selling apples within a year.  Well history has shown how good that prediction was.  Instead he gave away apples and on every reception desk in his now global ad agency to this day, there is a bowl of apples there for you to help yourself to.  I used to say when I was going to make a sales call there that I was going apple shopping.  I like the fact that 74 years later, the presence of a lowly apple  is a gentle “oh yeah, I’ll show you!” to those that didn’t believe.  One of the other iconic symbols of the venerable agency is a hand reaching for the stars.  Leo used to say that “when you reach for the stars, you may not quite get one, but you won’t come up with a handful of mud either”.  Striving for goals that seem beyond our grasp is how we keep pushing ourselves a little closer to achieving them.  It’s how the sprinter shaves a second off her time, a 40 year old QB annihilates his old team, the 20 year veteran who’s been struggling in obscurity wins an Oscar.

Examples of people reaching for the stars usually focus around sports and entertainment endeavors but I think it’s more about anyone who dares to dream a different life for themselves than they’ve been living thus far.  It could be going back to school at age 60, starting your own business, inventing a new gadget or starting a family.  You are never too old, too poor, too uneducated or more importantly too scared to find that dream that is your star and reach for it.  The key is to figure out what that passion is and then fire up the booster rockets to make it happen.  Think of how amazing that journey to the stars will be.  And make it happen for yourself.

Kid Magic

I have to be the luckiest aunt in the universe.  I am blessed with some great nieces and nephews and I’m not just saying that because they are going to have to help Aunt Pam wipe the drool off her face when she’s older and more senile than she is today.  I’ve a good mixture of genders and ages so I really get a cross section of the stages in a child’s life.  They’re all still young so there’s lots of learning and exploring to experience.  Whenever I feel stuck in a rut or down about something, I phone one of my siblings and ask for some kid time.  Let me tell you, it’s one of the greatest gifts I give to myself.  Getting down on the floor and playing make believe with some sticks and cardboard and miscellanea and coming up with a very plausible story out of it all is the best way to unlock one’s creative juices.  I even learn stuff from them.  I mean real stuff.  One of them who’s just started reading chapter books, informed me that Teddy Roosevelt was president from 1901-1909 and when pressed about accuracy, pulled out the book and pointed to the section of text where it could be found.  Remember I need irrefutable facts to believe a statement.  But I can guarantee I’ll never forget the years of TR’s presidency ever!  Kids don’t care if an audition went south or the car is acting up or whatever else ails you in the day.  Kids are immediate in every sense of the word.  Keeping me in the present and active in the conversation, not worrying about stuff that really doesn’t matter at the moment, can’t be resolved by fretting  and most likely is just mind taffy anyway.  It’s a super power they have and they don’t even know it.  But if  you look real close, you might see a few of them in capes zooming around.  I’ll be right behind them trying to shake the cobwebs off my cape.

Castles in the air

I’m a great one for the “what ifs”.  This is a very dangerous thing for an actor to do.  It starts off innocuously enough, “ooo, this is a good part for me, I’ll submit for it”.  Or “wow a SAG commercial, cool!”  Then you audition and it goes great, you make everyone laugh with your performance and leave everything in the room and with sounds of kudos and thanks still ringing in your ears as you leave the casting room, you are sure you nailed the audition and got the part.  Which of course will lead to a national ad that will pay you residuals for at least the next 6 months meaning you don’t have to worry about where the mortgage is going to come from.  And that national ad is going to lead to opportunities and invitations to acting mecca, Los Angeles, where you will be picked up at the airport in a chauffeured black SUV and taken through the main gates of a studio where you once again nail the audition and land a plum role in a series slated to run at least 5 years meaning syndication is a lock and your money worries are cast aside for at least 10 years.  Oh and it’s directed by an Academy Award winning director who just happens to have the perfect role for you in his next soon-to-be-nominated film.  And all of this came from a simple mailing of a headshot to a casting person in Minneapolis.

Focusing on the possibilities is a very important thing to do.  It’s the Little League player seeing himself hit the winning Grand Slam in the 9th inning of the 7th game of the World Series.  It’s the 5th grade Science enthusiast seeing herself viewing the earth from an orbiting Space Shuttle.  It’s the middle aged runner/walker seeing herself completing a 10K 5K without having to walk all that much.  Ok so maybe I’m talking about myself here.  But putting oneself in the realm of possibilities creates the dreams that drive the actions.  Allowing those dreams take over the reality can be a not-so-good thing.  Staying focused on the next achievable goal gets you closer to achieving that dream without building a castle in the air that has no foundation to support it.  And that type of castle is bound to collapse.

Looking for the upside

So often, I get to the end of a day and all I can focus on is what I didn’t get done that day.  Blog posting wasn’t written, demo wasn’t finished, meeting wasn’t scheduled.  All reminders of the failure that the day was.  But I recently read a quote on a friend’s blog and it reminded me that there is an opposite and even more compelling story to be told about the day.  The quote was from Ilan Shamir and it said “A thousand things went right today“.  And reading it flip flopped my perspective right on it’s collective patootie.  It made me think about all the things I did get accomplished that day.  Maybe not all of the things that I had planned to get done, but instead were opportunities that presented themselves and couldn’t be ignored.  Like the great TV show looking for a host in my age range that had remodeling skills.  Or the software I finally got installed properly in spite of being disconnected 6 times trying to reach the tech support people.  Or the sound effects put together for an audio book for my nephew that made me laugh.  Not quite a thousand things yet, but you get the picture.  Changing the inner monologue from the negative to the positive isn’t easy but it’s so necessary.  It’s too easy look at the glass half empty instead of half full. What doesn’t get accounted for in all of that is the chipping away of self esteem and confidence with each little nick at the “what didn’t get done” board.  The other things will still be there tomorrow and I’m pretty sure there is going to be a tomorrow.  Paying attention to what did get done instead of what didn’t starts the momentum in a positive direction.  And with momentum, it’s just as easy to build up as it is to tear down.  It takes discipline to focus on what did go right today instead of what didn’t happen but the payoff is well worth it.