Paying It Forward

Several days ago I mentioned an encounter with an actor who is consistently working in film and television in Los Angeles.  I found myself in the same elevator so the poor man had no choice but to endure my conversation.  At the time I didn’t realize who he was as I wasn’t the target demo for the shows he’s previously been on, I thought he was a sports anchor on a station I’d previously sold.  Anywho, he most graciously put up with my request to pick his brain and answered my questions for about an hour and a half.  The topics were all over the board from what he felt when a series was cancelled to are there any normal people in Hollywood and how do you tell if they like you for you and not for what you can do for them?  It was truly one of most seminal moments in my career to date.  The information he shared, the inside tips and the encouragement were early Christmas presents delivered at a time when I needed to receive them.  I had a smile on my face the remainder of the day that no lack of sleep from a red-eye flight could erase.

I don’t know if someone had done this for him early in his career or if he was just in a good mood and felt like talking.  I’m sure when he left to catch his plane back to LA he had no idea of the impact he’d left on me and of the ripple effect his words would produce.  I’m sure once he hit the terminal floor our encounter was forgotten as he moved into getting home mode. But I didn’t forget and I won’t forget.  I’ll think back to that conversation many times over the next weeks and months as I go forward.  And that’s the way it should be.  There is a saying that when the student is ready the teacher will appear.  I learned many lessons that early morning and am most grateful for the generosity and kindness shown to me by a fellow actor.  It was pretty amazing.

Just what is a no?

No is a pretty powerful word.  When we are growing up, it stops us from putting our hands on a hot surface, keeps us from eating all our candy at Halloween and as a teenager, creates wails of agony, foot stomping and cries of “you just don’t understand” when it follows a request to hang with the crowd.  We learn pretty quickly that no is not a good thing.  Avoiding a no becomes an eternal quest.  Anything to feel that disappointment or shame from hearing it.

When you choose to become an actor, no becomes in intrinsic part of your world.  It’s not often expressed verbally but you know the no is there when you don’t get that call back or the shoot date comes and goes and by golly you weren’t on set.  Or heaven forbid, you don’t even get the call in the first place.  Ugh.  It’s hard not to take that personally.  Especially when the product you are behind 100% is yourself.  And if you hear, or don’t hear but it’s implied, no often enough, you start to believe it.  I’m not right.  I’ll never get hired.  I’m just not good enough.

I had an AHA moment recently when I heard something about the word no and it hit like a 2 x 4 between the eyes.  No is just a result, it’s not a judgement of me or my talents.  So while it’s not the result I wanted, it is nothing more than a result.  And I can take that result and refine whatever it is that I’m doing so I get closer to the result I do want.

Taking the judgement and rejection out of no really helps dull the sting.  It is merely a notation in the grand experiment of life that gets you closer to the yes you want.

Noteworthy vs. Noticed

The Midwest Independent Film Festival is a film festival with a twist.  Instead of running for a week with an insane schedule of movies to try to see, it runs once a month and focuses on films either shot in the Midwest or made by folks from the 7 states included.  The presentation this month was a series of shorts done by people from the advertising community.  Before the films are shown there’s always a producers panel that talks about the film to be shown and how they were able to get it made.  This time the panel was made up of judges from the selection committee for that evenings program.  The 3 gentlemen were all from ad agencies around the city.

One of the judges was a guy named Dennis Ryan.  He’s the Chief Creative Officer at Element 79, which used to be DDBNeedham a lifetime ago.  Dennis writes a blog about the ad business called Brands Are Opinions.  I like reading it not only because I was a part of that world for so long, but also because it’s well written and it makes me think.  He wrote a posting recently that really struck a nerve. It was about the subtle distinction of being noteworthy versus just being noticed.  Dennis was talking about the ad agency world but I took it far more personally.  That stopped me for a minute.  Lately it seems like there really is no such thing as bad publicity.  Being mentioned, no matter what for or why now, is the ultimate goal.  In today’s media savvy culture that craves more and more content, staying in the headlines seems to be the goal many are chasing.  And the work you did to get noticed and become noteworthy gets shunted aside in the quest to feed the publicity monster.

I think at some point every person unconsciously decides what kind of career they want.  Do they want to do good work over and over again and have their body of work be their most noteworthy item?  Or do they want to be in the tabloids coming out clubs at all hours or getting thrown off of sets?  This decision is usually not made with any deliberate thought.  It seems to be made as circumstances sweep a person along with the tide.  And by the time one becomes aware of what kind of career one has, it’s usually too late to make a change.

Dennis’s post made me thing about what kind of career I wanted to have.  While I will admit I want to be in US Magazine at some point on the red carpet INSIDE the ropes posing in some fabby gown (hey, I can dream!), I decided I want to craft a career that consistently does good work.  One that is far more noteworthy that noticed or notorious.  I can handle a photo or two of me taking out the trash with no makeup on, but I want to be known for quality not crap.

Generosity Plus Plus

This post has been noodling around in my noggin for several weeks now.  I’ve been struggling with what to write and how to write it.  You see, I recently returned from the first FaffCon, which was a voiceover unconference.  I’d never been to an unconference before and due to a scheduling conflict, wasn’t originally planning on attending this one.   Fortunately I was able to rework my schedule and get to Portland for the event.   I wasn’t sure what to expect even though I’d helped to organize it.

What happened during those 2 days was absolutely unbelievable.  Let me back up a bit.  The structure of an unconference is different in that the attendees create the topics to be discussed and the expertise comes from within.  So if I want to learn about accounting software and there’s someone in the group who’s a wiz at it, they offer to lead the discussion.  Or I may know a ton about marketing that I think would benefit the group so I’ll lead a discussion about that.  The physical structure is such that you sit in a loose circle or something close to that and move chairs around as needed to accommodate the group.

So here we were in this new structure not really knowing what to expect.  Which was great because the sharing that was done and the knowledge that I gained blew me away.  You know when you see someone who seems to have all the answers and you wonder just how they found all that out?  What was the secret key they used to open the door to the success they’ve gained?  You know it’s there; you just can’t seem to get it for yourself.

This was the type of stuff I learned during those two days.  People were really letting down their guard and showing me the way to grow my business and exceed my goals.  It was truly life altering.  I’m so glad I was able to attend and so honored that those in attendance trusted everyone else with their secrets.  I hope FaffCon continues for a long time because; to borrow a line from the organizer Amy Snively, this is the conference I’ve always wanted to attend.

Magic Bullets

It’s been a very challenging week.  First I realized I didn’t have the sultry voice I longed for, an hard realization to come to grips with.  Then another boom was lowered when I realized there was no magic bullet in my future that would catapult me into the stratosphere of my career.  No secret code to open the doors to riches and fame and back to back bookings.  No superpower guaranteed to make me the voice or the face in every auditor’s head.  Crap.  This really ticked me off.  It finally hit me that this wasn’t going to be a wee bit of hard work and then ta-da!  Here’s your dream career.  It was going to be a slog, a pretty long hard slog at that.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not afraid of hard work.  I relish a challenge.  Don’t be in my way when someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m sure to run you over in my quest to prove them wrong.  But I have to admit, I’ve bought into the instant gratification of our society.  What do you mean I haven’t lost any weight?  I’ve been dieting for 48 hours now?  What’s the problem?  Get me a pill for this right away.  Computers don’t help much.  We can email someone and it appears in second in their in box while we’re Skyping with each other.  Graphic intensive web sites load in less than a second.  We get real time feeds of weather radar so we know almost to the minute when the storm will be raging over our heads.  All of these things serve to reinforce that I should have a fully functioning and highly profitable career 10 minutes ago.

After I got over my rather substantial hissy fit, it hit me that accepting this annoying fact was somewhat liberating.  It actually put more control back in my hands.  If I no longer was waiting for the fairy godmother, Genie or leprechaun to bless me with the secret formula, I could now go out and make my own magic.  It would involve cold calling like I did a lifetime ago.  Asking people for help, something I’m really not very good at.  Researching who is who within a company.  And doing this over and over again week after week.  But I was no longer waiting for my career to happen to me, I making my career happen.  Seems rather simple when you think about it.  And a little less exciting than matching all 6 numbers in the multigazillion dollar Powerball lottery.  But I’ve done this before and did it rather well.  I can do it again.

No More Bush League

What’s this?  Another sports reference?  But what can you do when sports are so much a part of our lives?  Deal I guess.  The term bush league comes from baseball and means amateur, unprofessional, unsophisticated.  I recently came back from a gathering of voiceovers that happens not quite annually but often enough to merit attending.  This time I came back with a different perspective, one that had started building a few months ago but was solidified at this gathering.  A lot of my friends and colleagues were there along with a lot more newbies and wannabees.  In attending all the various meetings and addresses at this conference, I realized that I had started to top out with what I could learn at any given workshop or symposium.  It was a funny realization.  When you get started in any venture, you are a sponge soaking up as much knowledge and expertise as you possibly can.  You read every book, take every class, listen to every podcast, join every online group, practice every moment you can, seek out any coach that could possibly teach you something.  Anything to get you closer to expertise and success.  This stage exists for quite a while until it feels like this is how it will always be.  Not so.  After a while, all this new found knowledge gets absorbed and settles in and becomes your new default position.  You continue to add to your knowledge and your expertise level continues to grow.  You think this will go on forever, that you’ll be learning things about your craft and it’s business ad infinitum.  Until you pay to attend something and you realize that the meetings you went to and actually learned something new were few and far between.  That you actually learned more from hanging out with your fellow professionals and pals.  Wow.  Is that a jolt.  You suddenly realize you are on par with these professionals and have to rethink how you see yourself.  And your training.  You’ll have to be more selective about who you give your hard earned dollars to in hopes of furthering your craft.  It’s a whole different way of living in your dream but an equally as exciting way.

On Green Jackets and such

Last weekend was the Masters Golf tournament.  I’m a big fan of the event.  Not only did I watch it on CBS and ESPN, but I watched it on Masters.com before the on air coverage started.  Yes I’m one of those people.  I actually like watching golf.  It’s a side effect of growing up in a household of golfers, we all play in some form or another.  It’s something that links us together inextricably.  My Dad taught my Mom, he’d learned it from his Dad, and she got so good she regularly whipped his butt.  They in turn taught us.  Now my brother is teaching his kids and his wife is taking golf lessons.  It’s cool to see that chain continue.

Anywho, I’ve been fortunate enough to attend the event several times.  My Mom has passes that are hers through her lifetime.  That’s how they work, you get to keep them as long as you are alive.  You can pass them to a spouse but not to a child.  They have to be returned to the pool then.  I joke to my Mom that she’s bought herself a few more years of life support with those passes-“yes Mrs. Tierney will be attending the Masters this year”.  For me, going there is a really special treat.  Not seeing the golfers, you can see them at tournaments all over the place, including here.   The specialness lies in the course itself.  Augusta is this really small town and this is their Super Bowl.  The course is right off a main road and you enter a world of green when you go through the gates.  Of course, after checking your cell phone at security.  Every service building is painted green so as not to stand out amongst the trees.  The main clubhouse and it’s outbuildings for the members are all beautiful white with black shutters on every window.  The flowers are explosive.  TV really doesn’t do it justice.  For me, the course was the star, not the players.  Not to get overly dramatic, but I am an actress/drama queen, I was on hallowed ground.  What struck me was how do the players put all this aside and just play their game?  How do they not get all wrapped up into all that it is and just curl up into a ball at the first tee?  I guess that’s what happens when you are a pro at what you do, you recognize your surroundings but don’t let it affect your performance.

Recently I had breakthrough in my own growth.  I realized I was holding the microphone too dear, too precious in my mind and this was affecting my performance.  For various reasons, I was letting this get in the way of just being me in front of the mic.  I’d created my own Augusta National in my noggin.  Not the best of circumstances.  So now I’m working on fixing that.  Maybe I’ll pull out that cute green jacket I own while I practice.

Studio Shoes

One of the great things about working from home is the ability to wear whatever you want to get the work done.  No one knows what you are clothed in and no one really cares, as long as you get the job done.  So for the most part, I jump out of bed, shower and put on something comfortable, right down to my shoes.  I really didn’t give what I was wearing much thought, after all, I figured it was an achievement to get out of my pj’s.  Recently I started working with a voiceover coach, Marice Tobias, who believes everything in your life affects what your voice delivers.  The clothes you wear, what you had for lunch, the argument you got in with your cable company, the shoes you wear.  It’s an interesting thought.  One I hadn’t really considered before.

I put this to the test recently when I was attending one of Marice’s workshops in Chicago.  She’d mentioned the shoe thing when I went on a retreat in February with an amazing group of women.  I was thrilled-finally I could deduct my shoes as a business expense!  Lots of laughter when I proclaimed as such.  On Sunday of this most recent workshop, I brought a pair of what I call my “limousine shoes”.  They’re shoes with really high heels that should never be walked in but can safely be worn while riding in a limousine to the next event where I’ll simply stand in one spot, thus avoiding any potential foot pain or ankle injury.  We were reading promotional scripts for television shows and I did my first read in the flats I’d worn to the studio but for the second read, I put on the black 4 1/2 inch snakeskin pumps with brass studs along the vamp.  Believe it or not, it really did make a difference, the engineer even heard it and commented on it.  Here’s a link to what I mean.  The second one has a heck of a lot more sass and attitude about it.

All this of course is one big rationalization for a recent purchase of way-too-expensive beautiful pale green tinged with gold snakeskin 4-inch pumps that now reside on my studio desk just waiting to be called in to action.  And I’ve really used them a few times.  Maybe someday they’ll see action at an event but for now, I’m trying to decide if this is a studio expense or an acting expense.

New Horizons

A few weekends ago I took part in a VoiceOver workshop taught by Marice Tobias.  I’ve just started working with her this past year and as with each good coach I work with, I take away something new every time.  Not just all the really great talent I meet at these workshops, and let me tell you I’ve been in the midst of some of the stars in our business who are amongst the most generous I could hope to meet, but I often leave with a completely new perspective.  One I hadn’t considered before.  And it’s not like I’m making vast and dramatic changes like all of the sudden switching from being left-handed to right handed, or to actually liking mushrooms, or to speaking Latin as my primary language.  These are the subtlest of changes to my delivery, my approach.  The interesting result of these tweaks is once I am done incorporating them into my process, I look up to find a brand new horizon in front of me.  Not that the old one was bad.  But this new one is a result of a refinement to the path I’d been on before and now was no longer traveling.  That’s the cool thing about learning.  Once you learn something, you can’t go back to not knowing it.  Your perspective is forever changed.  It can be a bit uncomfortable, always having to adjust your vision, but this is far outweighed by the opportunities that stretch out before you as far as the horizon.  And the exciting thing is realizing this horizon is in front of you for a brief time, that there is another equally amazing horizon to come.  And another.  And another.  You just have to keep embracing the tweaks and the changes they bring.  Now that’s cool.

Circular Reasoning

The other day I had to go to the Apple store to get a tweak done to the old gal.  I’ve had this laptop for coming up on 4 years and I love it.  I’ll be very sad when it dies and I’m hoping that won’t be for quite a while.  So anywho, while I’m there I said hi to my favorite Apple guy, Andrew, who sold me my first laptop almost 4 years ago.  Andrew and I always get in the best of conversations when I get to see him.  Which isn’t as often as they used to be as I’m not working downtown anymore.  The random topics we cover, once I get finished bugging him about when Apple was going to hook up with Verizon for the iPhone.   That’s just not happening fast enough for me.  But I digress.  On this particular day we were discussing word and number games, crosswords, suduko and the jumble.  Andrew does the jumble which I occasionally tackle but don’t relish it like he does.  He gave me a hint.  He said his grandmother taught him to look at letters in a circle, to write them that way so you can try letters on with each other until you find the ones that go together to make the word.  I thought this was a brilliant strategy.  Take out the linear in the letters and you’ll find the answer.  I’ve employed it many times over the past few days to much success.  I’m now enjoying the jumble a bit more.

This can be applied to so many aspects of life.  I, especially, have a tendency to find a way of doing something and thinking that’s the only way that task can be accomplished, that audition performed, that path followed.  Sometimes things do have a definite way of doing things, such as constructing a house or baking a cake.  But the key here is to shake up the thinking on things that I tend to put on auto pilot.  Not just the letters in a jumble but all aspects of my life and career.  I’m going to put many things in a circle as I look at it so I don’t get stuck in a linear rut.