Falling

Sports and their analogies are very prevalent in my thinking and writing.  It’s not surprising as sports exists in every culture and at many different levels.  Baseball and Football in the US.  Soccer, Football to the rest of the world, in many, many countries.  And every other year, the Olympics bring to the world sports that we don’t get to see every day.  Sports participants have a relevancy in so many ways, you can’t help but draw from their experiences.

I saw an interview recently from Olympic ice skater Michelle Kwan who said when she started skating (at age 5!) her first coach spent a lot of time teaching her how to fall which really puzzled Michelle.  After all, should she be learning to skate?  What she later realized is her coach knew she’d be falling, and falling a lot, during her career and Michelle needed to learn that falling wasn’t fatal, that it was all part of the process and not really a big deal.  She just needed to pick herself up and get going again.  Falling didn’t end her performance.  She had to continue.  If she allowed herself to become paralyzed from fear when she fell or thinking she might fall, then that was what was going to end her performance.

Falling, and falling again, then falling some more, is what happens every day with almost everything we attempt at life.  Those miserable 10 pounds (ok 25 pounds!)?  So you had a bad day fueling yourself, that doesn’t mean you give up a healthy lifestyle forever.  Yes, you know smoking is bad for you and you know you had a drag when stress got the better of you.  So start right back on your no smoking path the next day.  Those new business clients you were going to research for work?  So maybe you spent the day on the couch channel surfing instead of diligently plugging away at the computer.  Vow to do the needed work first thing tomorrow morning.

Learning to fall and not letting it stop you in your tracks is key to continuing your forward progress.  You might as well admit it’s going to happen.  How you handle this eventuality determines how successful you’ll be in your journey.  And bruises, while not very pretty, do fade.

Coagulation

I haven’t written for a while.  At first it was a break because I was in the middle of shooting the web series I’m producing.  Then the holidays rushed in to take my attention with all the shopping, wrapping and requisite joy.  Once that subsided, I kept thinking I needed to get back to writing but never did.  So I figured I really didn’t have anything to say.  I would write when something came to me, but it never did.  I gave up trying to force it.

Three nights ago, I was researching insurance companies because I need to find health insurance.  This has been going on for several weeks as it is such an overwhelming process and I kept putting it off.  Going through it makes me long for the days when I was a corporate employee and I had to just pick from 2 choices that were clearly identified -HMO or PPO.  It’s enough to almost go back to the 9-5 grind…almost.  Anywho, this research extended well into the next day.  It was so complicated that I kept getting frustrated, stopping and turning to web surfing, email, TV, anything to get my mind off this monumental task. I kept having to pull myself back to the task at hand.   Which didn’t make my focus or my progress very good.  Finally by early evening, I had narrowed down my choices on 3 different providers and sent off a note to my insurance broker with my selections and a some questions for her.

Then a funny thing happened.  I truly felt a physical sense of relief.  I relaxed.  As I moved the now 2 inch file off my desk, I could feel my brain shifting.  For the first time in a long time, I felt like writing.  So I did.  And not just one post but two with ideas for 2 more.  And I started thinking of ideas I’d like to either produce, write or act in.  The creative juices started flowing again…finally!  I didn’t realize it at first, but when I noticed what I was working on, it hit me that I’d been so stressed about this insurance thing that it had stunted all my thinking.  The very nature of this insurance project and the fact that I’d put it off for so long, had taken all my energy away from everything I love to do.  My brain was just existing, it wasn’t thriving.  Creativity had slowed to a halt, and the insurance stuff had coagulated my imagination.

I’m not through this process yet.  And it’s an awful process.  But you better believe I’m going to attack the next step much faster and with less agita.  Peeling the bandaid off slowly just extends the pain.  Better to rip it off, feel the momentary ouch and move on.

Security in Silence

No I’m not referring to the fact that it’s been such a long time since I’ve posted anything.  That is for another day.  This phrase came to me in a wonderful note from a friend, Jenna Johnson, who’s moved to LA and is trying to make a go of it there.  She meant it differently than I’m using it here but the the phrase was powerful enough to stand out on it’s own.

Finding the security in silence isn’t an easy thing to do.  So often as talent, creatives and simply human beings, we are very uncomfortable with silence.  How many times have we experienced the awkward silence in a conversation?  Or when someone falls silent, rushed to fill a perceived void with meaningless words that sometimes end up doing more harm than good?  Or when you think that nothing is happening in a situation, tried to make something, anything happen by forcing an action?

We are not comfortable with silence, especially in today’s world.  There is so much stimulation visually and aurally that this has become the norm and silence is almost abnormal.  I’ve really tried to make an effort to embrace silence when I work from home so I can let flow what needs to flow without the scattered focus interruptions these noises bring.  But it’s a never-ending battle against a very strong tide.

The even more difficult silence to handle is when you feel there is silence in your career.  You haven’t had an audition in weeks so you must be blackballed at the casting office.  Or your agent is on the verge of dropping you.  You haven’t done a voiceover in you don’t know how long so obviously your voice isn’t hirable.  You had no response to your latest marketing campaign so that was a big waste of time and money.  What you don’t know is what is happening in the silence.  What is transpiring behind the scenes in the big picture of things.  Trusting the silence, being secure in the knowledge that no news may really be good news, that you have planted and are are continuing to plant seeds of success is not easy.  It’s takes a lot of faith, trust and discipline to not try to make something, anything happen because of course that’s the only way progress is measured right?  Visible action must mean progress.  Not always.  Sometimes there’s plenty of action going on, you just can’t see it.  Just know that it’s there and find security in the silence.

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.

The Gift of Aspiration

Everywhere in this world there are people who are further up the spectrum than I am.  People who have more money than me, have achieved more fame than I, are skinnier, more proficient, more talented, you name it.  But there they are, ahead of me in some way.  As I write this, I am sitting on a plane in coach 2 rows back from first class so I have a bird’s eye view of the way they get to fly. I usually sit further back on the plane so while I know first class is there, I’m not as acutely aware of it. Lunch has just been served, on china and the flight attendant is bringing around petit fours for dessert, along with a refill of wine.  I haven’t even been asked if I want to buy an overpriced snack yet.

I say this not to complain about how awful air travel has become but to highlight where they are versus where I sit.  Watching the lovely way they are being treated made me want to be up there.  To figure out a way to get in the club.  Research the challenge.  Problem solve to achieve the goal.

Having those backs to look at as I travel my path is a wonderful gift. It lets me know what I want is achievable and if they can do it so can I.  I don’t look at those who have achieved with anger or envy (ok maybe a little envy, lunch sure smelled good and I would kill for more leg room) but with assurance that one day I’ll be up there, eating lunch on china at 35000 feet, accepting accolades on my performance and finally fitting into a wee size (or at least a wee-er size).  Just need to keep aspiring.  That’ll make it happen.

Raise Your Game

My Mom and Dad have been avid golfers for as long as I can remember.  My Dad started playing when he was young but my Mom didn’t pick it up until she married him.  She also started skiing when they got married.  But I digress.  We were fortunate enough to live in a small town with several pretty good golf courses close by so they were usually able to play somewhere.  Even if for a hole or two or to shag balls.  My Dad really enjoyed the game and the release it provided him from his stressful career.  For my Mom, I think it was a wonderful opportunity for her to find a moment of peace and quiet amongst the chaos of raising 5 children.  It’s blissfully hard to answer a million questions and referee the multitude of battles when you are on the back nine!

I always thought it was great that they shared this common interest.  They took golf trips together, went to golf school together and played together several times a week.  My Mom, being the great competitor she is, really worked at her game.  She has a great eye for analyzing a swing and for putting what she learned into practice. It got to the point she could play better than my Dad, who was no slouch himself.  In fact she plays better than almost the entire male membership at their club.  There’s quite a bit of grudging admiration in the men’s locker room for my Mom’s skills.  All of us kids grew up playing, with varying degrees of success.  I like being outdoors but the time it took to play a full round was time I wanted to use elsewhere.  So while I am proficient, I haven’t excelled to the level my parents have.  But I always loved playing with them.  It was really fun and the laughs we had were priceless.  Best of all, I always played better than when I was playing in an outing or a league.  Both my parents would give me tips, and my Mom especially was great at fixing my errant swing.  I played up to their game and was the better for it.

I thought about that last night when I attended a table read for the latest project I’ve been cast in, a short film.  One of the actors there had really prepared for the read, our first meeting as a cast.  He’d really thought about all the characters and had read the script multiple times.  He’d mapped out past histories and relationship nuances I hadn’t begun to think about.  His work got me thinking about decisions I’d made about my character but hadn’t formalized.  Made me commit to certain aspects of my role and who I was in the story.  Made me work out where I was going in this story.  In short, improved my game during our brief meeting.

It had been a while since I’ve been in a collaborative effort like this.  Voiceover can be a solitary business with no one to bounce ideas off of.  I was excited leaving the meeting and reminded that I should always try to work with those better than me.  Push myself.  Raise my game.  How else am I going to get that hole in one?

Stupid Tax

One of the shows I used to catch every once in a while was The Dave Ramsey Show on the Fox Business Network.  Dave is a financial guru who helps people get out of debt and stay out of debt.  I’ve read a few of his books and was saddened to see that FBN cancelled the program a few weeks back.  He had a great way of putting things that were no-nonsense and full of common sense tips to help one and all get their financial houses in order.  He was ardently opposed to credit cards and their use as a tool for cash flow.  He called the interest they charged a “stupid tax”.  This just made me giggle.  He applied the term to several other areas of finances, basically saying that to use or lose your money for silly and unnecessary reasons was just plain stupid.

I think the phrase can be extended to other areas of life and not just financially.  And I have a perfect example of how I paid the stupid tax the other day when traveling.  Let’s just start with the premise that traveling these days includes a certain amount of hassle, annoyances and endless supplies of patience.  The days of travel being a pleasant and luxurious pastime are long gone-alas!  Anywho, I was going to LA for a voiceover conference and had booked the first flight out so I could be in LA early enough to do a little sightseeing.  I wanted to do an official studio tour as I’d been on a lot but wanted to hear the history of studio.  So I was going to take the Paramount tour at noon LA time.  I get to the airport at 545am in plenty of time for my 735am flight and I’ve already printed my boarding pass.  No problem right?  Well for some reason I decide at the last minute to go to the bathroom and then oooo, wouldn’t a banana be good for the flight?  So I toodle down the concourse in search of a banana.  As I return to the gate, I notice the door is closed so I wait outside as the gate agents sometimes step away to take care of some business.  Someone finally showed up and asked if they could help me.  I said “I’m on this flight” and hand her my boarding pass.  “I’m sorry, the flight is closed”.  “But there’s 10 minutes until you leave, they plane’s still right there”  “But the flight is full”  wherein we got to the root of issue.  They’d given away my seat and they’d have to compensate someone in order to honor my seat.  So instead I paid the stupid tax of having to wait for the next flight and potentially missing my tour.

Fortunately I made the tour but the entire episode highlighted for me some of the ways that I short change my career and my life by paying this tax that I don’t need to pay.  Sure getting a banana was innocent enough but the result of my loss of focus could have been a lot worse than it was.  Staying focused is very important and not letting myself get sidetracked.  If I don’t, I may end up holding a boarding pass going nowhere instead of continuing forward progress.

A Clarification from Mr. Franklin

Ben Franklin was a man of many wise saying that still have relevancy today.  You know, “A penny saved is a penny earned”, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”, “He that is good at making excuses is seldom good for making anything else” and of course every hostesses favorite “Guests, like fish, begin to smell after 3 days”.  One of my favorites is “Never confuse motion with action”.  This one has really resonated with me, especially recently and has led to a slight change in how I’ve been evaluating opportunities.  I’m a big proponent of taking workshops and classes even if I’ve had to travel to take them.  Let’s just say I’ve never met a workshop I didn’t turn down.  I’m not that bad about it but I do take a lot of them.  I do believe there is something to be learned from any situation and of course there are contacts to be made.  I am pretty choosy about who I take classes from so I’ve been able to avoid most of the shysters that prey on the acting and voiceover community.

Recently though, my thought has turned away from learning and more towards doing.  I realized that all this traveling to take workshops really threw a monkey wrench in my schedule.  There was a gearing down and gearing up time that took energy and attention away from my progress.  And because I was out of the studio and wasn’t in town, it was affecting my ability to audition both on the mic and on camera.  I realized that while I was learning from each opportunity, what I was giving up wasn’t being paid back in kind.  I was confusing motion with actually taking action and making progress.

As a result of this, I’ve said no to several recent workshop opportunities.  I realized I needed to practice what I’d learned at all the other ones I’ve taken.  So my suitcase remains in the closet.  I’ll be attending workshops again in the future but for the time being, I’ve got my feet planted right here at home and I’m no longer confusing motion with action.  Besides, the heat finally broke and it’s heavenly here.