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.

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.

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.

Anniversaries

Today is an interesting anniversary for me.  It was one year ago today that I was laid off from my corporate job as a Sales Manager for a television commercial sales firm.  Even though I was planning to leave and had been saving for over a year for this leap of faith, I was still surprised.  I sat there with a grin on my face during the meeting because I couldn’t believe my plans were coming together.  I’m sure they thought I’d gone over the edge and had security on alert just in case.  It was a surreal experience.  Not because I wanted it to happen, but because it was happening at all.  Being a manager one of my responsibilities was to forecast the month and quarter ahead.  I’d been watching the numbers get smaller and smaller as the recession tightened it’s grip around the economy.  I thought the powers-that-be would merge us with another division and keep the strongest people.  Kind of like what happened when the NFL merged with the AFL.  Instead they chose to amputate us.  I don’t blame them.  Our amputation brought them back almost to breaking even.

The funny thing is, even though I wanted it to happen exactly the way it did, I still went through a depression afterwards.  It’s not easy being told you aren’t wanted anymore and that you as an employee aren’t valued.  It took me a while to break through that and move forward to my new life.  One of the best things I did was take a long driving trip through the south.  It was a physical and timing break, a perfect transition from one life to the next.

So here we are 1 year later and I can’t believe it’s been a year already.  I am living the life I envisioned for myself, a free lance creative life full of auditions and go-sees and bookings and voiceovers.  At this point I really can’t imagine going back to corporate.  Hitting this one year mark in important because if I were to go back to my former corporation within a year, I would go right back in as if I’d never left.  Back into the health plan, the 401K and the earned vacation.  I needed to hit this mark so there’s nothing for me to go back to.  Here’s to moving forward!

The Clunk Heard Round the World

Last night was the final game of the NCAA tournament for 2010.  Unless you really don’t give a hoot about basketball, you probably were aware that mighty Duke played an unexpected and underrated opponent by the name of Butler University from my home state of Indiana.  In any other year I would be cheering for Duke which I know invokes strong responses from most people.  Duke is a team folks either love or hate, there’s usually no in between.  I happen to like Duke, I respect their coach Mike Krzyzewski, I respect the fact I could spell his name correctly-ok so I looked it up-shoot me, I like the fact they are a perennial threat every year, I like how passionate their fans are.

But this year was a different story.  This year their opponent was none other than Butler, a small liberal arts university that I’d previously known for having a good dance school.  Oh and their gym, Hinkle Fieldhouse, was one of the gyms used in Hoosiers.  Butler was an improbable finalist in the tournament, rising from I think it was the 5th seed to almost win the game.  It was one of the best basketball games I’ve watched in recent history.  Both teams were neck and neck with each other, their defenses were tight so the score was relatively low and the excitement in the stadium was palpable what with Duke’s passionate fans trying to outshout the home field advantage Butler had.  Duke ended up winning by one point but not before one of the Butler players launched a mid-court buzzer beater shot.  You could hear the collective intake of breath as time slowed down and everyone waited to see where the ball landed.  It not only made it to the basket, it hit the rim with a loud clunk that CBS replayed over and over.  Alas it didn’t go in.  What a story that would have been.

So Duke won the game.  But I couldn’t help thinking throughout the celebration and press conference afterwards, that the real story was what Butler had accomplished.  That they were the real winners of the night and we were the better having watched them.  They never doubted they had the right to be in the finals, never apologized for their presence, never made excuses for their ascension, never wavered in their belief they would win.  That team should be so proud of what they achieved.  And what they taught me, not that I matter anything to them, is something I will draw on in years to come.

I do loves me some Hoosier basketball!

Cinderella Story

It’s March Madness time again.  The selection show was just the other day and the hopes and dreams of many a small school were either rewarded or dashed.  Even though I grew up in roundball crazy Indiana before they totally wrecked the high school tournament by going to a class system (sorry-editorial comment), I really don’t watch much college basketball during the year.  My sport is the NFL.  But this time of year, I become a devotee of NCAA hoops.  There are 64 teams that on any given day can emerge as a giant killer.  Yes there are top seeds that are expected to do really well but as any bracket picker can tell you, there’s always a #12 seed that just slays a #5 seed and then goes on to win the next round.  The key is that #12 believes that they have every right to be there and why wouldn’t they win?  After their victory, they look around in confusion wondering at everyone else’s surprise.

Watching these teams win, and there is at least one every year, I’m constantly reminded of the overnight success phenomena.  The actor struggling just on the edge of success, the inventor tinkering in his basement every night.  Suddenly just the right conditions come together at just the right time and people start to notice what was in front of their eyes all along.  They just weren’t seeing it.  The anonymous actor/inventor/whatever is a bit flummoxed at all the attention because he/she hadn’t really changed what they were doing, the only difference was  their efforts were now getting noticed and applauded.  It’s the Cinderella story of Caddyshack fame.  Maybe I won’t make it to Augusta to play (although I’ve been there several times as a spectator), or to a final four in basketball, or even on stage at the Oscar’s, but I believe I have every right to be there and that’s going to carry me closer to achieving my dreams.

It’s in the hole.

Not a success? Sez who?

I have entered a field where the odds are stacked incredibly high against achieving success.  Especially at this stage in my life.  Just ask any number of so called friends, former boyfriends and “‘supportive” colleagues that give great face when I talk about my ambitions but snicker behind my back at the first opportunity.  But they determine success in my field, acting, as achieving that $15 million per picture paycheck.  That’s like telling every computer or IT major that unless they achieve Bill Gates’ status they are a failure at their chosen profession.  Or every finance major they must achieve Warren Buffet’s wealth in order to be successful.  Sure it would be great, but why must we insist that actors are failure’s unless they are an Oscar nominee, in the tabloid’s on a weekly basis or pulling down 7 figures for each project?  Acting is a craft and a skill to be mastered like a plumber masters the art of pipefitting.  That’s why it’s in a trade union.  Plenty of people earn an honorable living each and every day working at their craft that they happen to love.  They aren’t stinkin rich but they are able to meet their obligations, provide for their families and enjoy a nice standard of living.  Perhaps it’s because we do it out of love that people put such ridiculous expectations on an actor to succeed.

It’s important to define for yourself what success means to you.  It’s great to dream dreams that may seem out of our reach because you never know.  But in the end, only you can decide if you are successful at what you are trying to accomplish.  No one else can do it for you.

The Rookie

The other day a rarity happened to me.  I had a day, it was actually the first one in 37 days and only the third one since January 1st, that I didn’t have anything scheduled outside the house.  No rehearsals, no auditions, no travels, no filming, no workshops, no errands to run.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the break in my schedule.  I am very grateful for all the activity but sometimes just having an entire day uninterrupted is so needed and welcomed.  I allowed myself to sleep in, relishing that I didn’t have to answer to an alarm in the morning.  Even when I awoke, I didn’t jump out of bed, instead I flipped on the TV to see what the weather was offering for the day.  I surfed for a while and ended up on a movie channel showing the film The Rookie.  It’s based on the true story of Jim Morris, a high school baseball coach who, due to injury, failed earlier in his life to make it in baseball.  At age 35, in an effort to inspire his players to win their divisional championships, he said he’d try out again and went to the open tryouts of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.  That day, he was able to throw a dozen 98 mph fastballs which earned him a spot in their double-A farm team.  He soon went up to triple-A and before the season was out, was called up to the bigs.  His first fame was in his home state of Texas with his family and friends watching him as he pitched for a win.  He was able to pitch for 2 years before he old injury returned and he retired to teach once again.

The story really hit home.  I’m always on the lookout for examples of people who made career switches late in life.  Those people that had the courage to take a huge risk when they knew how far they could fall.  Perhaps I’m looking for more like me.  Examples that were successful.  Leaders that came before me and conquered all odds to follow their dreams. I’m not as scared as I once was but that doesn’t a little encouragement goes a long way.

The problem is…

The will to get good at it.  You know how it is, you figure out something you want to do or learn, a new passion, skill or hobby.  You get all excited about the endeavor, researching it, buying stuff for it, getting it all set up.  Then finally you get started doing it.  And it’s fun for the first few days, maybe even a few weeks.  You are proud you’ve stuck with it, because didn’t you read somewhere that it takes 3 weeks of repeated behavior to create a new habit?  Pretty soon, you start to take it for granted.  A distraction presents itself and you think “I’ll get back to that later, I need to take care of this now”  Before you know it, later becomes tomorrow becomes next week becomes a few months.  And the momentum you worked so hard at establishing is gone, not to be recalled.  Oh sure, you can work at it again, but the excitement isn’t really there, it’s been replaced by embarrassment and disappointment at letting it go in the first place.  So getting back to that groove takes even more effort, because now you’ve added some baggage to the journey.

You have to want to get good at it, not just try to get good at it.  The wanting will sustain you when the newness has worn off and the mundane has set in.  I’d forgotten that in this process of blogging, fortunately someone kindly reminded me.

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.