It seems everyone in this industry (you included) has pretty strong opinions on just about everything! “Do this, don’t do this, do that, don’t do that” and a lot of it is contradictory. Who’s right? Who should I listen to?
Two days after I first became an agent, with no experience or training, I received an email asking for my ‘expert opinion’ on something. I can assure you I didn’t feel like an expert. I still don’t. I’m not even an expert on my own life let alone qualified to give advice on anyone else’s.
When I’m teaching in drama schools I often remind them that unfortunately there is no checklist, no definitive list of do’s or don’t’s. Creativity isn’t an exact science and it certainly isn’t one size fits all. My opinion is just that – mine. It will, occasionally, contradict someone else’s. None of us are omniscient and there is no magic tick-list where, if you mark everything off, you’ll find success. Gosh, wouldn’t that make everything so much easier?
If a piece of advice resonates with you and makes sense to you given your own experiences and your own personal journey, then apply it and see if it works for you. If something doesn’t make sense or doesn’t sit right with you then put it on a shelf and forget about it. Maybe you’ll come back to it in a few years time, dust it down and give it another go, maybe not. The only person who understands your journey and your process is you.
Actors filter script and direction through their own experiences in order to create a three-dimensional character. The same is true of advice and opinions. Learning to filter advice though your own frame of reference is invaluable. What I have learned on my journey of nearly four decades in this industry is, I hope, interesting and perhaps even helpful, but it is only my own experience. I have had teachers and mentors whose advice was incredibly damaging – not only to my career but also to my physical and occasionally even to my mental health. I wouldn’t pass that advice on and yet I know some of my peers have benefitted from the exact same advice. What works for me will not work for everyone, and what works for one of my clients will not work for all of them.
I’ve written before about the tattoo on my wrist and about my own definition of success – both are connected to my own journey towards trusting my gut, paying attention to my instincts, and accepting my choices. The more I have learned to trust myself and trust what feels right for me the better my choices have been.
The important thing, I think, is to remember that no-one is trying to make it harder for you. I don’t think advice ever comes from a place of wanting to hold someone back. All advice is offered in a spirit of “this might work and it might be beneficial to you.” If I’m advising my clients I’m usually offering them a list of pros AND cons – they have to make up their own mind. I can explain my thinking and my reasoning to them but I cannot live vicariously through them. They have to learn to trust their own judgement, make their own decisions, and live with the consequences of their decisions. I’m there to support them not decide for them.
Confucius wrote that we acquire wisdom through reflection, imitation and experience. That is certainly how I have learned everything I know and it is how you should gain your own wisdom. Confucius did note that learning through experience is the most painful so, as caring human beings, I think we offer advice in order to minimise the pain – “I have done this, I experienced this, it was painful, I can make it easier for you”. That’s all it is – we are trying to minimise the pain of learning through experience. I think though, that learning through experience may well be the most valuable way to acquire wisdom. Trying to shield you from that may not actually be the best way of helping you.
So – to answer your questions – listen to everyone but make your own judgement. Find your own path, reflect on your own learning, have your own experiences. It may be hard, it may be painful, you may occasionally regret it, but it will at least be your own authentic journey.
Stay connected. Stay creative.
Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]