As a young actor fresh out of drama school, I was convinced it would only be a matter of time before I took Broadway by storm. All I had to do was outhustle the competition. But it didn’t take long before I realized talent and hard work aren’t enough to thrive in this industry or any other. There are many variables beyond my control that can pull my focus from what I could actually leverage.
As I transitioned from actor to entrepreneur, I was surprised to discover the entertainment industry had prepared me for my new venture. Being an actor is not so different from running a business after all—the product just happens to be the artist. In time, I improved my ability to target what was within my power, leading to what I call the four truths of creating your own opportunities.
1. Take action.
For years I would wait for the phone to ring hoping the perfect part would fall into my lap. Eventually I realized that my story would never be told unless I wrote it. With action came an awakening to my potential.
I learned to storyboard and produce, and before I knew it, I’d become a three-dimensional storyteller. I now knew a little about a lot and wasn’t at the mercy of an industry to get my voice heard. By bulking up my skill set and taking action, I had become the captain of my ship rather than a passive tourist.
Taking initiative emboldened those around me to do the same. Together we built a community where we felt invested in one another’s success and held each other accountable to make something happen.
Before I went to college, my father told me there was no excuse for skipping class. “You can get a C just for showing up,” he said. His point was half of success in life comes from the quality of our presence.
After graduate school, I was just another struggling artist among the masses. The constant flux of emotion, of feeling I was so close to my breakthrough one minute and I should pack it all in the next, was exhausting. I often struggled to sustain the right philosophy when it came to pursuing my long-held dream.
Then, in the winter of 2010, I began working with an acting teacher who changed my life. His lessons transcended the stage and profoundly influenced the person I would become.
My mentor Andy was a storyteller just like me, but he had started late in the game. He auditioned steadily for 15 years before landing a series regular role on one of TV’s most popular shows. Instead of getting discouraged by his early setbacks, he chose to double down and improve his craft.
His example taught me that we get to choose how we show up in life and that the quality of our contributions begins with the quality of our energy. He never allowed his talent to collect dust, choosing instead to stay ready for whatever opportunities might come his way. Perhaps the most important lesson I took from him was the importance of always approaching life as if you’re just getting started.
Many years ago I was sitting in a busy coffee shop when a woman asked if she could sit in the empty chair opposite me. “Sure,” I said. After a few moments we struck up a conversation when she asked, “What do you do?” At that point, I was just a few months out of drama school and excited to share my profession with anyone who cared to know. “I’m an actor,” I beamed. She shot me a skeptical glance before falling into a cackling laugh. “How’s that working out for you?” she asked. I probably should have told her the seat was taken.
The point is it’s really easy to be cynical. Anybody can find reasons to complain or criticize. Choosing to focus on possibilities takes a unique type of courage. Your life is flying by. Don’t waste another second with people who refuse to get out of their own way and want to take you down with them.
In time, your life will begin to mirror the people you spend the most time with, so pick your brain trust wisely and share your ambitions with only with like-minded people who support your vision. We don’t have to share our dreams with everybody.
Today our culture is bombarded with words like “grind” and “hustle.” I love the idea of encouraging hard work and personal accountability. But if we’re not clear on how to work hard, it can come at a great cost.
As a young acting student, I’d arrive at the theater each morning at 5:30 a.m. Nothing gave me greater delight than being the first to write my name on the sign-in sheet. I worked hard and reaped many rewards from my dogged determination. But it also came at a great cost. I chose competition over community, solitude over camaraderie, and though I was prosperous in improving my technique as an artist, I was bankrupt in the arenas of my life that really matter. Family, friends and service to others were playing supporting roles when they should have been the stars all along. I spent years pushing very hard on a door that read, “Pull.”
You must work incredibly hard toward your goals, but you can do so without having to “muscle” through life. We don’t have to bulldoze our way to the top. We can learn to flow like a stream racing through a valley. It moves quietly above, around or below its obstacles, reaching its destination by working in harmony with its surroundings.
When we work in unity with others who share our values and core principles, we reach our target together, while lifting one another up and having a lot more fun along the way.