There Are No Small Roles

Until Glee became the pop culture phenomenon it is, with Jane Lynch’s viciously hilarious Sue Sylvester out front in a warm-up suit, she was one of those actors you know you’d seen but couldn’t quite place. Maybe it was The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Maybe it was Two and a Half Men. Heck, maybe it was way back in ’93 with The Fugitive. See, Jane Lynch has been around. And around: 60 movies and 70 TV shows.

Some might say there’s no glory in any operation unless you’re the star. You crave that stardom because somehow fame in your industry can seem like a commodity in itself. And yet Lynch is a star based on dozens of small scenes, which she absolutely owned, no matter who she was working with. Glee’s Sue Sylvester was only supposed to be a one-shot role. She took ownership and is now the beating satirical heart of the hottest show on TV. And yet if she’s in more than three scenes a week, it’s a lot.

There’s a lesson here. Everyone wants to be the star. So much so that we forget to be the owner of whatever role we have. Be the spirit of it. That’s what leads to not just excellence, but a deeper role of leadership.

Lynch learned this early on studying drama at Cornell and putting in 10 years with high-end theatre troupes like Steppenwolf and Second City. No one held her hand. She held her own. “I didn’t stick around for encouragement,” she told the Daily Telegraph. “Because it just wasn’t forthcoming. When I look back, I think I must have been hugely motivated. I would have loved for somebody to say, ‘You go for it!’ I just didn’t have that.”

Her formula for success became, simply, the work. The more you do—no matter the size of the role—the better you get if you’re focused on nailing it. “Do it, do it, do it, do it,” Lynch says. “Do it for free, do it for money, do it when no one shows up, do it when everybody shows up. Just keep doing it.”

It’s amazing what rewards that attitude can bring. “I felt successful all the time,” she told The Guardian. “Even though nobody knew who I was.”


Whatever Your Role—Own It!

Stay focused. Don’t let the latest trends or others’ plans distract you from your purpose. Decide what you want and focus on achieving that.

Do what you do best. If your strength is selling, hire someone else to do your bookkeeping. Maximize your time by concentrating your efforts where you’ll get the greatest returns.

Keep playing. When you’re frustrated by a loss, review what went wrong, learn from it and use that newfound wisdom to do better next time.


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