I live in the beautiful Los Angeles where I daily pursue my dream of getting paid to play make-believe. In the two years I’ve lived here (combined with the several years I’ve been honing my skills on stage and on set), here are 10 of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned to date:
1. Learn how to say no.
This lesson has not only been the most challenging for me, but it also seems to be the most rewarding. The beautiful part of Los Angeles is that there are so many projects happening at any given time and so many wonderful people to work with. The tough part of Los Angeles is learning which projects you should be working on at any given time and which people will best serve you in this moment.
I have an extensive background in improvisation. My brain is hard-wired like an improviser. My immediate reaction to most circumstances is “Yes!” Combine that with my polite midwestern nature and you get a formula for a person who does not understand the concept of “No.”
But I’m learning it. Just because someone asks you to do something doesn’t mean you need to do it. Even if it’s a cool opportunity, you need to listen to your gut and decide if it’s best for you in this moment. Just because everyone else seems to hop aboard one wagon doesn’t mean that you need to take the same trail. There are always plenty of opportunities available. And if you miss one, there will be another. You need to leave yourself open to doing what’s absolutely best for you in that moment. And that means learning to say “no.”
Plus, there are a lot of people here (and everywhere) who prey on people who just say “Yes” to everything. You need to learn to protect your open spirit so it can say “yes” to the right people, not just the first ones to ask.
2. Don’t be afraid to say yes.
Having said all that about the ability to say “no,” don’t forget the power of “yes.” Oftentimes, we turn down opportunities out of fear. We don’t meet up with people because it might be awkward. We don’t make that leap because we don’t see the net that will catch us.
Well, I say “Leap and the net will appear.” I say it, but I didn’t make it up. John Burroughs did. But I agree. And so does every great risk taker who’s ever made any difference in this world.
Sure, there’s a good chance you’re going to fall flat on your face by saying “yes” to something. There’s a good chance nothing will come of some meeting. But there’s always the possibility that you’ve planted a seed that will grow into something beautiful in a future you don’t yet see. And even if it doesn’t, you’re a better and stronger person for facing your fears head on rather than excusing yourself from taking risks.
3. Bring something to the table.
I just wrote a 10 episode web series. My partner and I are currently working on producing it. We’ve been meeting with lots of different people to create a team to help us produce it. In the process, I’ve been able to bring onboard a lot of friends I’ve met over the past couple years who’ve helped me out a lot. I’ve met a fantastic director/DP who’s going to be helping us out. I’ve been in talks with people from all angles of production that I wouldn’t otherwise have an excuse to meet. I’m bringing something to the table by creating a foundation upon which so many other creatives can build. And I’ll have something (awesome) to show for it when all’s said and done.
So rather than just meet with people and blow hot air back and forth, do something you can talk about. Create a project you can collaborate on. Have something you’re invested in that you’re proud to show. Show you’re an active part of the creative team, not just a fan on the sidelines hoping the coach runs out of active players and starts calling in random fans.
As they said in the 90s, “Don’t just TALK about it. BE about it.”
4. Everyone has their own agenda.
The sooner you learn this, the sooner you can go back to loving people.
People seem to get upset when they meet with others who don’t respond exactly they way they want them to. Or they get upset when someone seems to take advantage of them. I believe it’s important to understand that every single person you interact with wants something from you. And you want something from them. It’s an even exchange.
Once you understand that, you can embrace every interaction for what it is- rather than what you wish it were. The commercial agency you’re meeting with wants to make money. They want you to be a person who makes money for them. They want you to prove to them that you’re worth their time and attention. In exchange, you want an opportunity to audition for major products and campaigns. You’re not there to make best friends with your agents. You’re there to prove you can do the work and make them money. And they’re there to prove that they can get you enough opportunities to help you.
Everyone wants something. Everyone has an agenda. If you can understand how (or if) you fit into someone else’s agenda, you can save yourself a lot of heartache.
Why didn’t the casting director call you back? You didn’t work for the part this time. You’re not a bad person. You’re just not right for them right now. And that’s a-ok.
Why didn’t that guy you’re really into want to be with you? Because you don’t fit into their life right now. They have their own problems and issues and you don’t help to solve them. You’re not a bad person. You’re just not right for them right now. And that’s a-ok.
Why did that person I trusted take advantage of me? Because you thought they didn’t want anything out of the interaction so you trusted them too much. You’re not a bad person. You’ve just learned a valuable lesson that everyone wants something. And that’s a-ok.
Even if someone does something out of pure altruism, they’re doing it because that altruistic act makes them feel good. And that’s a-ok.
5. Just because someone says it’s a pig doesn’t mean it’s going to produce bacon.
If someone asks you to work on a “pilot” for them, it doesn’t mean that it’s actually a pilot. It could just be an idea for a show they have that they want to make into reality with your help. It could be a great pilot that gets picked up and makes you a star. Or it could be a waste of time. Go with your gut.
If someone says they’re a “manager,” who can help you with your career, it doesn’t mean they have any knowledge of the business or any connections that could help you at all. They could catapult you to the next stage of your career. Or they could just want to walk around Hollywood telling people they’re a manager. Go with your gut.
If someone says they want to “collaborate” with you on a project, it doesn’t mean that they actually want to join forces. It could mean that you just got really lucky and a person with more knowledge and connections has decided to help you out because they have a great feeling about your talent and future. Or they could just want to get in your pants. Go with your gut.
6. Time is your most valuable currency. Spend it wisely.
Eventually, you’ll run out of money. We all do. Why do you think I blog so much? I need something to do from the comfort of my own home that I pay too much in rent for.
I used to give my time freely and spend money wisely. But when I ran out of money, I realized I don’t have the liberty of spending my time freely anymore. It’s one of the only resources I have unlimited access to, but it’s not unlimited in itself. If I overextend, the projects that really do need my time don’t get enough of it because the projects that don’t need my time are sucking up too much of it.
This goes back to point #1. Learn to say “no” to things and you’ll have more time to spend wisely on the people and projects that serve you best.
7. Most people don’t suck.
You hear a lot of complaints from people (especially in LA) about how many people here “suck.” I respectfully, wholeheartedly disagree.
Sure. It’s a big city. There are a lot of douchebags and biatches. And the embracing of a somewhat superficial culture can sometimes bring out the worst in people. And I’ve met my share of crazies… believe you me.
But for the most part, I’m surrounded by incredible, creative, hard-working, wonderful friends who are nothing but supportive and exciting human beings. Both natives of LA and transplants have proven to be absolutely awesome. I asked a stranger to help me out the other day when I was in a bind. He did so happily and without question. I constantly meet new people who are challenging and wonderful. I have some of the best close friends in this entire city.
The only people here who suck are the ones who are busy complaining about how much the people here suck.
8. You friends and family want to support you… but not all the time
I do shows often. I’m “grinding hard” as they say. I have a great group of friends who will happily come see my shows when I ask them to. And I’m lucky enough to have wonderful family near and far who can help me out of any sort of bind.
I know that (especially my non-entertainment) friends like to come see my shows. But I also know that I’m asking a lot of them when I want them to come to each of my three shows that week. I’m also happy to go see my friends shows. I love how creative my friends are and want to see them in their element.
But time is a precious commodity (see #6), so respect the fact that people will only give so much of it to you. Even your best friends. So don’t abuse their desire to help you. And don’t get upset if they’re not always able to be there.
9. Get over it.
I’ve read that the one trait the happiest people all seem to share is the ability to bounce back quickly from whatever may happen.
So whatever’s going on in your life, accept it for what it is.
Somebody hurt your feelings? Accept the fact that they’re hurt then get over it. There’s too much beauty in the world to dwell on the petty.
Didn’t get that big opportunity you were working hard for? Accept the disappointment then get over it. Let it fuel you for the next, even bigger opportunity. Know that even in not getting whatever goal you set out for, by giving it your all, you’ve already transformed into a better person.
Have to spend three hours in the car every day to get to work and auditions and everything else you’re doing? You’re lucky you have a car to be stuck in, first of all. And secondly, get over it. Listen to a good e-book. Enjoy the fresh air on your face. Make friends with the strangers in traffic next to you. There’s a lot of people who live in LA. A little traffic is the price you pay for living in paradise.
Achieve superstardom at a young age? Awesome. Good for you. Now get over it. You didn’t do it all by yourself. Be grateful to the loads of people who have helped you out and start giving back immediately. You weren’t divinely ordained to grace earth with your presence. You’re a person who got really, really lucky. The world that’s embracing you right now will forget you in a year if you don’t give them a reason to continue to be interested. Keep working. Keep improving. Don’t rest on your laurels.
10. Enjoy the ride.
It’s easy to get caught up in the drudgery of daily existence if you’re not doing exactly what you think you should be doing. You could be frustrated that life isn’t panning out as you expected, so you don’t see the beauty that surrounds you. You’re angry you’re stuck in 6 pm traffic on the freeway, so you overlook the way the colors of the sunset look just behind that silhouettes of palm trees in the sky.
It’s normal to lose sight of this stuff on occasion. But always bring back the perspective. Enjoy the moment. Life is too short, fragile, temporary, and precious to not be preset for every single breath.