In the Frame

YoungJeff_adjustDelving through the recesses of my mind, I came across a picture frame. The photo within was of a small boy, who had a mop of platinum white hair, and ice-cream on his face. He was clearly enjoying himself.

Yet see here, the edges of the frame are thin and frayed, with streaks of grey strands sticking out at peculiar angles. The image itself is faded and discoloured, the original energy somehow subdued, and diminished.

The trees of green were more a dying yellow. The blue sky a light tint of grey. Red was clearly the fighter of the three, giving the lad a slight sunburn, and lipstick on his lips.

Yet the ice-cream was still white, and the smile was still wide. The sense of satisfaction and happiness were still clearly visible in his eyes.

Then he winked at me. Very carefully, he closed one eye and opened it again. His smile seemed to grow wider. For a moment, the colours returned, and the frame was whole.

That was when I realised, through the fading and ageing, the little boy continued to smile, and enjoy his ice-cream. Maybe I should too.

Expectations vs Reality

When one’s expectations are reduced to zero, one really appreciates everything one does have.

Stephen Hawking

I have said before that I personally believe Expectations to be a measure of failure, not success. They establish a virtual line-in-the-sand where one side is disappointment, the other enjoyment. Another way to look at it is as rigid, immovable goal markers, a little like most sporting events, and maths. You can work your guts out, make some really clever moves, but if you don’t get the right answer, or kick that goal, you still lose. Our world feels like it is driven by expectations.

It wasn’t always like this. I am sure that there was a time where the term “expectations” had a more general, and non-specific feel, but this has been passed on to the socially less appealing terms, ambitions and dreams. I say socially less appealing because generally speaking, these terms are considered too vague and idealistic to be useful. They are great to have, but they need to come with a schedule, a plan, or so I often hear.

Hey, that may work for some people, and I applaud them. I am not saying that this concept is wrong. I am saying it isn’t the only one, and that it may not be right for everyone.

We are living in a world that seems to be slowly waking up to itself, and its potential. People are looking past the expectations that society place on us, and they are discovering new potentials, new possibilities. I see it happening all around me everyday. Possibly because I am doing so myself.

I believe that hopes and dreams are things you can strive for, but they don’t need the extra baggage of a conditional clause. You don’t need the planned schedule, or any plan as such, yet you can still strive and make it up as you go along.

Life has a way of changing. New opportunities, new obstacles, new understandings. Life is evolving. Structured plans are often frustrated by day-to-day events, so plans are often changed. The corporate world, so dependant on Project Management principles, incorporate slippage to account for changes, delays, and the unexpected. Having a plan is useful. Expecting to be able to keep to it may not be as helpful.

Let’s put it another way. In your hands, you have a bow and arrow. Just one arrow. In the distance is a target.

  • Expectations of society: Society stands to one side and tells you to hit the bulls-eye. They also tell you that you aren’t allowed to get any closer than the line at your feet, and you have to do it now.
  • Expectations of the self: If you accept the rules and feel obliged to comply, then you are placing the same expectations on yourself. You are giving yourself the real risk of not hitting the mark, and you only have on arrow.
  • Achieve your dreams: Or you could choose to ignore society, do a little exercise, and walk, run, skip, meander, take your time, soak in the atmosphere, see the sights, have a drink with friends, make some more arrows, build a better bow… Your dreams will always be there, and you can find what ever pathway you want, until you are close enough that firing your arrow will always hit the mark.

It’s your choice.

Uncertain

Following your dreams. We keep telling each other to do this. Don’t give up on your dreams, living the dream life, or other variations of the theme. I’ve come to the realisation that this idea can be just as dangerous as the overly negative “realistic” phrases such as “you’ll never make a living” or “it’s a great hobby.” Both are opposite sides of the same coin really. One is idealistic and potentially misleading. The other is far to grounded in avoiding any form of risk taking and defeatist

I am a long time believer in the “everything in moderation” philosophy. I am also prone to making mistakes, just like anyone else, so I don’t always find that point of moderation. I guess that is the thing with moderation. It isn’t always obvious. The extremes are easy to find, which is no doubt part of the reason why people often choose one or the other, even bouncing from one extreme to another.

So I led myself a little astray with a few inflated hopes and dreams, and belief that a platter had been handed to me. In hindsight, I was too eager, too frustrated, feeling too confined. I wanted luck to smile on me, and I felt I deserved it. I leapt, without really looking at where is was falling, which I wouldn’t ever do normally.

Things changed, I was in a strange place, and I had to find a way to make it work quickly. It wasn’t just me in this leap of faith. I had people depending on me. I struggled. I wasn’t ready. Things crumbled quickly, things I should have planned for, and others beyond my control.

Fortunately, I had a fall back plan which had been strongly recommended prior to my leap. I was able to play my get-out-jail-card in the nick of time, and now I find myself back in familiar territory. Even after a day, it was like I had never left.

However, even though I am back in familiar territory, things are not the same. I am changed. I know, irrespective of how things fell apart, that I want to go back. Better prepared and armed to the teeth of course, and this will take some time. I am also a little more aware that I was a little blinded to my life before. I had seen restrictions when there weren’t any. I had held myself back with a false reality. I had believed that in order to “follow my dreams” I had to change my lifestyle. I was a little deluded, and I should have known better.

MakeItHappenI have learnt a very important lesson; following your dreams is not enough, and the wrong way to look at it. I mean think about it, to follow is to remain behind, having your dreams lead you on. I want to be in the driver’s seat, not the rear seat. I have to do hard work in order to get that seat, like learning to drive, learn the routes, understanding the rules, and making sure there is enough fuel in the tank.

All in a rush

The universe has interesting ways of teaching you things, and I have learned that there are only two constants in the world;

  1. the only thing I have control over are my choices, and
  2. I will never stop learning.

UniverseA lifetime in the making, I am finally looking at living a life that I had once dreamed, and dreamed regularly. I leave behind a stable job, that had become the longest single period of occupancy in my life, in order to pursue my longest running passion, as a career. A lot had to happen before this choice was made, and one of those was finding the confidence.

I look back over my life, and the hindsight is sometimes painful and features little “Why didn’t I…?” questions here and there. If only I had… Why did I… It seems to be a part of the human condition to find things to regret, or maybe we are expected to find things to regret. Sometimes I get the two confused. Some of the most influential people in my early life were wary of my interests in the arts, and I chose to listen to them. I believed in them, and wanted to please them. What child wouldn’t. Regardless of how old I was, or how naive I may have been, I chose to listen to these people. The truth is, even though I listened, I never really heard them.

I may have outwardly demonstrated that I was doing the things that, in hindsight, were expected of me; study a science, get a good job, focus on the money you could earn, etc. Inside I hadn’t heard, didn’t agree, and continued to dare to dream. Quietly, even to myself, I started making plans that would take decades to bare fruit.

Standing where I am today, I look back and that part of me that can be selfish, emotional, and complains a lot when things don’t always work, starts picking those points in my life where I had opportunity but didn’t take it. As my wife has said to me, I didn’t make the choice because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t in the mind-set needed to either see, or make the best of, the opportunity that was (or was not) there.

CakeThe metaphor of taking a cake out of the oven before it is ready comes to mind. A sure way to ruin an opportunity is to go in half-baked. I do regret not being able to make those choices. I also see that there was a reason they weren’t taken. Humbling.

So here I am, facing the very dream-come-true reality of today. I am scared, excited, anxious, eager, daunted and encouraged. I feel one fifth my age, and the world even looks different.

And what have I learnt? A few things;

  • Dreams do come true,
  • You’re never too old,
  • Persistence does work, just don’t rush,
  • Never give up,
  • And always listen to your heart.

Acknowledge the fear and do it anyway

It has been a while between blogs. To be honest, coming up with topic ideas is difficult for me, so here is another stream of consciousness diatribe from the chaotic grey matter of an aging Ham actor.

The Audition

There are two things that can really unnerve me; public speaking and interviews. Within interviews, I include auditions, radio and TV interviews, as well as the common place job interviews. These things are almost certain to start the butterflies and knots in my stomach, and even give me the sweats. It doesn’t help much when you get an audition that is in less than 48 hours, and one that comes with a question mark. I think I may need to explain that a little more.

I am a freelance actor (at this time) which means I have not signed up with an agent and tend to try and find my own work. It is harder as you are often without the extensive network that an agent may have access. None-the-less, through various connections and specific grape vines, you often can find out about various opportunities. One such grape vine is a web site called StarNow.

StarNowThis is a brilliant web concept providing actors, photographers, crew, models and other creative types the ability to promote themselves independently, and to hear about possible opportunities. It is not the place to come if you are looking for just paid Professional work, although occasionally you do see professional opportunities being advertised. Most of the material is non-paid, profit share, or deferred payment arrangements. For those looking to build experience, and develop a collection of work samples, it can be a very useful service. It is occasionally used by more unscrupulous types, and these guys turn up everywhere anyway, so you often have to exercise a degree of caution when applying for anything, especially when they offer some large payments options, or incredible promises.

So when I saw an email alert showing the latest casting calls that matched my rather general search criteria, which included an opening offering a rather large fee, I was dubious and curious at the same time. It seemed a little too good to be true. Rather than brand the post as a hoax and leave it be, I decided to do a little research. The post had some basic information related to the organisation doing the casting, so I decided to look them up. Very easily I found a web page which displayed a rather extensive portfolio of work, and seemed to indicate a degree of professionalism. I supposed that the StarNow posting could have been placed by an impostor, so I posted an email to the contact address on the website asking about the StarNow posting. It was replied to that evening with a “confirmation” that the posting was official.

At this point, everything seemed very legit, and yet I still felt I should approach cautiously. However, there was really only one thing left to do; take the audition. Like a job interview, an audition is not only an opportunity to get a job. It is a chance to see what it is all about, get a feel for what is going on. Which meant, facing my fear of auditions.FearIt may seem a little funny that an actor’s biggest fears are associated with his biggest passions, yet that is the very reason these things are my biggest fear. A job interview, an audition, or speaking in a public forum; it’s about you. You are selling yourself for something that is important to you, and if you don’t do it, you won’t get it, or with a less than flattering reputation. I’m sure this is the same for many others. Some of our biggest fears are connected to our dreams and sense of identity. For an actor, being able to market yourself, socialise, and take on interviews, is a rather important part of their career. If you don’t do it, you may not miss every opportunity, but it will be harder to get what you want.

Back to the audition, there were two things I wanted; to know a bit more about the job and the casting company, and to have a chance at getting the gig if it turned out to be legit. Motivation enough to simply take the chance.

So there I was, walking streets with my wife, doing a little distraction shopping, yet feeling the churning inside. In moments like these, I am glad of my years of Ju-Jitsu training. Not only did I learn about self-defence and putting people in painful restraining holds, I also learnt about emotional control. Mind you, I didn’t really master that until many years after leaving training… The fear I felt bubbling inside was an indication that what I was about to do had some significance to it. Like a warning beacon. I had no idea what the audition might be for, what was expected, and had nothing prepared, although I carry around a couple of monologues I can drag out at a moments notice, from memory. I was going in blind so to speak, which doesn’t do much ease the nerves.

After leaving the wife, who continued with some book searching, I went to the audition, and without going into much detail, found more reason to believe the authenticity of the job, and also managed to do an audition that I was actually quite happy with. Now it is just a matter of time to see if I am the right choice for the part, and that is another issue. I also found no reason for my fears. The session was very casual, friendly and I had a good old chat with the manager/producer. Fears unrealised.

The New Career

While we are talking about fear (Well, I am talking about fear, not we necessarily), I have been struggling with another fear; the fear of change. I mentioned in my last blog post about an opportunity too good to refuse. Well, I have been in a partial transition over the past few weeks, taking a few days of from my stable job in order to get some experience in the new career. I have two or three weeks left before I make a full transition, and I have to say that nerves are setting in. Again, this change is a rather big deal to me, and I don’t want to… muck it up. While my rational mind likes to remind me that I am making a profitable move, both financially and emotionally, my emotional mind seems to want to contemplate the worst case scenarios.

When I think about it, what it is I really fear about this move, it dawned on me that my fear was about losing the opportunity somehow. Not through my actions or abilities, but through external events beyond my control. The rational truth is that these events could affect me even in a stable job. The concerns are irrational, as fears often are, and there would be nothing I could do to stop them if they did happen. Once upon a time, these irrational fears would have stopped me dead. Rather than risk the rather slim chance that one of these, shall we say, deal-breaker fears will occur, you stop, and do nothing.

This is the problem with fears. Too much import is put into the fear, and not into the why behind the fear. Hmmm, I think I did another blog about the Why. By focussing on the fear, we freeze, panic, get emotional, and stop thinking, and when we then combine that concept that our worst fears are often associated with a biggest desires, then it is a wonder people achieve anything.

HighHorseWell I have been ready to move on for a while and have bided my time waiting, searching, and trying to create an opportunity to do just that. Now I have that opportunity, and I find my fears have come after the choice has been made, rather than before. As a younger man, I may have conceded defeat and ran back to the “safety” of the familiar and stayed put. Sadly, I’ve learnt too much and that is no longer an option. So I am going to get up on my high horse and stick to my guns. Time for change has past, and I need to take full advantage of the opportunities that are coming my way. I can no longer allow fears to redirect my pursuit, yet I don’t want to ignore them completely.

So I redefine fear into something I can use. As I said above, fear is often associated with desires (or so I find anyway) and importance. When reviewed with moderation, a fear is your insecurities just asking you to be careful. Don’t get too carried away with the excitement, or lost in the illusions of dreams. Just remember to stop every now and then and look around, get your bearings, and ensure you are still on track.

I am not immune to fear, and I doubt many people are. I just need to acknowledge it, and do it anyway.

Taking the next step

It has been a month since my last blog. Things have been turning a corner with a lot happening. It has made it very hard for me to focus my thoughts on a blog post. So here I am now, trying to formulate my thoughts in to something that I can write about.

I have been directing/performing in a rather intensely funny piece of dinner theatre. The intention had been for me to only direct, and in the realm of theatre, initial intentions are often dismissed as circumstances change. (More details here “A Finger in the Dyke”)

Then I am offered an incredible opportunity. A career change that would see me moving away from the job that simply pays my bills to the job that is likely to reward my heart (as well as pay the bills.) It is a frightening thing to consider leaving a long-term, steady, and secure job, for one which pays based on performance. Some people can do brilliantly in these sorts of jobs. The challenge charges them with zeal. For me, these sales type roles have always filled me with dread, but then I was looking at sales roles in areas where I really didn’t have much of an interest. I had never before contemplated Selling Entertainment.

And that is the thing isn’t it? Doing what you love vs doing whatever because it pays. One is work, the other is … something else.

In physics, a force is said to do work when it acts on a body…

Work is something which acts on you, not for you or with you, and it often seems to be working against you. When I started around 2003, I had strong motivations for the job. After a while, I was able to find some measure of joy in the role, and for a while, there was no work, only progress. Then, after a while, two things evolved;

  1. the job was changing, moving away from the creative problem solving to a more maintenance and technical role;
  2. my external passions, that I had been enjoying as a hobby, had started to take a new and interesting direction.

My ability to focus on my job had been compromised. As a result, it became an effort to make myself do what was expected. The goals of the job were different to my desires. Truth be told, they had always been different, and now the gap between was a chasm. The job had become work because its needs, the needs of the job, were driving me, not me driving the job. The things that drive me from within, my dreams and passions, were not conducive to the job.

This is the reality that people are faced with everyday. This is conflict, or drama, at a very personal level. Movies like Falling Down experiment with this concept, making us wonder, what would it take for me to crack? We are a society of people doing work because… It is something we can all relate to, which is why it is a common theme in plays and films. Someone stuck in a dead-end job, punching cards, dreaming of a different life… And then the dream happens, for good or bad.

So while I am nervously excited about my new options and direction, I can also appreciate the drama that built up to it, and carries it.

Video

Daring to be Great – Special Post

Today, I just want you to watch this. It’s a long video, and it’s worth it.

Failure, Expectations are

Following on from my previous posts about selfishness and control, I toyed with a few follow up ideas to talk about. One of these is about expectations. I have formed my own opinions about expectations and I don’t see such opinions being echoed much elsewhere, so this may be in conflict with mainstream dialogue, and that rather excites me.

Expectation is a condition of failure.

Some may disagree with this so let me give you my reasons. You can reject them after if that makes you feel better. Seriously. It’s your choice, which incidentally will be the topic for a future post.

By expectations, I am talking about both those imposed on us by others (social standards, peers, family, law) and those we impose on ourselves (personal morals, ethics, measures of success.) by proposing an expected level of performance, you are in fact establishing a lower limit of success, or the point of failure. If you fail to achieve the measure or expectation, you fail the task. So let us, for the purpose of this blog, keep that in mind; expectation equates to failure.

So if expectation is a measure of failure, then the goal or dream must be the extreme measure of success; the ideal if you like. Then we have an extreme of failure which is to not try at all, or zero. What we have here is a rather interesting scale of achievement. Ranging from zero for didn’t even compete, through and past acceptable performance and on up to spectacular success, and let’s call this 100.

20131229-190656.jpg
And you thought you’d finished with anything mathematical when you left school right?

20140104-142422.jpgGoing up the chart, let’s say that this is the number of ways to achieve the level of success. So if we’re we’re to measure something like maths or physics, in which the answer is either right or wrong, but we will include factors such as speed, method and approximation of answer, we would still see that there is a very “bottom-heavy” chart as there are many ways to get the answer wrong as compared to getting it right. With these specific sciences, there is very little difference between correct and spectacularly correct.

20140104-142430.jpgOn the other hand, subjects such as creative writing, theatre and other artistic practices, where the measure of a successful outcome is more subjective, we will find that there are more ways to a good solution then there are bad. Having done several courses in creative writing myself, both within and without university level, there is a common belief that scores of over 80% are very rare and to those that can get these scores, well done to you.

20140104-142435.jpgOn average, if we were to consider all topics at once, I think it would be fair to say that we would see something more like a “Bell Curve”, and this I will use as we go along. This basically states that most people will fall within the middle between 0 and 100 with smaller numbers of people as you get closer to eithere end.

20140104-142443.jpgOne other point I think I should make before we apply expectations to these concepts is the level of difficulty. As I am trying to average out all possible topics, I think it would be fair to say that generally speaking, the closer to stunning success a task is, the more difficult it was to achieve. Keep this in mind as we go along.

It seems to me that we perceive achievement, or set our expectations, very high along the scale of success. We want things now, not tomorrow. It needs to be done just so. Second place is not good enough. I need to be better than the Jones. In other words, we equate success with rather high standards and not always standards appropriate to who we are. Setting such high expectations also means that we are asking a lot of ourselves because the higher the expectation, the harder the task.

20140110-195230.jpgWhy do we do this? As our expectations rise, that is moves closer to 100, the amount of opportunity for failure increases. In other words, we are setting ourselves up to fail. Why? I can’t comment for you or anyone else. I know I did it because I believed it was expected of me by others, not because it satisfied a personal drive or need, but out of fear of letting someone else down. Out of fear. I find it rather incredible how most of my poor decisions have been driven by fear, but in most cases it is true.

At this point, I find myself thinking about the academic scoring system used at my daughter’s primary school. 20140110-195238.jpgThey utilise the rather familiar A B C D F grading system. All students are expected to be able to achieve a C level. This is what the education curriculum anticipates the average student to be. Students achieving above this are considered to be above acceptable where B is exceeds expectations (there’s that word) and A is pretty damn awesome. D is for students performing below expectations, and F is for those that basically didn’t really try. Now this seems to me to be a rather reasonable measure where the average student is actually considered as a successful student.

Yet what I see most people doing is equating a C and a B as also a fail. Nothing less than an A will do. Heck, I knew fellow students at high school and university who put themselves through enormous stress trying to get the top 5% of their class and even the state.

20140110-195243.jpgGive yourselves a break people. Seriously, when you first start something, you are learning, trying things out and your lack of experience will give you a chart that looks somewhat like the maths chart above, bottom heavy. Expecting to get something near perfect straight up is pretty unrealistic. Keep your expectations low and give yourself the freedom to make a mistake or two. Then, as you gain experience, your chart will change in to the more familiar bell shape and you can raise your levels to match. Keep up this gradual development, and soon your chart will look more like the english one above because you have gained experience and practice improving your chances for success. Then you could possibly consider raising your expectations.

20140110-195248.jpgFor my own sake, as I see expectations and goals as different things, I prefer to keep my expectations low even though I am aiming high. It gives me room to move and I’m not in any particular hurry. I have found that when I placed high expectations on myself, I became more concerned with those expectations and not what I was doing. It actually reduced my range for success. This may not be true for everyone as some people like to claim they work well under stress. Well my hat is off to those fortunate individuals. I don’t so I’ll keep things a little easier for me.

I may not get there as quickly as others, or in the same way, but I’ll get there all the same.