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.

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.

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.