One day I was taking an absurdly long subway ride home from an audition, and I was scrolling through my New York Times iPhone app to pass the time. After a few swipes of the screen, I landed upon the article title, "That Hobby Looks Like A Lot Of Work."
(Ha! Tell me about it.)
Written by Alex Williams, it is a fascinating look at folks who have given up their day jobs to follow their dream of being a professional artist. The article features the online store called "Etsy" (a sort of eBay for artisans and crafts-people) and looks at the sacrifices and rewards experienced by those who give everything they have to do what they love. What an easy parallel to what we deal with as actors!
For me, this article conjures up one of the more popular motivational concepts for anyone pursuing a dream- people who are successful in their chosen field can only be so after becoming an expert, which is commonly reached after 10,000 hours of work (as described in Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers: The Story of Success. Similarly, this article talks about the amount of hours that artists put into their businesses, and the strain it often puts on their lives. Consider this blurb about artist Yokoo Gibran:
She would seem to be living the Etsy dream: running a one-woman knitwear operation, Yokoo, from her home and earning more than $140,000 a year, more than many law associates. Jealous? How could you not be? Her hobby is her job. But consider this before you quit your day job: at the pace she's working, she might as well be a law associate.
"I have to wake up around 8, get coffee or tea, and knit for hours and hours and hours and hours... like an old lady in a chair, catching up on podcasts, watching old Hitchcock shows. I will do it for 13 hours a day. And even after all those hours knitting, she is constantly sketching new designs or trading e-mail messages with 50 or more customers a day.
And this, about artist Caroline Colom Vasquez:
Working from home, people think it's so easy and great [but] there's nobody there to tell you to take a break, or take a vacation. This year, she expects her business to have $250,000 in sales, but she will have to divide that with the three employees she just hired because Ms. Vasquez, who has a young daughter, could no longer handle the strain.
I physically could just not do it in 24 hours, she said. My husband and I used to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning before the baby, then stay up till 1 or 2, stamping boxes, making shipping labels.
As you read these quotes, calculate for yourself - How many hours per day do each of these artists spend on their businesses? 8 hours? 12 hours? More? Let's be conservative and suggest that these folks average about 8 hours per day focusing on their business. Now, take a moment and count up how many hours per day YOU spend on your acting career.
Wow, that was fast. My guess? Far less than 8.
Why do we, as actors, think that anything less than full commitment will somehow be enough? And why do we often stuff the hours we DO dedicate in between all of the other things on our lives (rather than planning for acting first and bending all others to fit?) Perhaps it's because we were told somewhere along the line that we needed to "think more seriously about our future." Perhaps we get too frustrated with the lack of tangible results in our career. Perhaps we just don't believe in our talent, or we are too scared of success? Perhaps. Perhaps. Perhaps.
As we move forward into 2010, let's re-commit ourselves and address this issue. To get started, consider 3 things:
1) How do you define success? (Meaning, what needs to happen in your career that will lead you to say, "NOW I am successful!"
2) To achieve this success, how many hours per day/week/month will you need to work?
3) (And this is the hard part): Make it happen.
If there is anything standing in your way, work through it. Remember that people make this career happen every day, even those with children, student loans, unsupportive parents, temporary housing, etc etc tec. Don't let your circumstances define who you are or where you'll end up.
In honor of Martin Luther King Jr day, and in remembrance, I bring you this quote:
"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." - Martin Luther King, Lr.
Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.