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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Being Open to Help

I meet many, many people through my journeys as an actor and a coach, and a lot of those conversations revolve around business, marketing and motivation (I guess I'm a magnet for that kind of talk!) I have seen people at all levels of success and achievement, and everyone's story varies - where they grew up, how much support they had from their families, whether or not they went to theater school, what city they chose to ply their wares, etc, etc... Along with all of these differences, there's one element that was evident in nearly every successful person I've met:

The willingness to ask for help.

When I was growing up, my parents didn't have money to spend on dance classes or drama camp- the training I received was through the public school arts programs. After choir concerts or school plays, people often asked me where I had gotten my training, and they seemed shocked and enthralled when my parents said, "Nowhere- this is just her natural talent." I began feeling like my natural talent made me something special, in a way that training since the age of 5 could not. "After all," I thought to myself, "ANYONE can train, but not everyone can have natural talent."

But once I got to college, things got turned around a bit. All of the sudden, I was surrounded by people who had the same talent as me, and even (gasp!) MORE. Raw talent was no longer something that was unique- it was a given. People were now giving reverence to those who had solid training and industry references. So I, like every other good little college student, trained and studied and worked and walked away from school with a degree AND raw talent. And armed with my shiny diploma, I stopped asking for help. After all, I Had Made It.

Why do we stop asking for help once our formal training is done? Is there a rule that says we must figure everything else out by ourselves?

If you ask a successful businessman how they achieved their success, most will have gone to business school, yes. But most will also share a story of a mentor who guided them through their journey. Sure, they also read books and taught themselves through observation and practice. But the foundation of their careers was based on the support they received from the people around them. They asked for help.

They recognized that other people had paved the road with their mistakes and their discoveries. They understood that you can never truly achieve greatness without the help of others. They asked smart questions, eagerly gathered copious amounts of information, and were not afraid of appearing dumb.

I am here to challenge you to ask for help. No one said that you had to figure out this business all on your own. There are no medals to be awarded for, say, figuring out the perfect cover letter or building the best contact database from the ground up. So why martyr yourself that way? Someone out there has charted the course and if you authentically seek support, most people will give openly. That's not to say that you should leech off of people and steal their ideas without putting in the work. Instead, create a network of people you can trust and solicit advice from those above you whose position you are striving to match. Ask to take people out to lunch so you can "pick their brain" and think of ways that you can help them in return. Above all, make yourself available to those who are just starting out - mentoring others will give your career a little more shape and purpose.

As human beings, we are never done learning - and it is the same in our work as actors. You owe it to yourself to compete fully in this wonderful industry- so get out there and get the help you deserve!

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.

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