Columnist Secret Agent Man promotes a cookie-cutter view of acting success, arguing that aspiring actors must calculate a specific number for how much money they need and that that number must cover the purchase of a home, a retirement plan, family expenses, saving for children's college, etc.
But we actors are artists, not clones of one another with the same values and needs. I have always adhered to what some view as 1960s values and care little for material things. I drive an 11-year-old car and have never owned a smartphone, iPad, iPod, iPhone, e-reader, or flat-screen TV. Since age 11, I've hated the culture of materialism. Making the world a better place, treading lightly on the earth, living a life centered not just on a desired destination but also on loving the journey—those values are the core of who I am.
I have chosen to forgo the spouse and kids route because I want to be the kid. I want the freedom and spontaneity a child has. I cannot shape my life based on numbers and finances. My acting consists of paid and unpaid work, but I view myself as a professional actress because of the dedication with which I approach every role.
My definition of success is living life on one's own terms. Yes, I have high expectations, and I'm going for the whole enchilada: leads in major blockbusters, Broadway, TV, etc. I refuse to give up on limitless possibilities; but at the same time, I live in the moment and relish every opportunity to perform, even if it's playing a zombie in a straight-to-DVD film.
Too many people in our culture spend their whole lives being miserable in jobs they hate because everything is about the destination and not the journey. Given that we may be on the brink of an economic depression, those who choose more-traditional routes are not guaranteed any more financial security than those of us who choose to shun material things to pursue our art.
People like Secret Agent Man focus too much on the external instead of the internal—very much akin to what is known in psychology as behaviorism, which views people as motivated entirely by external rewards. There is a whole other way of thinking, characterized by Norman Vincent Peale's "The Power of Positive Thinking" and Martin Seligman's "Learned Optimism," which focuses on empowering ourselves by concentrating on what we can do, which, in the case of actors, equates to taking classes, learning new skills, finding a niche in the business, etc.
Secret Agent Man could not be more wrong when he says, "Too many actors live in the moment and end up getting screwed when they get really older like X." I live in the moment, with the joy and spontaneity of a child, and am as far from "screwed" as New York is from China.
Aspiring actors deserve to know they have choices. Secret Agent Man stresses that he is imparting "reality." But, like an old adage says, "People who urge you to be realistic generally want you to accept their version of reality." My experience is that there are many versions of reality, and as performers, we must each find the one most true to ourselves.
Laurel Kornfeld has performed in musical theater, plays, films, and Renaissance festivals. She recently played the Court Astrologer in the 2011 New Jersey Renaissance Faire and a patient in the film "Mary Horror." She is a freelance writer.