In our minds we’re like on-call doctors, noble instruments of truth ready to drop everything for the sake of duty. The reality? We bail on weddings, trips, and helping friends in order to audition for mostly bad roles in terrible projects. What we’ve dropped are people, and they have feelings. In a blend of traditional AA’s steps eight and nine is our own step nine. It’s time to write a list of all the persons we have harmed and make direct amends to such people wherever possible.
It’s not a fair assumption that everyone should be on board with your path as an actor. It’s hard for people to root for your success when they’re trampled in the process. Even doctors (who are actually saving lives) have trouble getting others to understand the demands of their work. We’ve given a business with zero regard for our schedules complete control over them, using the “my hands are tied” excuse when, in truth, we’ve offered up the rope. Since very few of us were forced into the family business of acting, we are solely responsible for how it affects our relationships.
First of all, not all projects are created equal, so the job shouldn’t always trump everything else. We can start by debunking the myth that any job is better than no job. Learning to say no when something isn’t worth the sacrifice is a big step in respecting your own life. Boundaries are powerful. Secondly, there are obvious but oft-ignored rules to help us navigate the rocky terrain. If I’m out of a job and hustling, I try not to schedule things during the day because when an audition or workshop inevitably comes up, I will have to cancel. If I’m working, I schedule things between shows on two-show days or late nights when I know I’ll be available. If we establish rules for ourselves, we know when we break them and when we have to make amends.
Amends are more than just “I’m sorry, let’s reschedule” or “Thanks for covering my shift for the tenth time.” They are active. We’re actors; we like actions. You have to actually do something. The “what” is up to you, but it takes a show of effort. We can even be proactive: If we know that our jobs are unpredictable, we must invest time with people whenever we can. Help that sibling move or babysit your friend’s kid now, because tomorrow the phone could ring and you’re off the grid. This will go a long way toward fostering sympathy when you need it. People will be more likely to stick around, too. You don’t want to wake up 10 years from now and realize you flaked on those who would have loved you back for a business that never will. In order to nurture your much-needed community (see step four), you have to make amends when you hurt the members of it.
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