How to Handle Adversity

Photo Source: Jonathan Bartlett

When asked about his positive outlook on life, Bruce Lee countered with a question of his own. “Are you going to make your obstacles stepping stones to your dreams, or stumbling blocks because you let negativity control your life?” If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was talking to an actor.

As a group, actors are some of the most negative people on this planet. You see it all the time. There’s that Debbie Downer in your class who’s always whining about the industry and all the things she can’t control. And how about that dude you met at a workshop who knows for a fact the guests were just there for the money?

My friend Cathy Reinking wrote a terrific book called “How to Book Acting Jobs in TV and Film.” Here’s what she has to say on this topic: “I really hate it when actors use negative language about the biz, like ‘I don’t know how to play the game’ or ‘It’s all about who you know,’ or the worst is ‘They keep casting the same old actors, and they aren’t any good.’ It’s a real turnoff.”

She’s right. You actors try to hide those feelings when meeting industry types like us but trust me, we can smell it. They radiate from every pore, and all that negative energy gets in the way, preventing you from booking a part or finding an agent. What’s even sadder is that actors don’t just focus their toxic outlook on the industry. They also use it on themselves, and that can be very destructive.

For example, I’ve met actors who are borderline suicidal after a bad audition. They analyze every moment, and then they beat themselves up for all the mistakes they made, real or imagined. It’s a horrible way to live.

Luckily, I’ve also known actors with a much more positive attitude. When an audition goes wrong, they learn from their mistakes so they can course correct before the next one. They also remind themselves of all the things they did right. That kind of energy tends to create forward momentum, something every actor can use.

I don’t believe any performer, even a talented one, can succeed in this business without learning how to find the positive in a negative. How do you do this? It’s easy. The first step is changing your inner monologue:

Negative: Everyone in this play is better than me!
Positive: Even my worst performance is a step toward becoming a skilled actor.

Negative: My work is hopelessly mediocre!
Positive: Steinbeck said the same thing when he was writing “The Grapes of Wrath,” so I need to lighten up.

Negative: I never get anywhere with my goals!
Positive: I will accomplish one simple goal by the end of this month.

Negative: My agent doesn’t know I exist!
Positive: I’m inviting my agent to lunch so we can get to know each other.

Negative: I’m always tired because my life as an actor is exhausting!
Positive: It’s time to get in shape so I’ll have more energy for my career.

Negative: I’m sick of Secret Agent Man and his know-it-all attitude!
Positive: I’m so lucky to have Secret Agent Man in my life. I think I’ll write him a nice note on the message board.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you go through life with a stupid grin pasted on your face. All of us have to deal with adversity. It’s how we deal with it that matters, and I would argue that a positive outlook will serve you well, even through the worst of times.

Remember, the conscious brain can only hold one thought at a time. So choose a positive thought. Life will be much easier if you do, and you just might increase your chances of succeeding.

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