The following Career Dispatches essay was written by Nikki DeLoach, previously of MTV’s “Awkward” and who can currently be seen starring in the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie “Love Takes Flight.”
Be the hardest working person in the room.
Don’t take rejection personally.
Throw your sides in the trash after an audition.
Be kind to the crew, not just to those above the line.
Protect your artistic self.
Get in class.
Don’t give up.
NEVER give up!
These are all pieces of advice I’ve received and also given as a teacher at Warner Loughlin Studios and UCLA. I am often asked to provide words of wisdom to other artists, especially newbies. And the truth is, I have a lot of wisdom to share! I better. I’ve survived this industry for over 30 years. I’ve failed more times than I can even count. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I sure hope I’ve learned a thing or two or three or 100. What I would love to share with you today, though, is something that no one told me in the beginning—or for that matter, even five years ago.
This business is not the end all, be all.
Seems simple enough, right? Except for the fact that we often let our acting careers define who we are, determine our self-worth, arbitrate our happiness, and compromise our integrity. Sound familiar? We do all kinds of crazy, unhealthy things to ourselves in the name of “being an artist,” and it’s not OK. Such practices also have nothing to do with being an artist.
I spent the majority of my life being tethered to (in the words of Amy Poehler’s “Yes, Please”) a “bad boyfriend.” Poehler explains in her book that this industry is like a bad boyfriend who you give your everything to and in exchange, he doesn’t call or text back, he sees other women and men, and then he dumps you for the hotter, younger version of yourself. When I read this, it felt like I had finally heard someone articulate what it sometimes feels like to be an actor in a relationship with Hollywood.
So, how do we proceed? I’m not saying we dump our “bad boyfriend.” Poehler didn’t! I didn’t! And you shouldn’t, either—unless you really want to, then by all means. (I would recommend a Jerry Maguire–style exit; always seemed like a fun idea.)
Instead, I suggest you gain perspective and always, always take care of yourself. As hard as you work to grow your artist self, you should be working equally as hard on your human self. In my opinion, they are one and the same, but we often devote every second of our being to acting class, auditioning, trying to get auditions, complaining that we can’t get auditions, meeting with agents and managers, trying to get an agent or manager, complaining that we can’t get an agent or manager, and so on and so on. What we sometimes forget along the way is the person who was worthy long before the dream of becoming an actor was born and the person who will still be worthy long after the dream of becoming an actor has been achieved.
For me, the rollercoaster finally became too much. I wanted to be an actor, but I also wanted to be happy, so I had to make a decision. Either I was going to leave the industry completely, stay in it and continue down this toxic path, or stay in it with some amendments to my relationship. I chose option No. 3. I decided that I wasn’t going to allow something that brought me great joy and fulfillment to be taken away from me because I was unable to take control of my reaction to it.
I brought other elements into my life that allowed me to live outside of the often all-consuming world of Hollywood. I finished my college degree. I began teaching. I volunteered with organizations I cared about. I started a family. Eventually, my spirit was being filled up by the life I was living which, in turn, freed me up to be a better artist.
I also had to learn how to stay open. True openness doesn’t mean allowing people to walk all over you or saying “yes” when you really mean “no.” When you are really open, you can actually feel what your higher self is aligned to. You can feel into what is going to make your heart soar as opposed to break. It is only through opening ourselves up that we are able to navigate the often murky waters of this industry with both caution and curiosity, discernment and delight. Knowing the difference takes knowing oneself; it takes openness.
By placing just as much importance on developing positive self-worth, self-love, strong personal boundaries, and creating a supportive and loving community around you, you will not only be able to navigate your experience in this industry in a more healthy way, you will be doing something for the whole self. You see, it is not only our job as a human being to be on the path to becoming the best version of ourselves; it is also our job to serve. When we do better, the whole does better. When we rise, others rise with us. My entire relationship with this business has never been better. When you no longer allow this industry to define you or determine your happiness or self-worth, it frees you up to play again.
A wise man (otherwise known as my ear, nose, and throat doctor) once said to me, “Intelligence is learning from your own mistakes. Genius is learning from the mistakes of others.” So, to all you geniuses out there, please learn from mine!
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