Why Having a Life Outside of Acting Is Critical to Success

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Photo Source: Photo by Austin Neill on Unsplash

I never could sit still. I felt like if I wasn’t always doing something, I was failing. Losing. And that terrified me. The worst part was the quiet; I needed to be around noisy people and places. I equated chaos with being alive. If loud music was life, meditating was death. I never slept more than five hours a night, usually from 38 a.m. when it was least likely anything was happening without me.

As a young actor, I never stopped. My career juices were always flowing! From the second I woke up to the moment just before falling asleep, I breathed, tasted, ate, everything my acting career. I had my acting classes and showcases; I critiqued movies and analyzed everything. It was all happening—I was an actor.

I didn’t have any money so I lived in a dump. I had three part-time jobs and four roommates in a studio apartment. On Mondays and Wednesdays, I slept on the couch. The other days, I was on the floor.

My struggle was romantic. Friends and I would cry about how hard it was. I’d run into people I’d known from years before who had dropped out. They’d given up, said it wasn’t worth it anymore. They said they wanted to have a life, make money, live, that the struggle wasn’t fun anymore. They’d ask if I was still acting and I’d be offended. What a dumb question. Of course, I was! I was an actor.

READ: Self-Care: An Actor’s Secret Weapon

But I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t satisfied. Rather than get jobs, I spent the majority of my time trying to find them (which is ok because it’s all part of the deal), but I felt lonely and unsuccessful. I was depressed, tired, and angry. But why? I was doing everything right. I wasn’t giving up. All I thought about was my career.

Then it dawned on me: Everything I loved was everything that was making me miserable. I was an actor but that’s all I was. Humans aren’t supposed to be just one thing; we are complex and varied. We crave learning and new experiences.

The chaos I thought was so important to my success was actually hurting me. I thought that as long as I kept myself busy and completely focused on my career, I’d make it. Instead, I was so focused that I wasn’t living any kind of life. I didn’t have money to do anything. Having four roommates sucked. I never traveled further than my own neighborhood. The thing missing from my life was my life.

I always ask my students about their lives: where they went to school, if they’re married, whether they have kids, what they do for fun. All too often, the answers are blank. One student told me he’d worry about dating when he’s successful. Others say they can’t think about anything until they make it (some are in their 50s).

I get it—I’m an actor too. But what I also get is that while you wait for your life to start, life goes by.

Just like when you stare at the computer too long, I needed to step away and let my eyes adjust. I needed to feel the sun on my face, breathe fresh air. I needed a break. So I took classes outside of acting just for fun. Not only did I feel better, but I came back stronger, more focused.

Just as the genius of our craft demands that we create full, three-dimensional characters, so must we demand ourselves to be full, three-dimensional people. And our experiences give us more to draw from. Taking a breather helps you regenerate. It’s like taking a vacation from our kids and pets: We love them but sometimes we need to get away. Take care of yourself first or you’ll have nothing to give anything else.

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Jeffrey Fox
Jeffrey Fox is an acting coach and actor with over 30 years experience. He studied all over the country with some of the greatest teachers, including Sandy Meisner at the Neighborhood Playhouse and William Ball at A.C.T. He currently teaches his Jeffrey Fox Acting Workshop in Los Angeles after teaching for many successful years in New York and San Francisco.
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