Pursuing a career as an actor is like running an obstacle course that never ends. The moment you clear the first hurdle, another one pops up right in front of you. And as you approach that hurdle, you notice a few more in the distance. That’s the life you have chosen. That’s the life of an actor.
And the sad truth is those damn hurdles never end. When you’re starting out, you have to get the perfect headshot, you have to find the right teacher, you have to join the union, you have to sign with an agent, you have to sign with a better agent, you have to make casting fans, you have to book your first job, you have to book more jobs, you have to book better jobs—and I’m just getting started. I could go on and on for the rest of this column but I would still need more space.
So how do you get ahead? How can you accomplish your goals? Well, the key is understanding the difference between persistence and perseverance.
Look at it this way. If persistence is focusing on one specific project with single-minded determination, perseverance is about the long game. It’s about clearing every single hurdle on that obstacle course knowing full well that when you’re done, another obstacle course will be waiting for you right around the corner.
The Germans have a word for it: sitzfleisch. Staying power.
Or as Rocky put it, going the distance.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of talented actors throw in the towel. The reasons they walked away were rarely about an external event like illness or economic hardship. The truth was, they just couldn’t go on. Their will to succeed gave out.
And hey, there’s nothing wrong with that. I will never look down on a performer who walks away from the hardest grind on earth. It’s a choice. And I know quite a few actors who changed direction and became successful in other parts of the industry. One of them is now the showrunner on a successful network show.
But for those of you planning to stick it out for the long haul, know full well that you’re going to have some dark moments, the kind that keep you up all night. This is not something you can control. But you know what you can control? Your response to those moments.
People who have a strong streak of perseverance running through their bodies know that hardship will pass. So they face each problem to the best of their ability and then they move on to the next one. They understand those hurdles aren’t stumbling blocks. They’re just steppingstones to their dreams.
Remember: The real threat you have to face is yourself, not what happens to you.
But hey, you know what? There’s another way of looking at this. The lack of perseverance that’s common among your fellow thespians can also be a good thing. Why? Because it thins the herd, giving actors like you a chance to rise and be noticed.
Welcome to Hollywood Darwinism 101.
(Secret Agent Man would like to acknowledge Ryan Holiday’s book “The Obstacle Is the Way” as the inspiration for this column.)
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