The following Career Dispatch essay was written by Sian Reese-Williams, who stars in the third and final series of BBC crime drama ‘Hidden.’
I am excellent at giving advice. On a good day, I am extremely wise and forward-thinking; come to me, and I will solve all your problems. Something I am not excellent at—horrible at, in fact—is taking advice, particularly my own. So before I write another word, I feel like I have to point out that I have yet to nail any of this. I am very much a work in progress. Honestly, it’s taken turning 40 for me to even begin considering some of this. But here we go: some advice to my younger self, some of which you may find helpful.
The first and most important thing I would tell her is, unfortunately, a bit of a cliche: Know your worth. And more specifically, know your unique worth. Don’t listen to the agent who, during your post-showcase meetings, tells you you need to lose two stone. You don’t; less than a week later, you will sign with an agent who sees your worth as you are and works with you in the early days of your career, nurturing what makes you entirely unique. Block all that stuff out if you can. It serves nothing and no one. All it does is get in the way of progress; and on days when that voice does break through, it just makes you a bit rubbish at your job. You have a wealth of stuff to offer; no one person possesses the exact same goods. Plenty of people will buy them, I promise.
Don’t panic, but you won’t work for the first two years out of drama school—not a single day. (This is not because you didn’t lose two stone.) Now, there’s an alternate universe in which, at this point, you ditched the acting dream and are now head of marketing at Google, but let’s not dwell. Those two years, looking back, were pretty essential. They taught you resilience, and they taught you to trust your own path. Not everyone leaves training and boards a flight to Hollywood. Burning bright and fast might seem like the only definition of success to you, but there are other kinds, too—quieter, longer-lasting versions of it. This is another cliche, but: It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Trusting your gut and taking risks is exciting and right. As an actor, it’s virtually impossible to control anything that comes your way. So the little things that you can control become precious. Never be afraid to say no to something that doesn’t feel right. The world will not end; your agent won’t drop you. In fact, whenever you have said no to something, the two of you have been on exactly the same page, and this has further strengthened your working relationship. It’s empowering and liberating, and it makes you feel like a boss. Hold onto those moments, because they’ll be rare.
“Don’t forget to nurture the other corners of your life”
Finally, but most importantly of all: Don’t forget to nurture the other corners of your life. Friendships, relationships, and your own mental and physical health are all little streams that feed into and out of each other. Don’t let them be an afterthought to your career. Book that holiday; go to that wedding; date that nice man. And for the love of God, get some hobbies. (Watching Netflix is not a hobby.) Ideally, it should be something creative but entirely unrelated to acting. At the age of 39, you will start taking pottery lessons, and it will save you from the head-melting exhaustion of the tail end of a pandemic. It will calm your mind, distract you from waiting for the phone to ring, and give you an extremely wholesome Instagram feed full of homemade dinnerware and pretty vases. Don’t wait so long to do this, please. It will improve your life exponentially and make you immeasurably more interesting. And remember, you can’t do the job you love so much if you’re not looking after your brain. Make this the most important thing you do every day.
So stay wise, young one; everything will be OK. One day, you’ll be asked to sit down and write some words of advice to yourself. Maybe that will be the day that you actually take it.
‘Hidden’ Series 3 airs on BBC One Wales on 16 March and BBC Four on 19 March
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