I remember the day I got my “big break.” I was sitting in Washington Square Park when my agent called to tell me I had booked my first Broadway show. I looked up at the sky, silently thanked God, and sighed the biggest sigh of relief. I have arrived, the struggle is over! I always imagined my “big break” would change my life forever. I saw myself finally being able to afford to live in my own New York apartment; my inbox would be full of appointments and opportunities to play iconic roles; Oprah would come see the play, and with tears in her eyes, offer to be my mentor.
But…none of that happened. Instead, after my Broadway debut, I still had two roommates, and I was juggling four side jobs to pay my share of the rent: working the front desk of a hotel, tutoring failing kindergarteners, teaching acting classes to teenagers, and recording audiobooks that were so raunchy, I had to use an alias. The struggle was the realest it had ever been. I truly believed that if I trained, struggled, and “paid my dues,” I would eventually land a big job and the rest would be smooth sailing. But this craft I claimed to love was demanding so much more than I had ever imagined. I thought about giving up. Little did I know, after coming so far, I was just getting started. Here are seven life-saving lessons I’ve learned (so far) on my journey.
1. There is no such thing as a “big break.” Success is the result of consistent sacrifices and small victories over a long period of time. Even when someone looks like an overnight success, know that there is always a backstory that led to that moment.
2. You are already worthy. Waiting for anything outside of yourself to validate your art, your dream, your talent, or your worthiness is an illusion that will leave you empty and depressed. Everything you need is already on the inside of you. It’s not about how well you say the lines, and it’s not about your “look.” The very essence of you is what makes you stand out. That is your true gift.
3. Get a vision for your dream. Take the time to see and imagine what success looks like for you. Do this often. And when it seems like everything around you contradicts the fact that your dream can be a reality, hold that vision in the forefront of your heart and mind, and keep moving forward. This is walking by faith.
4. Date wisely! Heartbreak can be a huge distraction, so protect your heart. Toxic romance can kill your focus, your joy, and if unchecked, your self-worth. Know that anyone who can leave you, should leave you. Let. Go. Trust the new space is making room for your greatness.
5. Offer kindness in the audition waiting room. First to yourself by not allowing any negative thoughts to sabotage your audition. Then, be kind to the actor who is waiting next to you. She’s afraid, too. Offer a smile. Competition is an illusion. Nothing and no one can stop what is truly yours. Release the outcome and trust that a higher plan is always unfolding.
6. Don’t let side jobs crush your soul. It’s always hard when acting jobs end, but it’s even harder when the next job is nowhere in sight and you still have bills to pay. Yes, you will act again, but staying available for auditions while making ends meet is no easy task. Release your shame if you have to get another side job. If possible, choose jobs that interest you. And if you find your side job slowly makes you hate your life, try your best to find another one. No job is worth killing your soul. (Trust me, I’ve had 30.)
7. Create while you wait. As a working actor, you must learn the art of survival while keeping your creative spirit alive. Do things that ignite the fire inside you. Art is everywhere. Take a dance class. Go to an open mic. Bake brownies. Write the kind of stories that made you fall in love with acting in the first place. We need them.
Patterson is a working actor across film, TV, and theater, including “Straight Outta Compton,” “Jitney” on Broadway, and now “The Arrangement” on E!, the second season of which airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EST.
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