‘This Is Us’ Star Susan Kelechi Watson on 6 Ways to Survive This Business

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Photo Source: Raquel Aparicio

First, some good news: You are not at the mercy of every agent, casting director, director, and producer in the biz. Waiting tables is not your only option for sideline employment. You do not have to put your life on pause while you’re pursuing your career. You’re not in competition with the person to the left or the right of you in the audition room. You are not just an actor employed to say a few lines—you are a collaborator.

OK? You good? You still with me? Cool. Now let’s get specific.

1. Make a plan so those who read it may run with it.
The better I understand the kind of artist I am and aspire to be, the more I align myself with opportunities that fit. Take the time and write your vision down. Make it so clear that when others hear it they are excited by it. They can see it just as clearly as you do. When you walk into an audition room filled with your vision, people do not just see your work, they see your possibilities.

2. Each one teach one.
Find a mentor and find someone to mentor. It’s just as important to share what you’ve learned as it is to continue to learn. Be confident that no one can “take your spot"; it has your name on it, so share what you know with others. Take a look at the world around you. Is there anyone you admire? Sit with them. Ask questions. Research their life, because it’s easier on your soul to learn from other people’s mistakes than to keep making your own.

3. Live your life.
You bring the fullness of your life into every room you enter. When you fill yourself with other interests and experiences, it leaves little room for desperation. So while you’re not working, learn more about yourself and others. Characters need your experience for their authenticity. And while you’re exploring, who knows? You may find other ways to share your gifts that can generate income. You may even create your own job opportunity. As a matter of fact, I’d pretty much guarantee it.

4. An actor prepares—wisely.
You have an audition that means a lot to you; believe me, I get it. Still, I recommend that you do the work, leave it alone, and trust that it’ll be there when you need it. Don’t overprepare. Set aside an hour or two a day (depending on how many days you have to prepare) to turn off the phone and any other distractions and work wholeheartedly on the audition. Ask yourself how the character lives through you, specifically. Boldly embody a choice without being afraid that it may not be what they are looking for. You’re a collaborator. Let them hear your voice.

5. Love is love.
Do you love acting? Do you love being an artist? Continue doing it because of that, not for the money or the fame or the accolades. Because when those things come and go, so will your joy. I used to think this business was about going out and chasing down the jobs I wanted; that approach left me so empty. And it’s only when you’re working from a place of joy that you are no longer chasing jobs down. Jobs will begin to chase you.

6. “If it ain’t this, it’s better."
You didn’t get the job you wanted. It’s disappointing. I’ve been there. But remember this simple phrase my sweet friend Edmee taught me: “If it ain’t this, it’s better." Think of every disappointment and discouragement as a move in the right direction taking you to where you are supposed to be.

And finally, if you only need “you" to accomplish your dream, it isn’t big enough. Be a wild-ass dreamer, because this business is yours. Allow your imagination to soar, then find those who see it, believe in it, and are ready to come aboard for the ride.

Watson is a seasoned TV actor with roles on “Louie," “The Blacklist," and most recently the Emmy-nominated “This Is Us."

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