The Zen Days of Christmas

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Photo Source: Steve Weigl

Back in the days of ancient Japan, if you presented yourself at the door of a Zen monastery and requested lessons, you’d be told to leave. The monks would claim the school was too crowded and there was no room. Or they might explain the school was having financial problems and couldn’t afford another student. Or you’d be told some other story that may or may not be true.

So you stayed outside and waited.

That’s when the monks would start making fun of the aspiring students, mocking their persistence, telling them to get lost. They would make them feel like fools for being there.

After a while, some students would get hungry and leave. Others would give up if it started to rain. But there were always a few who stayed.

Eventually, if you waited long enough, enduring the pain and taunts, you might be asked to come inside. That’s when you discovered that your education began the day you started to wait.

Refusing students entrance was part of the monk’s tradition. It’s the first lesson of Zen and it’s designed to turn away everyone except the truly dedicated.

Does that story sound familiar? If you switch out a few nouns, it becomes the tale of everyone who’s ever wanted to work in the entertainment industry.

Take yours truly. When I first arrived in L.A., the business was just like a Zen monastery. My fancy business degree meant nothing, and I couldn’t figure out a way to get inside.

During that time, I kept working my contacts, I took as many job interviews as possible, and I never lost sight of my goals. In other words, I was persistent. And after five months, all that effort paid off when I landed my first assistant job at an agency.

I’m sure every actor reading this column can relate. You stand outside the monastery (talent agency) hoping a monk (agent) will invite you to come in (sign you). Or you wait for a casting director to give you an audition. Or you pray for some kind of sign that you’re on the right path.

Sometimes, you get invited inside. And sometimes, like those aspiring students of Zen, you find yourself alone and ignored in the rain.

So what do you do? There’s no simple answer, but I would suggest you follow my example. Be persistent. That’s the best advice I can give you. Assuming talent is a given, the big breaks often go to the actors who keep showing up, day after day, refusing to go home.

This may sound like common sense, and yet I meet hundreds of actors every year who think they’re committed but are just fooling themselves. I can always spot the ones who’ll be gone at the first sign of rain.

So treat yourself to a little break this holiday season. Put your acting career on the back burner. Focus on spending time with friends and family. Find some inner peace. And when the holidays are over, take a look deep inside.

Are you done? Have you endured enough punishment? Is it time to move on? If the answer’s yes, that’s fine. There’s no shame in changing direction. Course correcting is part of life. But if you’re willing to keep going, make sure you start the New Year off with a cup o’ persistence.

It’s like Chuck Norris said: “If you really want something, you must go after it yourself, and with all your dedication. No one is going to give it to you, and if you waver or doubt, you’re going to fail.”

And on that note, I’d like to wish all of you happy holidays and a successful new year!

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Secret Agent Man
Secret Agent Man is a Los Angeles–based talent agent and our resident tell-all columnist. Writing anonymously, he dishes out the candid and honest industry insight all actors need to hear.
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