Thanksgiving: the franchise player of America’s holiday roster. It’s big, it’s brash, it involves such a profound level of gluttony that its name is often changed to Turkey Day to really underline the fact that what’s really important about the day is what’s consumed on it. (It’s like changing the name of the new Christopher Nolan movie to “The Evening of Popcorn, Nachos and a Soda.” Catchy, right?) Yes, it’s been hijacked by the NFL and Prilosec OTC heartburn medicine, and yes, it’s the day when you remember just how crazy your family is. But for actors, Thanksgiving is a really important holiday. In fact, it can actually get you closer to having the kind of career that you want. Here are three reasons why Thanksgiving is good for your acting career.
1. At the heart of Thanksgiving is the notion of gratitude, of being thankful. This notion is a really powerful tool for an actor. Actors deal with rejection 98 percent of the time. You’re too short, too tall, too funny, not funny enough, not famous enough, etc, etc. And after a while, the futility of it all starts to weigh on you. You start to get really frustrated with the lack of progress. You’re doing your part: You’re talented, you’re trained, and you work really hard, but it’s just not happening the way you want it to. You can start to think that it must be the fault of the business, the casting director, your agent, the industry itself. You start blaming. Anger leads to bitterness, bitterness leads to hopelessness, and hopelessness leads to paralysis. Before you know it every email from your agent is met with that voice in your head asking, “What the hell is the point? They won’t hire me anyway.”
This is when you’ve reached death as an actor. Having lost the willingness to fully engage in your art—even for its own sake—you’re sunk. Left unchecked, you can spend decades in this defeated mindset, spending hours drinking coffee with your negative actor friends talking about how awful the business is and lamenting your lot in it. L.A. coffee shops and bars are full of those conversations; actors perpetuating a narrative of defeat that gives them permission to disengage, not invest in their art, and float through life. Yuck.
Gratitude is the antidote to this level of paralysis. Being in the practice of focusing on what you’re grateful for, even if it’s as simple as the air that you’re breathing right now, keeps your brain in the habit of firing the chemicals required to manage the ups and downs of the business. When you’re disciplined about being thankful, you start to kill the resistance that prevents forward motion. You start to crave exploration, discovery, and growth. It even brings you joy. That leads to you thinking of your art and the presentation of your art in the audition room as an opportunity to explore. Void of the negative chatter, you start creating room in your life for opportunity, love, and financial freedom. It can sound too good to be true, but it’s not. It takes an immense amount of discipline and patience, but the notions inherent in Thanksgiving can change your career.
2. You need to shut off. Sometimes it can feel like the business never stops—or at least that your pursuit of the business never does. Your hyper-focus on booking that big job can keep you on high alert every second of the day, vigilant, waiting for that next email from the agent with details about your next opportunity to make it big. You can start to feel like you can never leave town and never let your guard down. What if you get an audition while you’re away? What if you miss an opportunity? You can start hating weekends because they represent two days during which the possibility of getting an audition is slim to none. But in that obsessive pursuit you can lose yourself—you can lose your artistry and your humanity as the pursuit of the business takes over every part of your being. And if you start to lose your artistry and your humanity to the obsessive pursuit of the business, your acting will suffer and you will book fewer jobs.
You have to step back from the business regularly, get out of your head, and fill your soul with human connection, physical relaxation, and contemplation. Keeping your acting skills as sharp as they need to be and conquering the business of acting requires you to nurture your instrument. Thanksgiving is a time to unplug, be with friends and family, look inside yourself, and take stock of where you’ve been and where you want to go. And all of that gets you closer to where you want to be as an actor.
3. Community. There seems to be an expectation that on Thanksgiving you must be with a large group of people, sitting around a table consuming a large bird. If even the most introverted hermit, the deep lover of isolation, so much as hints that she’ll be spending Thanksgiving at home alone, complete strangers will demand that she join them and their family at their Thanksgiving celebration. This expectation can be really annoying. The thought of all the potential land mines at one’s own family’s gathering or the social awkwardness of attending someone else’s can be enough to make one want to sit Thanksgiving out. But as the pursuit of an acting career involves isolation and constant rejection that can make you want to turn inside and run away, an actor must force herself to seek out and engage in a community. It’s particularly true of actors living in the big cities where one can feel insignificant—one invisible soul among millions. Might the dinner with 20 strangers be awkward? Might Uncle What’sHisName say dumb things like, “You know that show ‘NCIS’? You should get on that show,” at your family gathering? Yes. But forcing yourself to engage in a community gets you out of your head and challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and deal with the people and things around you. It’s good for your craft, which is good for your career.
Thanksgiving is no picnic. We seem to have this idea that the holidays should be blissful, and they never are. But if you manage it right, focus on what really matters, and see it as an opportunity for growth, Thanksgiving can fill your soul, set your mind back on the right track, and leave you feeling ready to get back to work. The real work—the work of being an actor.
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