By: Steve Braun
Surrounding yourself with a supportive acting community is imperative. You need to be amongst like-minded actors who understand your struggle, can share in the rejection, and help you appreciate the victories. You need actor friends. But when one of your acting comrades strikes gold and books a big job while you’re still deep in the struggle, friendships can change. Even the most centered actor can feel jealous or self-loathing when someone from their circle of friends hits the big time. “What do they have that’s so special?” “Why not me?” Beyond your own feelings, you can realize that being in the struggle may have defined part of the relationship. And without that bond, the relationship may not work.
Here are four ways to deal with your friend’s success (if generosity isn’t coming easily):
1. Know that your successful friend is still struggling. If you look at the big picture, the struggle of the actor never ends. In fact, often the struggle only gets tougher. The intense anxiety that you feel before meeting that lower-level agent who agreed to see you is nothing compared to pressures that come with more opportunity. Your first network test for a series regular role with $30,000 on the line brings that anxiety times 10. Being on set with Academy Award-winning actors and directors where the expectation is that you’ll be nothing but absolutely flawless can offer immeasurable anxiety. The struggle to keep pushing the boundaries of your work only increases when the work happens under more intense scrutiny. The specifics of the struggle may have changed, but not in as many ways as you might think. So while your friend no longer has to worry about how to pay the rent or getting someone to cover her Friday night shift at the bar, she is still deep in the epic struggle that we’re all in. It might require a new perspective but you still have the struggle in common.
2. It’s not personal. It’s business. You’re both trained and talented, but he got the big job, the money, and the adoration of the industry. What gives? Because many of us equate success as an actor with how much money we make doing the big jobs, it’s enough to make us think that your successful friend is worthy and you are not. That he’s better than you. Inherent in that thinking is that the industry has a lock on what is worthy and not worthy, who is good and who is bad. And that’s the farthest thing from the truth. There are a billions of factors that go into one person booking a job over another. While talent is often a common denominator, often it is not. Sometimes it’s the right look for the right part, a feeling a producer got about a person based on her or his own past experience, a quality, an actor being brilliant on a particular day, whether the director got a speeding ticket the day of the audition, etc. And every actor is unique. You’re comparable to no one. Actors who work consistently are typically talented, trained, hard working and know how to manage resistance.
But once you’ve worked on all of that, it’s all very subjective. This is not a validation of your “successful” actor friend as a human being and a condemnation of you as a human being. This is the business doing the best it can to try to produce art that resonates with a population. And given that no one really knows what resonates with a population, everyone’s just guessing. This is not always a merit-based system. So your friend’s success is a product of that moment in time, the alignment of stars. It’s not a definition of anyone’s worth.
3. Practice compassion and gratitude. Beyond the fact that it’s just bad form to think bad thoughts and/or talk smack about your friend who just booked that big job, it’s bad for your career, too. Wallowing in negativity and victimhood holds you back. Focusing on your negative feelings leads to anger about the business. Anger leads to bitterness, which leads to hopelessness, and then paralysis. All of a sudden your negative feelings have you believing that there’s no point, so then you stop working to explore the depths of your own emotional life through art and start spending your days lamenting your lot in life and getting nowhere. You have to train your brain to think positively. That doesn’t mean that you deny your feelings, but it probably means that you’ll have to write down 10 reasons why you’re happy for your friend who just booked her own TV show. And then 10 more reasons why you’re awesome. And then add 10 things you love about acting. Write it all down. And then be happy for your friend. Career victories are elusive in our business. Celebrate them when they happen!
4. Work harder. Your friend booked her dream job. One day she was coming over to sit on your couch to watch reality TV and eat ice cream, and suddenly she’s moving to North Carolina to shoot the next big thing. And that means that it’s possible. In fact, it could happen to you. And If it does elicit big feelings in you, let them drive you back to the work. Back to exploring the depths of your emotional life. Back to what you love about acting. Get back to work! Write something. Shoot something. Put up a play. Get back into class. Explore deeper, push your acting farther, for it’s own sake, and to be ready when you’re called to the big leagues.
So go on and celebrate your successful friend! Tell her she deserves it, ’cause she does. You all do. But this part was hers. Raise a glass to her, to the possibility that it can happen to anyone who’s really putting themselves out there, and to the two of you needing and supporting each other through all of it. Because her TV show will end. They all do. And when it does, she’ll be back in this same struggle. She’ll need you then too. She’ll need as much as you’ll need her when you hit it big.
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