Today, on the opening of the New Orleans Film Festival, I must say that I have been stressed. Stressed about what you ask? My career.
For film industry folks, film festivals are a wonderful gathering place to celebrate achievements, network and opportunities seem to pop up around every corner. Film festivals are also a gathering place of the best and the most successful in the industry, and at the very least, currently in that area. For someone starting off, this feeling is thrilling, and also terrifying.
From the point of view of an industry newbie/recent college graduate like myself, the pressure is on. You stand in rooms and theaters, talking to people that are two kajillion times more successful than you presently are, just to tell them about the small short films you’ve worked on, as they recant that their most recent film won multiple academy awards.
You hope they won’t smell your desperation, that you’re trying so hard to hide. They’re wearing a designer outfit straight from the red carpet and you’re feeling guilty about the $40 you had to spend just to look like a presentable, totally not broke actor.
This is a special kind of hell for actors, only one step behind pilot season and live auditions.
They are where you want to be one day. In a perfect world, that day is today. In reality that day might be twenty years down the road. They tell you you’re doing great. You know you’re working your ass off, but it’s difficult not to get discouraged about your own inchworm-like progress. When you see great success, that in an industry like show business, people can achieve at any age, it can make self realization incredibly stressful.
Not to say that medical students don’t get stressed (we’ve all seen Grey’s Anatomy), but nobody became a top neurosurgeon at age 10; an age at which Tatum O’Neal won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Interject the voice of reason- my mother, “there will always be exceptions to the rule.” Though she is right, many of us see ourselves as exceptions to the rule too.
To highlight the pompous nature of millennials, I will use none other than myself as a prime example. I have always believed that I am an exception to the rule. I do not believe this is the case in everything I do, for example, I cannot play volleyball or do math to save my life. When it comes to my passions and endeavors I pursue whole-heartedly though, I do believe this to be the case. I am not infallible or perfect, as many baby boomers think our generation believes, but I know where I excel.
Careers in the arts like to take this idea you have of yourself and dump all over it, just for fun.
This doesn’t mean that you are incapable of reaching success tomorrow, but today feels like one hell of a mountain to climb and there is no guarantee of what tomorrow brings. You could end up being Sisyphus for Christ’s sake. *Cue nerd joke.*
The most challenging part of not knowing what tomorrow brings in this industry, is that you can muster every ounce of effort and passion you’ve got in you, and get nothing in return. On the flip side, you can reach success after having just started off and have no clue what you’re doing; i.e. Charlize Theron. She was scooped up from a bank tellers office by big time agent John Crosby and within months starred in her first film, Children of the Corn III.
Surprisingly I am not Charlize Theron, nor am I just like her. Reality bites.
Adulting is hard (it’s a word, just go with it).
I CAN’T BE THE ONLY ONE WHO FEELS LIKE THIS! Rant over.
Figuring this out by 23 took a pretty hard fall on my ass, right out of the gate.
After signing with my agency and booking a speaking role in my first few days on board, I became overly confident. I expected that everything would happen for me, if I just worked hard enough. I told myself that if I booked one more job or I worked another film, that the opportunities would come knocking. I believed that hard work necessitated success. This is not the rule in show business like it is with other industries. I was so hopelessly delusional that I believed the stars would align because I worked hard.
I would be the exception to the rule, and someone would descend from the film casting heavens with an incredible role and give it to me because I was dedicated.
Let me interject that the majority of actors take at least ten years working 15 to 20 hour days to “make it.” I also neglected to acknowledge the fact that TIMING IS EVERYTHING in show business.
Despite putting in even more effort and getting my bearings in the industry, things slowly stopped “happening” for me. I wasn’t booking gigs constantly, I was spending more and more time alone, I wasn’t socializing as much, and sure enough I fell into a rut. I was just like everyone else, not the exception to the rule. I hit a slump, nearly right out of the gate, just like tons of actors before me had warned might happen.
The daily calls to my wonderfully patient mother came rolling in, full of crying, sadness and a whole slew of self deprecating tales about how stuck I felt. I should’ve prefaced that statement with the fact that I was never normally a crier.
Dramatic- yes, crier- no.
I never cried when I saw puppies, adorable proposal videos or The Notebook. I didn’t cry when I was happy, sad, stressed- you name it, but if 22 taught me anything it’s that I am now a crier. I constantly felt stressed and overwhelmed, like I was just barely staying afloat. Again, just like everyone said, that too did pass.
Now I am a little over a year out of college, being an adult most of the time, and working my butt off in the film industry. I am only slightly more patient, some things take time, and I have reevaluated or adjusted some of my goals to account for reality.
I have come to learn that everything comes in waves; success, failure, happiness, sadness and the like.
Careers like mine aren’t easy and they aren’t for the faint-hearted. There is no security, no guarantee, but there is freedom. Freedom to find yourself and to create new things. You have to be proud of the progress you’ve made to date, because somewhere out there, is someone who is looking at you, wishing they had what you have, just like you once looked. If you keep working at it, someday you can define what success means to you and make your own, not what somebody else had.
For now though, enjoy the ride, because that’s the best part.