Tax Tantrum

Ah, ‘tis the most taxing time of year – pun intended. I’ve always loved filing my taxes (because I always get money back, even when filing as a freelance artist), and this year I approached filing with the same enthusiasm. I had all my spreadsheets organized and ready to go and was eager to get (and invest) my refunds!

If you haven’t already inferred from the title, my taxes did not go at all as I planned.

I use TurboTax, which is a total godsend and very user friendly. Plus, the program has a fun, little money ticker on the side of the screen constantly adjusting based on your entries. It shows you in happy green numbers how much you will be refunded or it calculates in dark, angry red numbers how much you owe.

Usually the numbers start off in red before settling in the happy, green zone indicating a return. Thus, I try not to pay the numbers much mind until I get toward the end of filing. But as I approached the final pages of my entry, with red numbers still glaring prominently at me displaying a balance due of nearly $2,000…

Cue tantrum.

I wish I could say I took this surprise in stride and handled it maturely, but I would be lying to you, dear reader, and I don’t want to do that.

My chest began to tighten, my stomach dropped, and I repeatedly dragged my hands down my face as one does when in a state of overwhelm. Not only did I owe, but I also incurred a penalty for not filing quarterly which I am now required to do from this point forward.

I started whining: “This sucks! Taxes are stupid! This is unbelievable! Why is this happening? I always get money back! I had plans for that return!” My eyes teared up and there was a bit of profanity finally followed by the exclamation of, “I NEED A BIG GLASS OF WINE FOR THIS.”

Once I came to terms with the fact that my lovely tax refunds betrayed me and that I lost $2,000 instead of earning money like I anticipated, I endeavored to find the positive in the situation.

Looking over my documents I noticed that from 2017 to 2018 I more than doubled my income as an actor & model. MORE. THAN. DOUBLED. That is incredible growth for a business in the span of a year! A number of my projects had me on a W2 with taxes already taken out, which is definitely a luxury in the freelance world. I also realized more than half of my income came from projects filed on 1099s, which led to the fine and balance. However, more importantly perhaps, those 1099s came from exciting projects with some new clients but many repeat clients, which is cause for celebration!

The hit to my bank account hurt. A lot. Plus, now I have research to do about filing quarterly, which is a learning curve I did not anticipate nor desire. Whining aside, this all indicates growth. Oftentimes we mistake uncomfortable and annoying obstacles for inconveniences rather than recognize them as growth. It is a simple matter of perspective. By shifting perspective to consider an obstacle in a new way, and not lashing out in a tantrum like a big baby (*cough* like me *cough*), we might become more adept at recognizing the annoyances as growth worthy of celebration.

I learned a lot of lessons from this experience, but the most important one may be this: the next time an unforeseen obstacle comes along, look at it differently. I urge you to do the same, try not to react on instinct as that frequently turns out to be a negative response, but rather alter your perspective. If you do, you may be able to see you are growing!

The Most Important Thing

It’s no secret – we’re all itching to find the formula to success. We’re constantly scrolling through various articles touting the best tips for negotiating, proper business wardrobe, greatest resume formats, supplemental skills to acquire, and more. We’re hoping that by implementing all this research we can elicit success.

While these all play their own role in amassing success, I was recently reminded of one key element that is easily the most important.

But first, some backstory.

If you’re in the entertainment industry you know the first part of the new year is known as pilot season and is the busiest time in the television world. While shows that are already on the air gear up for the second half of their season, a whole new slew of shows emerge to film one episode. This one episode serves as a pitch package with the hope that it garners enough interest to be purchased and picked up as a series.

Emotions run high during pilot season; sleep is scarce, coffee is stocked by the barrel and practically everyone works. Some people work for the very first time and some work double time to finish out their regular shows and then hop on a pilot. It’s a beautiful and also insane time.

This was my first year as an active participant in pilot season. After a whirlwind of screen and lighting tests I was selected to be Rachelle Lefevre’s stand in for the duration of the pilot she was filming in Chicago. I auditioned in the morning with a couple other lovely redheaded ladies, and at the conclusion of the audition, just as I began to put on my coat, the 2nd Assistant Director pulled me aside to ask if I could stay for the rest of the day. And just like that, we were off.

**A quick definition for “stand in” – Production selects a person to be a stand in who resembles the principal actor as closely as possible in terms of height, weight, hair color/length and skin tone. A stand in watches the principal actor they’re in for as they rehearse a scene and memorizes their marks (blocking) ready to hold their place once rehearsal ends and the main actor steps out. As the main actor steps out, the stand in steps in so that cameras, lights and any additional technical equipment have a body to set up around. Setting up the equipment takes MUCH longer than you think it would so instead of having the principal actor stand there for 20 minutes or so, production uses stand ins. Stand ins fill their actor’s marks and also don the appropriate “color cover” – a shirt the same color as the actor’s wardrobe in the scene. Having a stand in also allows the actor to get hair/makeup touch ups, talk with the director or simply grab something to eat. Second team (the team of stand ins) will often go through a rehearsal with the crew and director to ensure everything is set up correctly, determine timing if the camera needs to move and make any blocking adjustments if needed (which the stand in then communicates to the principal actor when they return). Our team of stand ins also memorized the lines in the morning for the scenes scheduled to film that day. Most productions don’t request that second team be memorized but this production preferred it, and so every morning we’d get there early to get our sides for the day and memorize before filming started. So I guess it’s kind of similar to being an understudy in theatre but understanding you will never, ever have the chance to go on as that role.**

That first day after my morning audition was a prep day to experiment with lights, special effects and camera lenses to make the most of our time during official production days.

As I stepped out of one of the lighting set ups to let Rachelle in, the director of photography motioned me over. At first my stomach dropped, I thought I had messed up on the first day and was about to get a lecture.

He lowered his voice and asked, “Do you know why you got this job?”

I blankly stared back trying to come up with a response. Before I could construct an answer, he continued:

“Your attitude. Yes, you have the look but those other girls had the look too. But when you walked in, you smiled, you were warm, you shook my hand, you were engaged and focused. You paid attention. Your attitude – that is the most important thing.”

His explanation surprised me more than it should have. We all understand that one’s attitude has a tremendous effect on any scenario. Especially when things go wrong, as they often do, it makes a world of a difference to approach a situation with a positive and professional attitude. As you’re reading this you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, duh. Of course you need a good attitude. We all know this.” However, if we’re all honest with ourselves, when we’re reacting in the moment the first response isn’t always positive. When we’re tired and frustrated it isn’t easy to maintain a professional and optimistic manner, but it’s critical for success and must be practiced. And what’s awesome is that your attitude is a trait you can cultivate and enhance anytime and anywhere without spending a penny!

I’m working in an industry that appears to pit performers against one another in a competition of who’s the most talented, the prettiest, the most experienced, or the most connected. That emphasis is terrifying, off-putting and incites a deluge of limiting beliefs. If you only remember one message from this post let it be this: your talent or skill level does not matter if you’re unpleasant to work with. I’m not diminishing the need to train and grow one’s skill set as a performer, or in any career for that matter, but what I’m trying to communicate is a positive demeanor will help open more doors – and keep them open.

For a long time I held myself back from countless opportunities telling myself I wasn’t experienced enough, talented enough, qualified enough, and so on neglecting the power of my personality. I’m sure I’m not the only one to stunt myself in this way. If you’re holding yourself back because you feel you don’t have the right skills or experience, I hope this reminds you that your attitude carries more weight than you think. It speaks volumes and will help you get in the door as you continue to build your skill set to reach new levels of success. It truly is the most important thing.