Let the Universe Do Its Thing

As many of you know I frequently work as a background actor for many of the television shows filmed in Chicago. (Fun fact, production is pretty adamant on abandoning the term “extra” and using “background actor” or “background artist.” Pretty cool, huh? #TheMoreYouKnow).

Anyway, I was on set the other day for a rather long, extensive scene, which we worked for about 16 hours. This was one of my first gigs for 2017 and although I started the new year with tremendous vigor, feeling totally empowered, somehow my enthusiasm for the year ahead began to dwindle and it ironically happened to occur while I was on set.

I was waiting while crew set up for a shot and just letting my thoughts wander and much to my chagrin, they went to a dark place. I started to feel hopeless and somewhat pathetic thinking about the future of my career. I ended 2016 on a great note with some exciting prospects for 2017, but since the new year, everything’s taken its time getting started, which results in a lot of frustration and anxiety on my end. I watched the stars of this show who were physically so close to me yet their status & success so far from me and just felt like I was hit with a brick. What am I doing? What am I thinking? I must be insane to think I can get from here, working in background, auditioning with hundreds if not thousands of other hopefuls, doing small photo shoots here and there and think that I can get THERE, to the entertainment promised land. I felt stuck. I felt daunted and afraid by my dreams and doubt crept in. And once I started on that line of thought I couldn’t stop. I began to panic. To the cast and crew I probably looked cool, calm and collected but on the inside my heart was pounding and my pulse racing as I allowed myself to ponder statistically my chances of making this a viable career. I’m an optimist through and through and thus felt surprised to be feeling such dismay.

I’m standing there, silently imploding and a crew head walks over to me out of the blue and says, “Hello!”

Now for anyone who does background, you know you essentially don’t exist. You’re a set piece helping create the tone and atmosphere for the production. And you also know you cannot speak with any crew or cast member unless they initiate a conversation. So imagine my surprise when this department head (I’m being vague with titles just in case) approached me on set.

Upon his greeting I instantly snapped out of my mental, downward spiral. We small talked for a bit but then he launched into a story about how his career started.

“I’ve been working in production for a while. But for years many of the shows I worked on failed. I don’t know why, hopefully it wasn’t my presence, but they failed. And one day I found myself without anything lined up. I began calling show after show asking for a job. No one had anything. I spent days, weeks searching and pleading and had nothing. I reached out to this show for the pilot and they rejected me. So I just let it go for a bit and then production called me back and asked me to join their crew. And now I’m coming up on four years with this show.

“I was grateful for the job, as anyone would be, although when they called me it was for a low man on the totem pole kind of job. I was a dolly grip, so I just pushed the camera where it needed to go. And again I tried to promote myself. I asked for more responsibility, and told production I wanted to move up, that I could do more. Again, no positive response. So finally I said. ‘Ok. You know what. I’m here as a dolly grip. That’s it. But I’m going to be the best damn dolly grip this production has ever seen.’ And then, boom. They had an opening for a head position and they offered it to me.

“So it’s a tough grind sometimes. You have to put your whole body and heart into the work. Be persistent, stay dedicated and have patience. And sometimes you just have to step back and let the universe do its thing.”

By the time he finished his story, crew was set up and we were ready to continue filming. So he said his farewell and headed back to work. But the spontaneity of this conversation and the message behind it left me stunned and chilled long after it ended. Hearing this man’s story of perseverance and passion was exactly what I needed in that moment. This man doesn’t know anything about me; not my name, nor that I’m an aspiring actor. (Although I’m sure the crew assume most background actors are somewhat affiliated with the arts.) He shared his story on a total whim completely unprovoked by me. But I’m forever grateful that he did.

This whole exchange reminds me of author Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech from 2012 in which he mentions how beginning a career is often like sending out messages in a bottle and hoping someone will find your message and write back. While it might be easier to blame the other party for not picking your bottle, it’s the repetition that leads to successfully having a message received. Sheer grit and focus even when nothing comes drifting back, and above all trusting that eventually something will come from your effort. Acknowledge that you must do everything in your power to make it happen and never relent on that commitment. But also acknowledge that timing plays a role as well, and while it may sound cheesy to say, one must allow the universe time to respond. Learn to trust that your bottle will be picked at the exact moment it’s meant to.

This bout of radio silence leads most people to falter and compromise. Based on my observations, many reach this point and consider it the end. Consider it a failed attempt at making something happen, despite having come so far. On the contrary, I believe it is the beginning. As Eric Thomas says, “You must outlast your old you long enough to get to your new you.” This is that moment. And this experience affirmed that truth for me…especially since within the twenty-four hours following this conversation I got an audition and a booking. (Eerie, right?)

So wherever you are, whatever you’re striving toward, if you’re feeling panicked, stuck and hopeless, don’t give up on yourself. Just breathe. Trust yourself and your abilities. Keep grinding and let the universe do its thing.

Oh, the sacrifices you’ll make

if-you-dont-sacrifice-for-what-you-want-what-you-want-becomes-the-sacrifice

You realize the true depths of your desires when you recognize just how much you’re willing to sacrifice. That realization becomes even more profound when you find yourself not missing the sacrifices. Certain sacrifices create momentum to propel us forward to our objective. Making sacrifices are not easy, we all know that. To make the difficult sacrifices easier requires one to hold a concrete vision of the future. Without that vision the sacrifices prove futile and arbitrary because you cannot identify the extraneous details within your world. Knowing what one must sacrifice does not make sacrificing easier, but makes it easier to justify. Sacrifice now to obtain a better future.

The greatest and perhaps only equalizer in life is that we each wake up with the same 24 hours ahead of us. (Remember the quote “You have the same amount of hours in a day as Beyoncé?”) Time possesses tremendous value and beauty in the fact that it is constantly fleeting and every minute must be spent wisely. In my humble opinion, time is a multi-faceted sacrifice we make continuously to other significant sacrifices such as relationships, money and rest. Lately, I’ve noticed how much I manipulate time and how time manipulates me. Everyone has the time to do what they constantly tout they never have the time for, that is an inarguable truth (And quickly becoming one of my greatest pet peeves. “I don’t have time” is NEVER an excuse). It becomes a matter of prioritizing and maintaining focus of one’s goals. Time is sacrificed when you choose how to spend it. When time is spent incorrectly, it deters your overall momentum.

Over the past few months, my personal life and my relationships have become very calculated. (Just to clarify, I’m referring to all types of relationships – familial, friendly, etc.). My personal life still exists, but in a very structured form. Since the entertainment industry runs constantly, I am never off the clock and often running from gig to gig, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While I love the constant, exhilarating grind and hustle of this industry, it’s not very nurturing for relationships and not everyone understands. Despite my attempts to keep everyone in my life, I’ve felt more and more connections fade lately as my time becomes scarce. Of course, I strive to be there when it matters most and I will move heaven and Earth to be there for my family, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Thus, people remove themselves from my life. Although that can be bittersweet, a pleasant and comforting boon is I’m quickly begin to discover my “ride or die” people, the people who understand me inside and out, who understand my objectives and goals, and will stick with me as I see them through. Having this clarity becomes paramount to success, and not just success within a career, but within life. It allows me to move forward in the most profound ways, reassured that who is by my side should and will be by my side.

Investing in this new venture has not been financially easy. With the right network, experience, and break this can be a very lucrative endeavor, but it also takes time to reach that level of income. Financial compensation within this business varies tremendously. For instance, I have projects that pay $100/hour all the way down to $10.50/hour or nothing at all. Every artist’s conundrum is not necessarily deciphering or seeking which project will pay me the most, but which project will pay off the most and instill the greatest feeling of fulfillment. For the right project, money plays no motivator. Often the gigs that fulfill me the most are the ones doling out $10.50/hour or nothing. Although these don’t pay much, I believe they will pay off. They invigorate me, remind me why I love this artful expression, and reinforce the important impact the entertainment world has on society. Furthermore, those lesser paying gigs connect me with individuals with the same dedication as myself. Each project provides me with a sense of purpose, but my sense of worth within each project is not perpetuated by the dollar sign tied to it, but the connection I personally have to it, and that is worth more than any paycheck.

As I mentioned earlier, this industry never stops and thus adequate rest becomes a consistent sacrifice for me. Despite becoming more accustomed than one should be to waking up at 3:00am in order to make a 5:00am call time to set, I rarely feel tired. Sleep is scarce, but I find myself leaping out of bed when my 3:00am alarm goes off because I simply cannot wait to start my day doing what I love! No matter that I only slept three hours each night the week before, I am exhilarated by my profession and the direction I’m going that I can shake off any exhaustion I feel. But don’t be fooled – when I have a chance to sleep in, you better believe I take it. I know I function best on 6-7 hours of sleep, but when every part of me is engaged in what I’m doing, sacrificing a full night’s sleep becomes easy to justify. Especially for someone like me who’s striving to break into a tough and highly competitive industry, turning down a great job because I’m “too tired” is simply not an option.

One fact of life we can always depend on is that it will be in constant flux; constantly changing. Our balance is constantly threatened, and thus our goals become consequently threatened. We make sacrifices daily, and some are easier than others but these sacrifices carry the most weight when we know WHY we’re doing them. Life is short, which makes sacrificing intelligently and intentionally essential. Work like no one does to live like no one does. One way to know you’re making sacrifices for the right reason is when each sacrifice becomes unnoticeable and that becomes a real testimony to your passion. When they’re made effortlessly and still leave you feeling energized and happy, you know it’s right. Know what you want, find what feels right to pursue, and sacrifice as needed to create the life you envision.

“If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want becomes the sacrifice.”