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When Progress Feels Small

Businesswoman walking up staircase to door in sky

courtesy of Dollar Photo Club

I have a confession: lately I haven’t had that, “Eureka!” jump-start, super-energized and amazingly inspired euphoria that I’ve grown used to experiencing in unpredictable cycles as I navigate my creative life.

Do you ever get that manic career boost? Suddenly all these things you put off forever get done, you drop 5 pounds off a master cleanse, and you feel like a bodhisattva as you pass out extra cashews and coconut water at auditions, and even let that jerk cut you off without a honk as you navigate rush hour traffic for your “other” job, because you are suddenly super zen and everything is going to work out? As an actor I’ve gotten addicted to my cyclical boost of adrenaline, when I feel “on top of the world” and I get the next “thing” on my way to my goals of being a recognized working actor/creative person who makes stories for a living.

This actor’s mania often comes around for me during the height of summer. And I usually get bummed out that I feel my best when the rest of the world is on vacation/hiatus. And with cyclical highs, there are close to equal lows when I feel stuck and as if all this hard work will never amount to anything and like I made a huge mistake with my life. But I never can imagine another road. I don’t know that it will all work out, but this yearning, this thing inside me that I just can’t quit, is relentless. And for many years now I have been surfing the high highs and low lows on that restless ocean of motivation/stagnation which has become all too familiar.

Well, something is different this year. For one thing I’ve been working out 5 days a week since late January. And crazily I haven’t lost a ton of weight, but I feel super strong and healthy. After a year-long hiatus from a regular acting workout, I have joined an acting studio that is pushing me to come from a really emotionally honest place and to constantly identify my own feelings (something that is super hard for me). As much as I play in the world of emotions, feelings can be like paint, and I paint with them, but often don’t own my present emotional state. How refreshing and challenging to recognize and declare aloud my feelings as I navigate the creative process.

This year so far has been full of community striving. I am in several networks of people who support each other on the creative/motivation journey. The first and most exciting is my Women’s Accountability Group (known as WAG amongst our cohort). A group of actresses meet up for coffee each Tuesday to discuss accomplishments, goals, and to keep each other on track as we navigate the river of our careers and our lives. I recommend this type of support for every female creative I know! I am also in LOVE with motivational Facebook groups and belong to a small but strong group sharing our fitness journeys and offering daily encouragement, as well as a massive group of creative women in Los Angeles that constantly delight and inspire with their various artistic endeavors and outreach to the community.

And despite missing the high of mania, I am reaching new goals along the way. But unlike the exhilaration of surfing a massive break (my old emotional pattern) these successes are more like rolling waves of joy that come along when sailing on a smooth sea. Excitingly, a film I associate produced (and have a small cameo role in) Bastards Y Diablos premiered last week at the LA Film Fest to a wonderful reception (and great reviews to boot!). I have been on the journey of post-production with the film-makers for the last two years and to see such a lovely debut was really gratifying for all of us. I am also acting in and producing an upcoming web-pilot with a major cable network in a project that is not to be publicly mentioned yet… All of these great opportunities and new experiences feel smaller now, more manageable, and like the natural progression of a balanced relationship with art and ambition.

So I am embracing this new way of being. I am embracing small, stable progress, and exchanging an old turbulent and exhilarating outlook, for one that is smooth and humble. I encourage everyone to take a step back from the wild ride of creativity to acknowledge that success comes in small steps, a process of expanding capacity and output, and not to be disappointed in the way that process looks. I encourage myself and every other creative out there to take a step back from the ego and realize that we are just instruments to something greater that is playing through us. We are the players, not the playwrights of our lives and it is our job to show up and do our best and be present with the circumstances life presents us. We are co-creators of our destiny, and cannot predict where the journey will take us. But wherever it does, we do not have to make such a fuss about it. We can embrace the moment, the successes and the setbacks with grace, accepting each as opportunities to increase our learning and our humility. That’s all from me this month, as I progress, one small and grateful step at a time.

Madeline Merritt









– Madeline

Madeline Merritt

About Madeline Merritt

Actress, Freelance Writer - Madeline grew up on stage and has loved telling stories her whole life. From the Bay Area, California, Madeline received her degree in Theatre and Political Science from Northwestern University and moved to Los Angeles in 2008. She recently spent a year in Paris, France but missed the city of Angels and the entertainment industry here. She cares deeply about social issues, including women’s rights, indigenous rights, poverty and the environment. She feels the role of storyteller through entertainment is very important in opening dialogue and creating change in the world. You can see her in The Guest House (available on Netflix, Itunes, Amazon and Time Warner on Demand) and the soon to be released American Idiots, coming to a Redbox near you in June 2013. She is thrilled to continue her journey of collaborating with women in film and television through Ms. In the Biz.