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Perception: It’s Tricky

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Perception is an interesting thing.  As humans, we perceive things to be one way or another based on the information we gather through our five senses; what we see, what we hear, what we taste, touch and feel, therefore become the reinforcements to what we believe to be true.

Perception is a very powerful thing – just look at advertisements, loaded with suggestions to delight your senses into believing – really believing – that an advertised product is the answer you’ve been looking for, or in more extreme cases in today’s world, the effect of news, memes, and social media to influence important causes, votes, and elections.

It’s all related to perception. 

Now whether we like to admit it or not, perception is also a very big part of advancing in the entertainment industry.  People want to work with, hire, and spend time with – the people that they perceive are successful, if not more successful than they are… or better yet, people they perceive to have the power to advance their own careers – whether by status or by the ability to make recommendations and/or hire them for the next job.

So how do we gain a handle on the way people perceive us, while still being true to who we are with honesty and transparency about our journey?

Well, I guess that depends on you (and your brand).   Personally, I’ve always been an open-book type of person, for better or for worse. I’ve always felt my most authentic when I’m being truthful, when I’m breaking that fourth wall, and allowing people to see my highs and my lows.  Is that the best course of action for you?  Maybe, maybe not. 

I’ve also found that many in the mentor/coaching field will recommend that not only should you not talk about your regular life struggles, but that you should also keep your side gigs, or thrival jobs as we call them here at Ms. In The Biz, to yourself.  

I clearly remember a time awhile back, when I had launched a successful side gig, I was selling nutritional shakes in a traditional multi-level-marketing company – and was doing quite well at it.  Facebook was relatively new, and dozens of high school friends were signing up on my team.   Until, one day, someone in a coaching/mentor position said to me… “Hey, I know you’re enjoying these shakes, but do you want the industry to know you as that girl who sells shakes, or as an actress?”   I took that to heart, and it wasn’t long before I lost interest in the company, and the side income that I had built up fizzled away. I could have created a separate face book page for this side biz, but I was embarrassed to post about it as much, and well, I didn’t want to be known as “the shake girl.”

Nowadays, it is much more acceptable and common for those of us working our way up the entertainment ladder to have thrival gigs, and even side careers – but there’s still a stigma around it, especially for those of us who are considered talent (whether that be in front of a camera or in front of a mic).   I recently had a situation where I was confronted with this.

Many know that I have a successful side career as an expert crowdfunding coach, I’ve also written about my favorite thrival gig before.   However, one thrival gig I haven’t spoken of much, is my lengthy resume with well-known touring bands and musicians.  See about 20 years ago, I spent time on tour with some famous rock bands and fell in love with the hustle and bustle of that industry.  I worked on a few tours and spent many years booking and producing local events for unsigned bands.  I had a choice to make, to pursue that career full-time and become a touring professional, or to focus on my tv, film, and voiceover career.  I chose tv/film/and voiceover – but my friends in the touring industry often reach out when they’re in town, and I’ve had the pleasure of working short-term temp gigs for some legendary music acts over the years.

Why do I keep that on downlow?  Well, one, privacy and such for the bands and musicians, but two because it’s not a glamourous gig.   I’m typically hired as a production runner, or in cases of large music festivals, as part of the artist transportation team.   A production runner for a touring artist, is equivalent to a PA in the film world.   Low man on the totem pole, long hours, and lots of running around doing errands for other people, but because I’m not a famous musician, and never will be – I kind of enjoy this work.  Especially, when it comes to working on tour rehearsals, which means I’ll be hired for one location for a few weeks before the tour begins – many of these rehearsals happen in LA – this is what I was doing recently, when I got smacked in the face with the stigma of perception.

I was working for a famous pop-rock star, during her rehearsals for her upcoming US tour.  They were long days with no days off, but incredibly fun people to be around, and a great day rate.  I’m not complaining.  

So, one night, I accompanied the production team to a private performance.  As I’m sitting in the green room area getting ready to wrap up for the night, one of the musician’s wives came in, with a friend.  A lady I recognized as a publicist I’ve met a few times and had worked as a red-carpet host at an event she produced.  When she saw me, she was confused, and asked why I was there.   I explained that I was working with the team for their rehearsals, and that I was the “runner”.   A term she was unfamiliar with, and as I tried to explain – it’s like the errand girl — she flat out said, but “What is your career?”    I was kind of stunned, as was my boss sitting next to me, and her boss sitting across the room.   I stammered some joke, about being grateful that my touring friends call to offer me work when I’m an out of work actress… and tried not to bury my head into the couch pillows to cry. Before she left, she attempted to make light of it, but it didn’t really make things better.  In fact, the big boss, a very respected man in the touring industry, seemed annoyed that she was making light of the job I was currently doing… I mean, let’s be honest, how many of you are reading this right now, saying, hey, I want to be errand-girl for music stars for a great day rate too. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about.

But I was. Because. Perception.

Here’s this publicist, I’ve met a few times, and now she perceives me as “unsuccessful” or worse yet, she perceives me as “failing” at the hosting/acting she knows me for, why else would I be doing PA type work? It honestly, took me a few days to get over the feelings I was left with.  The embarrassment (that I was seen working backstage at a private event!), the thoughts of failure and…her question kept echoing in my head, “What is your career?”

I’m an entertainer.  I’m a storyteller.  I do this thru a few mediums that I love.
And when I’m not employed in one of those mediums, I am grateful that I have earned and developed the contacts, friendships, and resumes, that give me a variety of options of pretty darn cool thrival gigs.  

Have you ever let someone else’s perception of you make you feel less than? Do you feel better about yourself when you authentically share the ups and the downs, or do you carefully curate your social media and what you put out there in an attempt to control others perception of you and your career?   I’d love to hear from you. There’s no right or wrong, just what works best for you.

P.S.   I ran into the same publicist a few weeks later backstage at a concert.  She pulled me aside and genuinely, earnestly apologized for the interaction. 

Leah Cevoli

About Leah Cevoli

Leah Cevoli is a multi-talented entertainment professional whose work stretches across many genres. She is a rock ‘n roll enthusiast, body image activist, a certified yoga teacher, and fan of all things horror, Leah's acting credits include appearances on high profile tv shows like HBO’s "Deadwood," and voice-over on the Cartoon Network hit "Robot Chicken". Leah is a contributing writer for Ms. In The Biz and the founder of AllShapesAndSizesWelcome.com: Body Image & Women’s Issues in Entertainment, a group of women who speak on panels and at conventions nationwide. Leah has a reputation for crowdfunding success and social media magic. To date, her company, GreenlightYourPassionProject.com has managed 50+ campaigns, and have been instrumental in raising over $5,000,000 for indie projects. Her latest projects include: the feature-length documentary "Remember The Sultana" narrated by Sean Astin, the gritty feature-length drama, "Girl Lost," distributed thru Cinema Epoch, and the light hearted comedy, "Dance Baby Dance". All three films were released in the spring of 2018.