Team no days off. Eyes on the prize. Keep going. Keep doing. Never stop. We live in a world where hustle culture is revered. The truth is that many times this way of thinking leaves out the most important thing you need in your life to accomplish the amazing goals you set for yourself in this industry – you.
At one point last year, I sat down and assessed where I was spending my time, what my goals were, and what I wanted for the future of my career. I was doing a lot and had achieved some career milestones. Among them, producing a film that stars an actor I admire, getting paid the most I ever have as a screenwriter, and being able to make a living exclusively from my work in the industry for over a year.
On paper, it all looks great. Yet, inside, I didn’t feel the fulfillment you would think I would feel from these accomplishments. Why?
The entire year, I was busy. So busy, that I was often sick. I had taken my first vacation in six years, but even during my vacation, I was sick. My time off wasn’t the most relaxing, but it did give me time to reflect on how I was feeling. I realized I had fallen into an old habit of living a life of hustle and wasn’t looking after myself as I really could.
Pursuing a career in this industry is unlike any other. You can have all the experience in the world, but it doesn’t mean you’ll get hired or even a foot in the door. Someone else with no experience can get that dream gig simply because they’re friends with the producer. Getting cast as an actor isn’t just dependent upon your talent, but it can now be dictated by how many followers you have on social media.
There are many factors that play into why someone has success and opportunity in this industry, and some of them are simply outside of your control. My mind translated this feeling of being out of control as meaning that I needed to take every opportunity that came my way. If I wasn’t doing something, then I was failing.
We can fool ourselves into thinking we’re making progress simply because we’re taking action. Taking action does not necessarily mean that we are moving closer to our goals or that it’s healthy for you. Doing more does not translate into more success. Continuously moving without taking the time to be conscious about how we’re feeling can lead to exhaustion.
It’s easier to go around saying yes to every opportunity, versus setting boundaries for what you really want in your career and life. This requires taking the time to feel into how taking on a project will affect you and having the courage to respond from what you genuinely feel is right for you. It isn’t dictated by what others think you should be doing or even what you “think” you should be doing. It takes a huge amount of trust and brings integrity to your career.
I remember the first time that I said no to a gig that would have paid me well. A writer/director that I’d worked with previously wanted me to star in a feature they wrote. I was thrilled to receive a straight offer! But then I remembered that my last experience on set with this person was miserable. I read the script, and being a professional script reader, it was clear that it needed a lot of work. Not just that, but my character fell into every stereotypical issue that female characters usually have in Hollywood – a victim, no development, only concerned with being in a romantic relationship with the lead male, and her salvation is his saving her.
I wrestled with what to do. How could I, as an actor, say no to a straight offer to star in a feature – especially when there weren’t any other offers coming my way? In my heart, I knew this was not right for me. I would never recommend the script to any other producer, so why would I even consider it for myself? This filmmaker wasn’t open to notes on the script, so I took a deep breath and turned down the offer. I wished them the best with the production while offering to help polish the script if they changed their mind.
Looking back, I can see how that decision led me to where I am today, writing and producing my own projects and being totally clear that I no longer will play victim roles in my acting. It helped me get clear on my own career goals, the kind of work I want to offer the world as a storyteller, and the kind of people I want to work with.
A great quote from the late Kobe Bryant, “It’s not about the number of hours you practice. It’s about the number of hours your mind is present during practice.”
Being conscious of what we put our time and energy into, rather than just staying busy, is a key to happiness in this industry. I share this from my own experience. Giving yourself the permission to say no, the permission to choose what you work on, rather than saying yes out of fear that another opportunity won’t come along is one of the most empowering things you can do.
I love this offering from Jada Pinkett Smith:
Put yourself first in your career. Your integrity matters. What your heart tells you matters. Your feelings are a guiding compass that will help you. Living a life of hustle, of do, do, do can be a distraction from what your heart is trying to tell you. There is just as much value in pausing, taking a moment for yourself, and there is power in giving yourself the freedom of choice in your career.