And thanks for reading! This week I’d like to spend some time talking about Motivation!
Just a reminder here that when I use the term “actor” I mean it to encompass all forms of acting including voice, stage, and screen. What follows applies relatively equally to all of these forms of acting.
What is motivation?
Honestly, it is a little hard to pin down. My old friend Miriam-Webster defines motivation as:
- a : the act or process of motivating
b : the condition of being motivated
Very unhelpful – So I went to Motivate:
: to provide with a motive : impel
OK, let’s check Motive:
: something (such as a need or desire) that causes a person to act
AH HA! That’s closer. So, motivation derives from the word motive which relates to WHY a person may do something. And there you have it, in a nutshell, motivation is WHY you do something. In this case it is acting. If the answer to WHY you act is to book gigs, make money, win awards or achieve fame then when those thigs don’t happen, or happen too slowly it is going to be impossible to maintain motivation.
It’s a crazy profession
Let’s face it, this career is not for the faint at heart. Work can be sporadic; feedback is nearly non-existent, and it is filled with highs and lows. Especially in the low periods, it is tough to stay motivated. The truth is, an acting career is CHOCK full of uncertainty…so how in the world do you stay motivated!?
First things first…
To begin with, if you have periods in your acting career where you just don’t feel motivated…don’t despair because you are not alone. As a matter of fact, if you DIDN’T lack motivation from time to time that’s when you would be all alone. It is impossible to stay motivated 100% of the time, so if you feel unmotivated don’t beat yourself up.
If you are not feeling motivated…
During those periods where motivation is lacking it is perfectly acceptable to step away for a bit. Take a break, do something else and then come back. Now, I’m not talking about taking a FOUR DECADE break like I did…that was just stupid of me…but a day or two, or even a week, off doing something else may be just what you need.
The KEY is…
The key to taking a break is: It is a break, not the end. Don’t quit. Rest, relax, rejuvenate, find some other artistic outlet temporarily…and then get back to work on your career. Just like you have to sleep at night, sometimes your career needs a little nap as well. A LITTLE nap…not a hibernation like mine was. It was tough to get back into this after 40 years (but here I am!).
Why do we lose motivation?
There are no studies I can find concerning actors and why we sometimes lose motivation, but IMHO one of the biggest factors is the uncertainty of it all. We train and train and train, we submit and submit and submit…we audition and audition and audition…and no matter how much work we are doing, there is just no guarantee our careers will take off. It is tough to stay motivated if there is not a clear path to success. And yet, here we are.
I may have mentioned before (Once or Twice) that the only really good reason to pursue acting is because you love it. With the level of uncertainty in this business any other reason would result in burnout quite quickly. So one of the first things to help keep you motivated is to accept that this uncertainty exists, and that it exists IN SPITE of your talent, work ethic and determination. Remember: even people like Robert DeNiro don’t get every role they go after. Yeah, I know…he doesn’t really have to audition anymore, but you get the idea. Uncertainty exists throughout the industry.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Your acting career is not going (or at least is very unlikely) to take off overnight. Well, it might take off overnight some night in the future, just not TONIGHT. Malcolm Gladwell tells us that it take 10,000 hours to become proficient at something and while that particular myth has been busted, the general idea still holds true: You have to work at this to become proficient before you start seeing real results.
How do you get motivated?
Start by remembering that you do this work because YOU enjoy it. Even when other people don’t enjoy your work (although I admit that is a tough pill to swallow). Also remember that just because ONE person (like the person making the casting decisions) doesn’t like your work, or more probably likes someone else’s work better, doesn’t mean there is NO ONE who likes it. It’ not bad just because some individual isn’t impressed. If you are enjoying yourself, whether you are getting hired or not, then you are successful…and that alone is a reason to keep going!
Yep…there it is…the unvarnished truth. You should enjoy doing auditions. After all, you do this work because YOU enjoy it, and auditioning IS ACTING. By being able to perform an audition, either in front of someone or at home and sending it to them, you ARE ACTING. It’s what you love doing…so enjoy it!
The key to enjoying auditions
I had a coach once who told me: “We audition for a living and every once in a while, someone gives us money”. In order to enjoy auditions, you have to remove “booking the job” from the act of auditioning. You are performing, that’s what you love to do. You also love booking work, I get that…but you get to enjoy that separately; It’s a completely different part of this career. Adopt this mindset: Auditioning IS acting, and working a gig is just a different type of acting. Don’t let booking work be the factor that robs you of the joy of acting when you audition.
Go see a movie…
Want to get excited about acting again? Go see a movie or watch a TV show, listen to a musician perform, listen to radio or TV commercials. Take a class. Experience other people who are also performing even if not the genre you perform in. Watching other people perform feeds that artistic nature within yourself. It’s like plugging your phone into the charger when the battery is low. Watching others perform recharges you.
And let’s not forget…
Make sure you have a survival job that supports your dream. I worked for the government for 41 years and between long hours, deployments, and work-related travel it was impossible to pursue an acting career. Don’t do what I did. If your survival job doesn’t support both your lifestyle AND your acting…maybe you should find another survival job. Yeah, I know…much easier said than done, but not impossible.
Identify something you are in control of…
We’ve talked before about how LITTLE we are actually in control of, but if you are feeling unmotivated identify something you ARE in control of and concentrate on that for a bit. Doing that helps you feel like you have some control over your career (and you do, just not a lot). That alone may help get you some motivation back.
How do you stay motivated?
The only way I know to stay motivated is to surround myself with people who both understand the industry and the struggles we face and who are encouraging. There is nothing quite as nice as hearing a friend respond to my woes of not booking much work with “Man, I don’t know why…you are AWESOME. I wish I was as talented as you”. It’s BS (I’m not all that talented), I know, but it is STILL nice to hear even if they ARE blowing smoke. When you start to feel discourage and are losing motivation – connect with a friend who will encourage you. You probably want someone who’ll tell you the truth, though, not like my friends.
Keep working. Nothing motivates me quite so much as actually accomplishing something. Have 5 auditions due (if ONLY)? Do one. Finish it and send it in. You’ll feel so good you’ll want to do another…and another, and another. For some reason I find that working (even when I don’t want to) tends to make me want to. It’s a weird self-imposed reverse psychology but it works for me. It might work for you too!
At the end of the day
When all is said and done, no matter how much fun this job is, this is a tough industry to be a part of. There is so much uncertainty, so little feedback (positive OR negative) that it is hard to know if you are wasting your time. Remembering WHY you do this (You LOVE IT, right!?) and not tying your satisfaction or success to how many roles you book should help prevent discouragement and not sap your motivation.