Making A Life Out of This Crazy Artform

5 01 2008

The actor Tom Wilkinson was interviewed in The Hollywood Reporter the other day as part of their Awards coverage and spoke about how he has learned that he is well-suited to his job. He goes on to explain:

“…to withstand all of the setbacks you have when you’re an actor. Going up for jobs, then being one of the last two and not getting it. I could deal with that; I didn’t have any sense of regret or bitterness about it. I just thought, ‘I am going to keep knocking on this door, and sooner or later, someone is going to open it.’ That feeling I had, increasingly as I gained confidence as a young actor, was that I was absolutely in the right job and wasn’t wasting my time.”

This is not a business that is very people-friendly. It can eat you up inside if you’re not careful. Unfortunately, shutting down and building up defenses around you is not a productive way of succeeding either, because it cuts off the very humanity and emotional core that we need in order to edit with the ability to effect an audience (or shoot or act or direct or write or whatever). We have to learn to access humanity, without making ourselves personally responsible when we don’t get the job we wanted, or don’t get the reviews we wanted.

It’s a very tricky emotional slope to be on, and i don’t know that everyone is emotionally equipped to do that. It’s one reason why successful people sometimes crack up. But when we do achieve that great balance, this is probably the best business in the world to work in.

This actually, in a funny way, reminds me of a recent posting from Mark Cuban’s blog about the beginnings of his career as an entrepeneur. At one point he had no money, had just broken up with his fiancee, and had very few easy prospects.

(Mark Cuban, for those of you who don’t know, is a legitimate dot com billionaire, having started and sold it to Yahoo for nearly six billion dollars. He has since bought the Dallas Mavericks and, importantly for those of us in the entertainment business, has started 2929 Entertainment, which has an amazing business model for the creation and distribution of filmed entertainment).

In sports, the only thing a player or coach can truly control is effort. The same applies to business. The only thing any entrepreneur, salesperson or anyone in any position can control is their effort.

I had to kick myself in the ass and recommit to getting up early, staying up late and consuming everything I possibly could to get an edge. I had to commit to making the effort to be as productive as I possibly could. It meant making sure that every hour of the day that I could contact a customer was selling time and when customers were sleeping, I was doing things that prepared me to make more sales and to make my company better.

And finally, I had to make sure I wasn’t lying to myself about how hard I was working. It would have been easy to judge effort by how many hours a day passed by while I was at work. That’s the worst way to measure effort. Effort is measured by setting goals and getting results. What did i need to do to close this account. What did I need to do to win this segment of business. What did I need to do to understand this technology or that business better than anyone. What did I need to do to find an edge. Where does that edge come from and how was I going to get there.

The one thing in our business lives is effort. Either you make the commitment to get results or your don’t.

Working hard and being honest with yourself are two great qualities to success in this business. Knowing what part of the business is suited for you is a third.

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