Colleenby Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix

What keeps you from finding your way

Beware of anyone telling you the way to success, including me. Learn how to take information from a variety of sources and make your path truly your own.

You are your own best cartographer.

There are two chapters in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?, marketing genius Seth Godin’s book, that you should go out and read immediately—even if you have to do it standing up in the bookstore.

The first is a stunning tour de force on Resistance, the bane of all artists and people who would create things that change the world.

Resistance is the voice that tells you to hit the snooze button instead of getting up to work on your vocal technique before you go to your Stupid Day Job. It’s the evil spirit that lures you to the TV and computer, whispering understanding nothings about how you’re so tired, you deserve a night off, watching reality TV or aimlessly surfing the Internet. It’s what makes you choose consuming stuff over making stuff, and it is relentless in its pursuit of you as unproductive, timid, obedient sloth.

In case you’re wondering, yes, I am personally quite familiar with Mr. Resistance, as is author Steven Pressfield, who devotes much of his artists’ bible, The War of Art, to the insidious power of Resistance. Read up so you can (hopefully) see him coming the next time he strikes. (And Pressfield’s regular Wednesday features on writing also offer incredibly valuable insights for actors.)

The second must-read chapter is the shortest in the book but the one I feel may be even more important to you in your scary, brave, wonderful life as an artist: “There Is No Map.”

As in, no one can tell you how you will succeed in your artist’s career. Not me, not Seth, not your teacher. Not any of the wonderful sources of advice you turn to for guidance, for illumination, on which is the best option out of a vexing array of options, and certainly not any of the evil ones. The best anyone who has succeeded can do is to explain what worked for them, but guess what? It will not work for you. Some of it may, but not all of it. Never all of it. Because not only is each of us a special snowflake, but the time in which we fall from the sky to the ground is different, as are wind conditions, temperature and myriad other factors.

So if no one can tell you what to do, what should you do?

Educate yourself. Study what has worked for those who have gone before you, but don’t try to copy it. Learn the rules of the game as they’re played the best you can, but train yourself to see the bigger context in which those rules operate.

Mostly, your job boils down to two things: getting yourself to a state of perfect readiness for the marketplace of your specific, chosen profession–acting–with all that it entails; and, paradoxically, learning to release that desire for external validation (here’s a hint: there is none that will ever satisfy you) that usually comes along with being an actor. That’s right: the only way you will ever be a successful actor is by not needing to be an actor, but choosing to be an artist.

I understand that this is not the kind of happy-happy, list-centric, juicy good info column that you may have come to read. I am deeply honored that you’ve chosen to read this far. But I’m writing this rather gloomier than usual column to spare you (if we’re both lucky) some of the agony I went through in my own acting career, and the havoc it wreaked on my personal life and well-being.

But hey, don’t take my word for it. Read up. Read everything you can get your hands on. Look at what everyone who’s smart in every area of the business (and out of it) recommends, then read the cross-section of stuff that’s risen to the top of each list. Start with Linchpinread my interview with Seth (there’s a link in it to a slew of other interviews and reviews), then read the whole book.

And mostly, take good care of yourself and your instrument. You are here to change the world, and the world needs you more than ever.

Want a little more help wrapping your head around this stuff?

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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: With multiple demands on your attention (not to mention the stress of family gatherings, crowded stores, and Mass Holiday Fever), this time of the year can be tricky for reading. My suggestion is not to stop, but to adapt: enjoy a collection of engrossing (no pun intended!) interviews with actors and other artists; pick up a  book of short stories; or re-read an old inspiring or engrossing favorite you haven’t picked up in a while. Just don’t give up—reading makes you smarter and keeps you saner!

Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Almost every month I send out useful (and specific, and nice) information about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you.

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.