There’s nothing like life to teach one a lesson.
Most of us can’t really learn the toughest lessons of life from others. That’s probably because some of life’s lessons can’t simply be witnessed or recounted. They have to be experienced. You need to have the emotional muscle memory to keep you from making the same mistake twice. You just hope that the experience you have that teaches you the lesson isn’t injurious…or worse. Like in the case of drinking and driving. I grew up in a time when it was quite common to drink and drive. We all knew it was wrong but the consequences weren’t made clear enough to deter us. I lost a couple of people to drinking and driving and had a few close calls myself. Those were my lessons and they were very impactful. The same can be said about acting experiences. You need to make your own mistakes. Acting is a very emotionally driven activity. Actors are both naturally emotional (or may become that way) and take their craft personally. We are also continually drawing off our emotions for our work and we have to create emotions that may never have existed within us before. It is a demanding business.
So, having lived as a child in a domestically unsettled manner and following a similar path into adulthood, I usually have no shortage of life lessons to teach me one thing or another. One strength I have over most other people is to be able to apply a lesson from one area of my life or even someone else’s life to something seemingly unrelated. That has made me not only an effective acting coach, but somewhat of a life coach for those who aren’t clear on how to get what they want. For this piece, let’s talk about lessons learned from adversity…
Ever hit rock bottom? I did recently and I highly recommend it to anyone who needs some clarity in their life…aka the motivation to get off their asses and really go after what they want. I just got dumped. Ouch! Fucking cried my eyes out for a week and stalked her all over the place and contemplated the worst kind of ouch. Let’s put it this way. I suddenly had empathy for people who kill…themselves or others…because you know what? The pain is so great that there’s nothing anyone can do for you and there’s nothing that anyone can do to you. Fortunately I’m not a man of action, so I basically rode it out and played a little Magnum PI for a few days…OK, I’m still on the case a little. I could see no end in sight for at least a week, but…guess what? Now I’m writing about it, and not only that…I’m benefiting from it. I actually thanked her…unfortunately she couldn’t understand what I was saying until I took the gun out of my mouth, but yes…I actually thanked her. Because after bouncing my ass off the bottom of the Marianas Trench and scaring the crap out of James Cameron, I suddenly could see everything. I could see where I had been (not pretty or pleasant), I could see where I was (a desperate and confused man), but best of all and most clearly I could see where I wanted to be (and what was important and what didn’t matter a hoot). Wow, that was some bad ass clarity, but it was so great. I could see that I had been an asshole many times…I could also see that I had been provoked many times, but it was what I did when I was provoked that bothered me most. Regardless of what someone does or says, we dictate how we feel about it and what we do because of it. Someone else can’t make you feel anything. You come to your own crazy conclusions all by yourself…no one can do that for you. So at first I felt ashamed. I felt ashamed that I could do or say quite terrible things to someone I loved so much…and sometimes I did it to hurt her, because she had hurt me and so I said things only because I knew they would hurt her or get a reaction out of her because she had gotten one out of me. Two wrongs don’t make a right. You might even feel better for a while, but if you take any pride in carrying yourself with dignity (I thought I did), you restrain yourself from being unnecessarily hurtful. I learned that, even though I supposedly knew it already.
So with all that clarity, I made some decisions. I decided I’m going to be a man (Start paying attention now). First I’m going to take stock of what I had done wrong (you know what you did, don’t pretend you don’t), and then I’m going to apologize for it (kind of went through my own Landmark Forum). And that’s what I did. I apologized profusely, admitted that things I had done were wrong and I tried especially hard not to say…”but you made me do it”…or “you started it”, even though I kind of felt that way. That is irrelevant. Take responsibility for your own actions and reactions and feelings. Don’t put that power into someone else’s hands. For example, I hate to say it but many women somehow learn or are taught to give their power away to complete strangers. You can walk up to any woman, call her a horrible name and pretty much hurt her feelings and/or make her cry. You can be a complete stranger but your words will cut her to the bone. I don’t think you should do that to women, but I also don’t think it’s good that women or anyone else allows others to decide how they should feel about themselves. Parents take note. Bring up children who derive their self-esteem from them-self’s. It’s better for everyone. They won’t let others walk all over them and when others realize they can’t walk all over them, they will treat your children with respect…because you have to have self-respect to get respect. Just watch the Dog Whisperer…dogs attack weakness…and so do people.
So back to me…I have so much to say on this subject…where to continue? Well the apology seemingly was for her, but it was maybe more for me. If I didn’t want to repeat this scenario in the future, I had to learn from this…and I did. The catharsis of apology cleared my heart/soul/mind of all the junk that had been floating around. It was literally like a massive purge. And like any good puking session, I felt way better after…almost well enough to start drinking all over again…whoops, wrong purge! Well let’s just start with the immediate benefits of my journey into “Green”ville. Because I was so destroyed emotionally, anything that wasn’t incredibly important suddenly disappeared from my view. I just didn’t care about a lot of shit anymore. Of course, as luck would have it, I got a pretty big audition right in the middle of the action, and I thought, Oh Great! I’m going to screw that up too and feel even worse, but I was too confused to do anything about it and it was an excuse to stalk my loved one some more, so I got her to help me read it…under completely false pretenses. I’m amazed that I was able to memorize it, but I did, and it seemed fine, but who cares anyway, right?
So I go the audition and in between teary outbursts, get my shit together and just do the read so my agent doesn’t think I’m a complete pussy…aka mental actor. To make matters worse, the reader is someone I had worked with before, so I figure she’s going to think I suck and that I’m a pussy…great! Well the audition went ridiculously well….because I just didn’t care about the results. I didn’t care about the process either, but I just sat there and talked to the reader and she was really good too or maybe they all have been…I just never noticed before. I was so fully present for that audition, I might as well have been the character. I walked out of the room ‘knowing’ I had the part…and not caring one bit. Of course that is ridiculous. What I tell my members at hackhollywood.com is that they should always walk out of a room feeling like that. The only remaining decision for the producers should be ‘can’ I hire David, not do I want to. And by ‘can’, I mean given all the other circumstances I have to consider, does this actor make sense. I would like to hire him, but can I and make the project the way I envision it. If that’s the only question on a producer’s mind, you’re going to work…a lot.
So a week rolls by and nothing…but I knew I had done great work, but I also knew someone might have been more appropriate for what they are going for, etc. so it’s all good. Then yesterday morning, I was put on hold for the part. I don’t know if I will get it and to be honest, I’m fine with it either way. And that’s how actors always need to be. Your job is to do your job and not worry about anyone else’s. Your job is just fucking nail it…every time. The best way I know how to do that is to really not care if you get the part because you don’t control that (unless you’re Clooney). So the phone just rang while I’m writing this and it was my agent. I knew the call was about that part…and it wasn’t. It was for another audition…ironic, isn’t it. That’s the beauty of life…it’s almost always ironic. Just when you thought you knew what the hell was going on…you are schooled on how little you know. I’m already getting nervous about the new audition. Maybe none of my Zen-like attitude is working. Wow, that was a short trip to Nirvana…but I will fight to maintain the peace I discovered while enduring so much pain. I’m better of for it…by miles. So are my friends. They are already noticing a change…if I could only get them to stop trying to set me up! Hopefully there will be less squabbling over unimportant stuff and all kinds of feel good stuff for me from now on…
So in conclusion (that rarely means I’m concluding anything) I have learned a lot…not really about myself specifically, but about humanity. Most of humanity goes around acting pretty nonchalant about everything. They don’t get too excited and as a result their lives remain pretty constant. But for those of us who are on a less well trodden path, sometimes a brush with death is a good thing. Nothing helps you refocus and re-prioritize like losing all that is dear to you. I can imagine what those people who go through Tornadoes might feel like, but there is something extra-special (shitty) when the one you love is the one causing the pain, through every fault and intention of their own…because you probably made them do it. That acknowledgment either results in swallowing a bottle of pills or changing your miserable life. I chose the latter. Death is final and it’s not intentional. You can’t do much about it, even if you think you can, but when you make a mistake for which someone makes you pay dearly, you learn a lot. You get a do-over. Sure, many of those feelings of redemption and fear of repeating your mistakes are going to fade, but even if there’s only a residual effect, that could make a huge difference in your life. So you can wait to have your own love Tsunami, or just say to yourself right now that you need to do some spring cleaning (hey, it’s even spring!) and drop all the crap that is annoying you and actually dragging you down and focus on the few things in your life that are really important. Don’t know what’s important? Just spend some time alone, close your eyes and let your future unfold. Whatever you see is probably what’s important, so work backwards to where you are now and your journey should roll out like a red carpet.
I honestly don’t know if this stuff applies to anyone else, but if you’re not getting out of your life what you think you should or would like to, why not take stock in what you’re doing and see if it matches what you claim to want in life. A lot of people are doing things that are not only contributing very little to achieving their goals/dreams, but might actually be working in opposition to them. Scary but true. People can be incredibly self-sabotaging. Does that sound like you? So take a minute (as in right now…why not?) and close your eyes. Is the life you are living, the one you want to be living? If not, just stop, drop and roll (from an old PSA with Dick Van Dyke)…as in stop what you’re doing, drop the crap weighing down your life, and roll out the red carpet on your new life’s world premiere (or in the case of fire…stop walking, drop to the ground where there is more oxygen, and roll out of that fire zone).
And that…is all the time I have for you…gotta go watch my ex…(it’s not stalking if you tell people!)
David Patrick Green is a red-haired, left-handed, only child and ideologue who also happens to be a professional actor, not to mention running the universe’s only acting-career-management program at Hackhollywood.com. It is there that he inspires other actors to be ruthlessly creative in their approach to the art and business of acting and life in general. Mr. Green has an MBA from the University of Southern California and was an international management consultant and advertising executive before noticing that Platinum frequent-flyer status has few rewards other than bedbugs, beer and boredom. Among other places David has lived and worked in Warsaw, Poland and is still kicking himself for leaving the French Alps where he taught skiing and drank wine with European royalty. He has spent the last 10 years acting in Los Angeles, Vancouver and Toronto and coaches/consults to actors and businesses who want to get on the short path to success while maintaining a sense of humor. He can be reached directly via email@example.com or by visiting his site www.hackhollywood.com.