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Advice for Actors: How to Thrive Since Everything Went to Sh*t

A crowd of people gathered at a march holding picket signs that read SAG AFTRA on Strike

Dear actor,

You have been through it! Seriously! If you are still calling yourself an actor after lockdown 1 through 5,000,000, after the writer and actor's strikes that seemed to drag on for all of 2023, and in spite of the near constant feeling that the world is burning around us; then do yourself the due service of relaxing your shoulders, unclenching your jaw, and whispering “I am a hero” - because you are.

Since the pandemic started, we have been through unprecedented event after unprecedented event, without barely a moment to process the one we’re in, or just came out of, before the next one rears its big unprecedented head!

And yet, the entertainment industry has always been a difficult place for an actor to navigate. Having been in the industry for over a decade myself, believe me, I remember how hard it felt to pursue this dream on a regular day pre-March 2020 as well. But we haven’t always done the best job of helping ourselves to navigate the industry in a healthy way either, if we’re being honest…

The truth is, we have always needed a better way of building our acting careers. A way that involves less self-deprecation and less self-punishment, in place of a more realistic and appropriate understanding of what it means, both to be a working actor, and to pursue an acting career, at its core. And if we needed it pre-2020, then we need it more than ever now.

So, here are my top 3 tips for navigating this post-pandemic, post-strike, mid-war world as an actor:


TIP #1 - Address your addiction to struggle

While all of us will fear failure at some point, most of us are actually more afraid of success. The human brain and body are instinctually designed to protect us from danger - and the unknown of success and how to get there, i.e. risk taking, is a big red flag yelling "danger" to your brain.

It’s why, even though it may seem counterintuitive, it’s often easier for us to stay in patterns and situations that are uncomfortable, impoverishing our minds, and/or wreaking havoc with our central nervous system - ergo, keeping us where we are and not moving towards what success we desire; rather than making the conscious choices and changes that would allow us to feel and have better.

Suffering is part of the human condition, so we can’t make it go away entirely. However, if you are sacrificing other parts of your life drastically in order to pursue one part of your life (i.e. your career), or if you are neglecting your basic needs for security and support in whatever way you need to receive those, you are not living out the natural progression of what it takes to become successful. You are actually inhibiting your ability to do your best work when you do get the sporadic opportunity to audition, or better yet, to do an acting job.

To get started, ask yourself this:

  1. What do I want my life to look like now? Not someday, but today.

  2. What is standing in my way?

  3. What does it cost me not to change, or do something about those things?

  4. What would my experience of life be if I didn’t see those things standing in my way as blocks, but hurdles instead?

“I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” ― Stephen R. Covey

TIP #2 - Prioritise to accelerate

Ever heard the expression “work smarter, not harder”? This is essentially a call to set better boundaries around the way that you work, in order to accelerate your path to whatever success would mean to you. But there is a key within this that I think actors are often overlooking. What does success mean to you?

The career you are trying to build is not like anyone else’s, so the way you approach building it need only align with what you actually want. To get clear on that, you have to set goals.

It’s been widely researched that people who set goals, and take intentional, aligned action towards those goals, are not only more likely to achieve their goals in the first place, but are more likely to do so more efficiently than those who do not set goals. This is no different for creatives.

To get started, ask yourself this:

  1. What kind of career do I want to look back on in 10/20/30/50 years? i.e. What have I done? Who have I done it for or with? How and where have I done it? Etc. (Be specific)

  2. Who are the people making that kind of work right now? How can I connect/collaborate with them?

  3. What is within my control to learn, do, create, etc. that would help me move one step closer to my future vision?

TIP #3 - Choose autonomy & accountability

Here’s one thing I hope we can all agree on: if you are calling yourself an actor, it is because you have made the choice to pursue an acting career. Now, I don’t know about you, but if I choose to do anything, I want to at least try to do that thing to the best of my ability and with my full chest, so that whatever the outcome is, I can say I did all I could. 

When I left university in 2015, I gave myself a deadline of 10 years to learn, grow, try, fail and find my way, at which point I would reassess if I felt this career was still for me.

Why 10 years? Because, it’s commonly thought that 10,000 hours is the amount of time it takes on average to become an expert at something, which translates to approximately 10 years. But truthfully, many successful actors have remarked that their success in the industry is due to decades worth of ambition and work:

"It takes 30 years to make an actor. You have to learn your craft, learn your trade - and also you have to live a life and experience things." - Cillian Murphy

You may not have even reached your initial 10 years yet. Or you may already have long passed it. Either way, you have way more power to make things happen for yourself right now than you are potentially allowing yourself to believe, because you always - and I mean always - have the power to choose. (This translates far and wide beyond your career too FYI...)

To get started, ask yourself this:

  1. Why do I choose to pursue this career path?

  2. Have I explored every avenue for growth, learning, to up-skill, or to move myself forward in some way?

  3. What else could I try that I haven't done before?

  4. What could I re-try that I have done before?

A still image of actress Adele James sitting on a throne in regal costume, in character as the Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra in the Netflix Documdrama Queen Cleopatra, surrounded by actors playing her advisors and subjects.
Booking the gig to play Cleopatra in 'QUEEN CLEOPATRA' for Netflix marked the end of a 10-month stint where I hadn't booked *any* acting jobs at all. Keep going!

The world needs your artistry.

The world needs you to mirror itself back to itself, not least of all so that it can survive and heal from times like the ones we have been enduring these past few years. But that cannot be fulfilled at the expense of your health, your well-being, or the fullness of your beautiful life as the artist who is so generously sharing your gifts. Not anymore.

Keep choosing to pursue this dream; but please do it in a way that is conducive to you being able to live a full and fulfilling life in the pursuit of success, rather than as the outcome. You have got this! I have every faith in you.

Liked this blog post? You should check out my signature group coaching program - The Booked Club - for actors who want to get unstuck! 💛

A group of actors sitting around a table enjoying a drink together at the BFI in London
The Empowered Actors Network 2023 end of year meet-up!

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