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Tag Archives: Creativity
Breakthroughs in life occur at the feeling level.
That’s the beginning and end of it. If we want to evolve, grow, face our fears, reach new heights, become the kind of artist we know we can become, we have to feel our way there. We have to feel things we aren’t accustomed to allowing ourselves to feel. Feel things we try to control and suppress. Feel things that we have judgments about. And then be brave enough to communicate those feelings to another. When we feel vulnerable. Exposed. Scared. Intimidated. That’s not just the call into acting. That’s the call into life itself.
Just feel. Period.
Your feelings don’t have to be pretty or together or understood by others. They don’t have to make sense. Feelings often don’t make sense – that’s why they’re feelings! How do you intellectualize love, compassion, hope, fear, sadness, empathy, desire? You can’t. Or you can try but the intellectual component only takes you so far. But the more we allow ourselves to actually be, the more our life begins to transform in positive ways.
But when we don’t give ourselves permission to feel, we move through life anesthetizing ourselves, putting us in a zombie-fied state of existence. A numbness that we accept as status quo. A standardized way of just getting through the day. We wake up one day (if we’re lucky) and realize we’ve merely been surviving, not truly living. Or maybe we’ve been living but not thriving.
To thrive is to be emotionally engaged. Curious, Excited. Passionate. Vulnerable. Out there.
The breakthroughs that have occurred in your life have all come at the emotional level. You experience grief, tragedy, loss and the experience profoundly shifts you or changes your outlook. You express pain, frustration, turmoil and an insight occurs from the release. You live in joy, ecstasy, passion and realize you’ve never allowed yourself to feel that wild or free.
You could argue that breakthroughs occur first at an intellectual level. Perhaps you solve a math theorem or make a new scientific discovery or uncover a new model for physics – and those achievements, of course, require a great deal of brain energy. But what comes with the intellectual insight is the commensurate feeling in your body physiologically and in your heart. You feel overjoyed or relieved. You feel gratified and elated. You feel a “Eureka!” sensation inside. That’s not intellectual. That’s emotional.
So feel. It sounds so easy. But when you begin to look at how often you cripple yourself from feeling, you realize that like anything else, it’s a journey. It takes time. But the pay-off is really truly living life, and really the essence of life itself.
You have to love yourself. End. Of. Story.
What else is there really on this individual journey we’re all taking? If you don’t love yourself, how can you possibly love another and radiate that love to your work, creativity, the birthing of new ideas and bringing something tangible and worthwhile into the world?
When we get triggered in life, when we get rejected, when we want to give up all hope and chuck it all in, we must come back to self-love.
Our culture, though, has a misunderstanding of what self-love is.
We think it’s namby-pamby, new-age-y, kumbaya phooey.
But self-love is brass tacks being. Think about acting. The art of acting is in many ways one of the highest expressions of creative love. We share ourselves bravely with other human beings through this vehicle of intimacy and vulnerability and power and courage.
When I was in my 20’s, I didn’t think I had time for self-love. Ain’t nobody got time for that! I just thought I could barrel through everything, continue to take action and keep going. But eventually, life is going to catch up with you. What you resist persists.
We have to love ourselves, but not by the standards society sets because those are measured by the external. We equate the expression of love through things. If you’re not aware, your self-love becomes based on things that society says signifies love. Those measurements are not only unattainable but also ephemeral and can be destructive because they’re based on illusions. Ashton Kutcher says, “There’s a propaganda machine around fame and celebrity.” We think if we get that, we’ve got life by the balls. But self-love doesn’t come from how beautiful or physically fit we are, or if we have a perfect figure with 5% body fat or how successful or popular or famous or stylish we are.
It comes from self-acceptance.
You have nothing to prove. To anyone. Whether you are working or not. Famous or not. Established or not. You’re already okay as you are.
Self-acceptance requires us to love those parts of ourselves we don’t already love. Those parts of ourselves we keep hidden, that we’re scared of, that we think something’s wrong with us for having them. These are the parts that we actually need to live in our wholeness.
The parts equal the whole. Not some parts. All parts.
I had a student recently who told a story of how he bullied a number of kids when he was in elementary school (he himself being a victim of bullying). Now as an adult – and a famous actor to boot – he does a lot of charitable work on behalf of organizations that help bring awareness to anti-bullying campaigns. But he feels because of his celebrity that he’s a hypocrite for doing so. How could someone who bullied so many kids now be stumping for charities about anti-bullying?
His own guilt and shame around that part of himself shows that bullying never ends.
We bully ourselves.
But the deeper learning comes from the insight that it’s not in spite of his having been a bully that he’s now charitable, it’s because of it. All parts of ourselves make us whole. Even the parts we’re ashamed of and continue beating ourselves up for.
Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Realize all experiences in life lead us to wholeness.
Without them you wouldn’t be where you are today.
Remember just how much you’ve already accomplished in your life.
We forget that. Especially when we face constant rejection and hear endless “no’s” and begin personalizing and believing the negation means there’s something wrong with us or we’re untalented or flawed in some way. We start believing the illusion that this business is harder than any other. That it’s stacked against the actor. That it’s impossible to break through.
But the physics of this business is no different than any other business. There’s going to be nepotism and class-systems and arbitrary rejections and an old boys club favoritism in any career in which you wish to succeed.
Over 50 years ago, Vincent van Gogh said, “I am seeking, I am striving, I am in it with all my heart.”
You see? It’s never easy for anyone. Period.
If you look at your life, the tremendous amounts of effort you had to exert to overcome obstacles and get to where you are today – speaks of the possibility of your spirit. But it also shows that nothing is a closed system. Nothing. To think otherwise is to limit something that is limitless.
That is – you.
The spirit of who you are is inexhaustible; as powerful as the cosmos. We’re made of the same stuff as the atoms that created the stars that banged this universe into existence some 4.5 billion years ago. We are made up of this infinity. We have infinite potential.
You can’t let people preach limitation on you to the point that you give up hope. You also can’t allow the people “out there” be the arbiters of what’s hot or popular or fashionable or talented. You might say, “Well they are anyway Tony.” Well, actually, they’re not – until something or someone breaks through and then “the experts” ride the bandwagon saying, “This is the next big thing!” Everyone in our culture seems to be waiting for someone to tell them, “These jeans are so hot!” or “This song is a hit” or “That person’s going to be a star.”
Decide for yourself. You’ve been doing it all along without your even knowing it. Just do it now a little more consciously.
So when you feel this business is stacked against you and there’s no point going on, just remember where you are now and what you overcame to get here. My dear friend, Nick, just got dropped by his management company and was really feeling like he was back at square one. I asked him to recall how much he’d accomplished just to get here.
His dad died when he was 14. He moved from Serbia – a war torn country in the 90’s – to a small town in Minnesota as part of a foreign exchange program, even though he spoke little English. He graduated from an American high school there with honors, got accepted into Harvard and graduated near the top of his class. He started his own successful tech company (and many other ventures) and decided a couple years ago to finally pursue acting, which he’d always wanted to do.
Now don’t tell me you’re going to be defeated by an agent telling you, “We’re just not that into you!”
Remember just how far you’ve climbed and how much you have to be proud of the next time a door slams in your face. Don’t let someone’s “not getting you” define your years on this planet.
You are bigger than the rejection. You’re bigger than a door slamming shut. And in the world of infinitude, there are simply more doors to knock on that will magically open for you. You just have to walk up to them. But that can’t happen if you give up. So don’t.
Fake it ’til you make it. That’s what everyone’s doing every day of their lives, but we don’t realize it because we’re so caught up in the myth that “making it” looks a certain way and is a final finish line at which we must arrive.
In that illusion, we compare ourselves (and our struggles) against the ones who don’t appear to have any (all the famous, glamorous, beautiful people of the world!) and then we despair thinking we’re never going to get there. (Wherever “there” is!)
Okay. Take heart. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has along their life’s path faked their way through. Vamped. Punted. Improvised. Made shit up.
I’ve done it innumerable times. From my early days of waiting tables in New York (Having no clue how to even place an order!) to acting Shakespeare (What the hell was iambic pentameter?) to writing (It took me 8 years to write my first book!) to teaching (Aren’t teachers supposed to be like . . . 70?) to directing (Can I please give you a line reading?) to relationships (Still a work in progress!) to . . . well, pretty much everything.
The victory comes – as social researcher and writer Malcolm Gladwell points out – when you keep going and arrive at 10,000+ hours which makes you a bit of an expert at what you do.
That’s 10 years people!
So in that decade there’s going to be some faking! Figuring it out. Falling apart. Putting it together again. Thinking you know and then realizing you don’t.
It’s called learning.
But you can’t arrive at that juncture of becoming a talented actor and confident auditioner, or skilled writer or experienced producer or genius animator if along the way you judge yourself for where you are and decide it’s not good enough, so you pack it all in and move back to Idaho.
Things. Take. Time.
You don’t have to know everything. You just have to try.
You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to be willing.
You don’t have to pretend you’re someone you’re not. You just have to accept yourself for who and where you are.
As you do, you discover that the answers you think are outside yourself are actually all contained within.
But this discovery comes only by your willingness to really be out at sea. Unmoored. Sort of like Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips or Robert Redford in All is Lost or Sandra Bullock in Gravity. (Wow, there seem to be a lot of films this year where the protagonists are literally and figuratively afloat!)
Well why is that? Because along the way to becoming anchored – when you’re feeling anything but . . . there’s going to be a high level of “faking it” and figuring it out as you go along.
It’s because of that that you eventually get there.
So fake it and you will make it.
Whenever I’m in NY teaching at our school there, I’m reminded of how much humanity is about . . . well . . . just being human.
Maybe because LA is shaped by a car culture, it’s so easy to remove ourselves from life (from connection, from vulnerability, from having to confront life head-on as we’re walking down the street). Instead, we escape into the confines of our cars, roll up our windows, tune out the world and what we’re feeling. When we do, we sometimes forget that really being human is the hardest thing to be.
We try to look a certain way and keep up appearances. We cut feeling off at the pass. We avoid being perceived as “not having it together.” We pressure ourselves into thinking we have to be perfect . . . like all the time! We’re hyper-aware of how we look and negotiate with ourselves around the discomfort of aging, rejection, self-worth, relevance, comparing-and-despairing, self-judgment, failure and not believing we should share this discomfort with anyone. (Which further exacerbates our feeling alone.)
It’s ironic, then, that the art of auditioning (and acting itself) is really about being comfortable being uncomfortable.
In other words it’s about allowing oneself to be seen.
It’s an interesting contradiction because we’re in a business that’s all about “being seen” by putting ourselves out there. Yet the work often asks us to “be seen” in ways that are scary and vulnerable, raw and exposed, embarrassing and human. In short, we don’t, then, want to be seen.
I often tell my students that acting is really about having to be more honest in our work (in class, in a play, on set, in an audition) than we typically allow ourselves in life.
It’s about sharing our private selves publicly.
In the privacy of our homes we’re weird and sexual and complex and messy and obnoxious and loud and freaky. (And in NY you might even see all that on the subway!)
But when it comes to auditioning, we pull it all together and put on a perfect face.
Stop doing that. It results in zero possibility. No life force. No access to anything you want.
Let it all hang out. All. Of. It.
When you do, a casting director or director or producer sees a spark of your unique humanity (i.e., you) and gains insight into how to further open the actor up.
But if you remain a closed system, you’ve lost access to anything that’s remotely interesting. And you give the casting director no other choice but to utter, “Next!”
It sounds so easy. And in many ways it is. But if you haven’t developed a muscle of commitment and going for things consistently it’s actually the hardest thing in the world.
But practice does make perfect. (Or perfectly imperfect!) The more you do it, the more you start giving yourself the permission. And that’s all you can ever do.
No one can ever do that for you. Ever. No agent or manager or casting director or writer or producer or director or boyfriend or girlfriend or parent or teacher or friend.
As Tennessee Williams says, “Make voyages. Attempt them. There’s nothing else.”
But you have to try.
In your acting. In auditioning. In your life. In romance. In relationships. In learning. In self-expression. In doing things that scare you. In everything.
Simply, in Being Human.
What? “Well, Tony, I can’t very well get a job if I don’t audition!”
Yes, you can. In fact, you book jobs when you take the whole paradigm of what an audition is and turn it on its head.
The term “auditioning” stacks you against yourself and becomes an implicit order of self telling you that you have something to prove.
Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Zero. Absolutely nothing to prove.
You deserve to be here. On this planet and in a casting room. You are already whole and complete regardless of what an agent or manager or casting director (or anyone for that matter!) thinks about your work.
Your job is to tell your story. Not the way you “think” the producers want you to tell it. Not the way you “think” you have to do it. Your job is to do it your way.
Emmy-winner, Bryan Cranston says that you’re not “trying to get a job.”
Your job is to create.
An “audition” is an opportunity. It’s a possibility for someone to see how you choose to interpret the material. They’ve never, ever seen your way. Ever. So you have a 50/50 chance of getting it right just by being brave enough to go into a room and (in your creating) say, “This is how I choose to interpret this.”
Let’s face it. For many actors that’s the only opportunity you might have all week to act. If you’re not in a class, if you’re not on a job, if you’re not rehearsing a play, your “audition” is your two minutes to act. That’s what a 4-year college degree and an MFA in acting has gotten you – literally two minutes to act!
So you better put that degree to some good use and stop analyzing what you think they want. You are what they want, but you don’t think that because you distrust that doing it your way is potent and powerful and unlike anyone else’s. So you acquiesce your power in the name of an “audition” because you’d rather do it “right” or not make a mistake and do it incorrectly and upset someone. Or get bad feedback. Or risk.
What ends up happening? In the name of doing something “right” you do it “wrong!”
Stop trying to figure out what they want. No one knows what they want until they see it. That’s the intangible quality of life itself. It’s energetic. It’s timing. It’s essence. It’s creativity. It’s letting go of control. It’s alchemy.
Why do you book the jobs you have no interest in doing? You know the ones . . . Friday The 13th Part 77 . . . Leprechaun 3D . . . Godzilla vs. Battleship: The Final Sinking . . .?
You simply don’t care.
You’re not attached to how you look or what the casting director thinks of you or if you’re making the “right” choices or nailing the part. Instead, you’re playing (remember what it was like to actually play and have fun?), you’re engaged moment-to-moment, you’re surrendered in listening and unattached. You’re not focused on the end results or trying to get the job.
Then your agent calls and says you booked it and you’re like, “Nooooooo!”
A student reminded me that agents rarely call it “auditioning.” They call you and say, they have an appointment for you. Or a casting office wants to see you. Or your reps say you have a meeting or you’re going in to read for someone.
It’s only actors that create this idea in their head that it’s about a job.
So stop auditioning and what will happen?
You won’t have to anymore because you’ll be so busy working.
Go all in. That’s what filmmaker Steve McQueen says actors should be doing all the time. Always.
But we don’t.
Mostly, because we have a number of defaults to keep us from really committing fully, 100%. In our lives. In our work. In our auditioning.
This is partly due to our self-worth being tied up and identified with our product: how we look, whether we get the job, what agency we’re with, how we’re being perceived, or how well someone likes us.
The problem with this kind of identification is that it leaves very little room for error. Or rather, it leaves very little room to simply be human. Being human is messy. It’s uncontrollable. It errs. It’s full of chaos and potential and failures and breakthroughs. Where, on our paths, did we learn that it wasn’t okay to simply not have all the answers and not be perfect and not have it all figured out?
Once you stop allowing yourself to be human, you’re in trouble.
Not just in acting. But in life.
When our own self-worth is identified with a finished product (our work, our successes, our bookings or jobs) two things happen.
1). You start to go into auditions becoming risk-averse. Because your worthiness is attached to “How do I look?” or “I have to get this job!” or “How am I looking?” or “I can’t make a mistake,” you end up neutralizing yourself to such a degree that you basically turn off all the things that make you interesting and weird and vulnerable and cast-able. That is, your humanness.
You don’t give yourself the permisson to fail couragesouly. You play it safe. And you become unmemorable. Bland. Boring. Cookie-cutter. Blah.
That’s bad enough, but when our self-worth is attached to our work, there’s another whammy.
2). Your moods and happiness and productivity become instrinsincly tied to whether or not you book a job. When you get jobs it’s like the best day ever. You channel Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic, “I’m the king of the world!” When you don’t, you spend the entire day watching reruns of Duck Dynasty and picking fights with your girlfriend.
It ain’t pretty. It takes manic-depressiveness to a whole new level.
Your inherent self is not tied up in the physical. You’re not just this actor. You’re not just your bookings or how well people like you. You’re not your call-back ratio or how many lines you get to say on a show.
Of course it’s important to care about our work. Of course, we want to do things powerfully and creatively and have a career and do things that excite us and we’re passionate about.
Just don’t be defined by it.
Lean toward the risk. Toward the unknown. In the room. In the work. In relationships. Out there in the world. That’s really why you signed up for acting anyway. It wasn’t to do things perfectly, and be safe and do it like everyone else. It was to inherently take risks in ways that life sometimes doesn’t give us the permission to. Or rather, we don’t give ourselves the green light to do it.
And what ends up happening when we do? Well pretty much all the things you ever wanted. And that’s going all in.
I had a sort-of meltdown at the Vancouver Airport’s Air Canada check-in counter this week.
I missed my flight.
No big deal. I’ve missed flights before. But for some reason – no not some reason – a specific reason – I was triggered.
The trigger: We can’t control anything in life. We may delude ourselves into thinking we can by manipulating or controlling or micromanaging or exercising our agendas, but the physics of the universe tell a different story.
Life itself is a let go and it forces us to feel.
If I want to be happy. If I want to remain sane. If I want to be functional and healthy. If I want to have a relatively stress-free life, it’s about letting go of things that are inherently uncontrollable. Which is all of life – because nothing is controllable.
At times we may think we’ve got life by the balls. It’s seductive to think this way.
I’m on a TV show.
I’m with a powerful agency.
Guess what? All those things will change.
The only constant in life is change. And change is ultimately uncontrollable.
That acknowledgment can be scary because it places us squarely in our vulnerability of what it truly means to be human. And that’s why we control. Because we aren’t comfortable with feeling.
In my years of working with artists, I’ve discovered that human beings have a lot of shame around our doing things “incorrectly” or “failing” or taking action and making mistakes and then blaming ourselves for it and making ourselves feel awful. The Shame And Blame Bus is over-crowded in our culture because having to take responsibility for – and having to actually feel our feelings of vulnerability instead – is a lot harder.
I missed my flight. It brought up my stuff and I immediately saw that it was no one’s fault but my own. (Except for Peter the rude Air Canada customer service agent.) No, no. It was me. (Except for my friend Alison who drove me to the airport like a grandma, making me late.) No, no. It was me. (Except for these stupid TSA rules that say a flight is closed an hour before departure.) No, no it was me.
But having to actually forgive myself for making a mistake and not blaming someone else means having to let go of control, take responsibility and feel.
It’s hard at first but with practice, you’ll get the hang of it. And you’ll discover that there’s always a solution.
But often the solution isn’t what we think.
There’s a coda to the story. I got on another flight and it all worked out. But sitting on the plane I realized that we like to look for the answers in the external. We say to ourselves, “There’s got to be a reason for this.” And then we go searching for it. Out there. “Maybe I’m going to sit next to a really hot single guy who will become my boyfriend.” Nope. More like a crying baby and her stressed out mom. “I’m going to meet an agent who’s going to turn my life around.” Nope. The plane looked more like it was filled with a bunch of Sarah Palin enthusiasts who were heading to Disneyland. “Maybe I’ll sit next to Rihanna!” Nope. Kind of hard when you’re at the back of the plane next to the toilets.
Flying at 30,000 feet I realized that the answers aren’t out there. The answers we seek for the deep, perplexing, human questions we want answers for are inside of us. Waiting for the lesson to occur – if we are but present enough to receive it – and awaken the true meaning of our own lives inside each of us.
That let go was worth a missed flight any day.
Now you can train your mind to do the impossible.
That’s a catchy title I saw recently in the Huffington Post.
But was I surprised by what this mind-training tool is? Not really.
It seems neuroscientists have proven that meditation actively rewires our brains over long periods of time and creates neuroplasticity to make us more compassionate, joyful, empathetic and breaks down walls that prevent us from connection. It releases good feeling oxytocin to enable us to feel “one-ness”.
By changing the brain’s structure and functioning, we can make new neural connections, adapting positively in new ways.
Happiness is one example. Decreasing our brain’s propensity toward negativity and increasing our propensity toward positivity and hopefulness is another.
The interviewer asked the researcher, “Is meditation the only way to get to these points?” And the reporter replied the research has shown that it’s “only through meditation that we get these results.”
Stop the presses!
That’s not the only way. You don’t have to sit in a cave in the Himalayas for 10 years. You don’t have to move to Tibet and become a sheepherder. You don’t have to trade in your Zac Posen ready-to-wear for some ochre robes, smelling like patchouli. You don’t have to keep beating yourself up thinking you’ll never get there!
We can take a practice of meditation out into our very active and busy worlds on a daily basis. And when we do, not only will our lives improve but we’ll begin to have awareness of where we get stuck in life.
Our self-talk. Womp. Womp.
When we become conscious of what we say to ourselves and wake up to our destructive, conditioned thoughts and reboot them with new neural programming that not only becomes a practice of mindfulness meditation – but we’re also rewiring our brain!
So even when we don’t have everything we want; the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, the TV show, the best agent in the world – through neural training we can still be happy.
All it takes is imprinting on our mind a new way of assessing our lives and the challenges that lie within it.
We say to ourselves, “The business sucks.” No it doesn’t. Why do we keep saying that? We say that because we’re often faced with rejections and eventually that becomes a habituated response to protect ourselves from being vulnerable. But the truth of the business is that it is, in actuality, full of opportunity to create and change people’s lives.
“I can’t get a break.” Yes you can. All it takes is one moment, one person, one agent, one director, one audition, one casting director to see your talent and respond to you and your life can change. That’s inspiring to know.
We just say these things because we have more access to negative patterns of thought because they’re on the neural groove we most often plug into.
Mindfulness meditation means imprinting our subconscious with new programming. Creating new beliefs that contradict the old beliefs we now hold. This will take some time. It has to be a practice. Like going to the gym. Or acting class. By practicing you get better.
Isn’t that exciting to know? Every audition, every job, every experience, every set-back, every victory is an opportunity to become more mindful, more aware, more compassionate, more self-loving, more equanimous.
So it seems we all have a Dalai Lama within us. All we have to do is train our mind to do the impossible: believe that we do.