If you’re an avid reader, this book list may be old news, as most of these titles are not new (in fact, some were first published many years ago), but if you’re looking for a 2015 filled with change for the better, these 12 books will almost certainly facilitate that action.
Now, most of these books are mindset-oriented, as that’s what makes the biggest — most fundamental — difference, no matter how strong your tools for navigating this industry may be. But of course, I’ve included a couple that’ll UP your game for the game itself as well.
First up, there’s Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. Long-time readers know that this book changed my life when my then-agent recommended it in 2008. The shift for me began not just due to studying the 10,000 hours concept and the idea that any society can conspire to create greater success for its members, but thanks to the new understanding of social intelligence, which is something actors must master. In what could otherwise be considered a depressing book (y’know, since predictors such as socioeconomic status, IQ level, raw talent, era in which you were born, and geographical advantages are touted as elements of success), the idea that practical (social) intelligence (charm, wit, even chutzpah — all developable qualities) may have even greater impact on success is thrillingly optimistic. That is, IF you aren’t afraid to mindfully choose your community, to only surround yourself with people who believe anything is possible, to develop social intelligence (even if you’re an introvert)… all while putting in those 10,000 hours toward your craft.
Next up, there’s The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. This is another book I’ve written about in this column several times over the years, for the impact it has had on my creative life and how long it took for one of my students to convince me to read it. By packaging all noise (self-hatred, criticism, medicating, losing things, lack of preparation, all of it) as resistance, and then insisting that there’s no value to figuring out why resistance exists, all creative blocks are easy to diminish. Personally, I spent a lot of my life examining my blocks to figure out why they existed, so this was a biggie for me. Pressfield posits that what we should be doing is just putting resistance into a box and then doing the work. Sure, work out the kinks, learn the lesson, grow from it so you don’t repeat the patterns that keep you from your best self, but get to work FIRST. That’s the best way through whatever the block may be. It honors your muse. It honors the work you were put here to do. It honors yourself. It honors those for whom you create your work. Once I read this book in 2011, I knew I was DDA (done dickin’ around).
Suggested to me by a reader in a Your Turn email, after seeing my rave reviews of Pressfield’s book, was The Big Leap: Conquer Your Hidden Fear and Take Life to the Next Level by Gay Hendricks. As a long-time fan of Hendricks’ work, I knew this one would be good, but I had no idea what a game-changer it would be. As I finally got around to reading this on my birthday in 2013, I took photos of pages and tweeted things like, “Dr. H is callin’ me out on my BS with this one!” This book is all about the upper limit problem (ULP) and the ways we’ll be incredibly successful… but not all the way up into our zone of genius. We’ll hit our zone of excellence, and that feels great (so great that we’ll just park there), so we feel unreasonable for wanting more or being stressed out or not having fun anymore until we finally break through our ULP and operate in a reality that runs on Einstein time in our zone of genius. Delicious stuff for overachievers who still feel as though there’s something more out there.
Back in 2009, one of my students brought me his copy of The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey. My first reaction was what yours might be, reading this, if you’re unfamiliar with the tiny book: “Huh? Tennis? Get specific.” Okay, I will. While this book is, in fact, about tennis, every element tracks with the pursuit of a creative career: competition, psyching yourself out, stage fright, performance criticism, anxiety over feeling a lack of control for your fate, having decided you’ve won the game (and how) before even showing up for it, all of it. One part sports psychology and one part Zen mastery, this is one of my favorite mini-mindset boosts, as it’s filled with tips on getting out of your own way so that you can be the champion you were born to be (or have trained to become).
Going into the woo-woo, there’s Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting: The Astonishing Power of Feelings by Lynn Grabhorn, which is a book that focuses on the theory that fear, pain, lack, stress, etc., cannot exist in a condition of gratitude. Because creatives often fear judgment, ache over perceived rejection, feel lack of acceptance by their more traditional family members, or stress out that they’ll ever be able to earn a living at the career of their dreams, getting this stuff in check from the inside is important. From before The Secret was out there and before I first became aware of Abraham-Hicks, this book — a 2003 gift from my longest lifelong friend and cousin — opened me fully to the Law of Attraction and the ability to go from Eeyore to Tigger when it comes to energetic vibe out in the world. In the pursuit of a creative career — one in which everyone you encounter *feels* your energy before you’ve even opened your mouth to start your audition — being aligned with “buzzing,” as it’s accessibly described in the book, is indeed a practice worth practicing.
Also woo-woo but way more specific about money, the next book on my list is Get Rich, Lucky Bitch: Release Your Money Blocks and Live a First Class Life by Denise Duffield-Thomas. I learned about this book through the author herself, as we’re members of a business community that meets up online to share our latest goodies, challenges, triumphs, and tips for getting to the next tier. Her encouraging and no-bullshit words as I sought out to pull together the 4th edition of my latest book (see below) caused me to seek out more information about her latest book. The language she uses isn’t for everyone (but you could probably figure that out from the title of this book itself, duh) and the woo-woo concepts on EFT may challenge some of your beliefs, but that’s the whole idea. Creatives tend to have such *debilitating* beliefs about money that it’s a good thing to wreck them from within. And early. Because “starving artists” will give up on their life’s dream without the ability to thrive.
Of course, you know I’m gonna recommend Self-Management for Actors: Getting Down to (Show) Business by some really awesome chick named Bonnie Gillespie. 😉 Now in its 4th edition (second printing! OMG!) and a textbook in not just colleges around the world but now high schools (OMG!), this book has touched the lives of tens of thousands of actors, fusing the business skills required for navigating a creative career with the essential mindset foundation that keeps the pursuit fun and the actor more empowered than ever. First written in 2003 as an answer to every question I had been asked by actors while interviewing hundreds of casting directors for Backstage since 1999, this newest edition’s newest printing hits shelves February of 2015 and is available on Kindle and in audiobook format. What a journey this has been!
An industry book filled with information about a population whose POV has long been shrouded in mystery, Created By: Inside the Minds of TV’s Top Showrunners by Steven Prigge, is a seriously great read. Sure, these days, showrunners are sharing their thoughts on Twitter, in documentaries, in panel discussions available online, you name it! But just like the first population I interviewed to create my books didn’t start out being so accessible, this population used to be incredibly underground. Ask anyone what a showrunner is or what he does and you tend to get a lot of head-scratching. This book — read cover to cover on a treadmill at the gym back in 2007 — cracked some of the “bigger buyer” game open for me, and helped me really come to understand the mind of the first-level buyers to which actors are most frequently exposed (agents and managers, then casting directors and their teams, some producers and directors and writers, depending on the project and its budget). Pre-writers strike, pre-vertical integration, pre-new-media boom, this book’s history lesson from television at a simpler time helped me suggest predictions for where we were headed as an industry. I love books like that.
A book that made a huge difference to me as a new-to-Hollywood kiddo fresh out of school in 1993 was How to Work a Room: The Ultimate Guide to Making Lasting Connections by Susan RoAne. In her updated edition, the author covers online relationship-building as well as all the delicious in-person stuff I recall from the edition published in my youth. Everything from having a wingman to conversation starters to tips on remembering names with ease is within its pages, as this book breaks down some of the anxiety-filled situations many actors tend to face as they tackle meetings, audition small talk, industry parties, even red carpet premieres. Like it or not, our ability to master the art of the schmooze — while never making it *feel* like networking — can absolutely have an impact on the success of a creative career. So, learning how to make it all less painful is essential.
Along that line and maybe with a “yes, and…” on some of the more nuanced elements of networking is a book I read in 2010 called Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust by Chris Brogan. Having long been a fan of Brogan’s articles about not being “that guy” when you promote online and having found haunting similarities in our public opinions of those who show up to online “parties” basically wearing sandwich boards and ringing cowbells to promote their stuff, I was excited for this book and it did not disappoint. If your online time is spent in thirds: one-third actively listening and digesting what you read, one-third actively commenting and engaging with those who share their thoughts, and one-third creating content (whether it’s self-promotional or a full-on give to the world), you’re not just building relationships but building your reputation in meaningful ways. Whenever an actor asks what to do to start making a difference in an online foothold, my first answer is always, “Just start NOW and be consistent.” Don’t look for instant results and don’t create or engage for the upside. Do it because you have stories to share and sharing them — in whatever platform — is the way conversations, and by extension relationships and reputations, are built. Web of trust is all over this book. We no longer look up a dentist in a phonebook. We don’t even Google dentists. We tweet that we need a great dentist and wait for dozens of suggestions to come our way. The “trust agents” in our lives are huge in creative careers, and it’s an actor’s job to make sure a recommendation from within the web of trust is never regretted.
Probably one of my favorite upleveling books for the art of pitching — another of those wonderful activities even the shyest actors must come to peace with — is Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation by Sally Hogshead. While not outright about pitching, this book includes a self-test instrument (which is also available as a standalone at the author’s website) to help you determine exactly HOW you fascinate others. When one of my online student leaders put this on my radar in 2012, I knew it would help many actors unlock that strange block about marketing and create understanding about why holding something back may work for one actor while oversharing works for another. Whether it’s a sense of alarm, mystique, passion, power, prestige, rebellion, or trust, each of us has a primary and secondary trigger which, combined, create a clear picture of which elements — in our marketing materials — we should ramp up and which ones we should eliminate in order to best connect with what it is our buyers find compelling about us. No pun intended; this is fascinating stuff!
Finally, there’s the 1987 summary of many of the leadership lessons gleaned from decades of motivating, celebrating the works of Napoleon Hill, and guiding leaders to their best selves, Lead the Field by Earl Nightingale. This little book has floated in and out of my life for years and its wisdom — though clunky in the print format due to having been transcribed by robots from the original audiobook version — is filled with impact for creatives who wish to lead rather than follow. As our business is constantly changing and as the job description of “artist” becomes more about content creation and distribution daily, task management systems like the story of Ivan Lee’s “six things” tactic (AKA “the $25,000 idea”) become important for actors to master. In the end, we are all running small businesses that we hope to grow into bigger businesses while we continue to thrive as creatives, always living our dreams with ease. Make smart business principles that have been passed down for decades a part of your artistic life today. You’ll thank me tomorrow. Hopefully while holding up something gold and shiny!
Whether you choose to read one of these books per month, start in on a few at once and rotate through as the mood strikes, or better still gather online or in person with a group of fellow creatives to turn this project into a year-long bookclub for the next tier, I wanna know how it’s going for you! If you missed the day #SMFAninjas trended on Twitter recently, well, lemme tell ya, there’s a worldwide group of some really supportive, excited, proactive actors out there, ready to jam on all sorts of good things in 2015! And if 12 books ain’t enough for ya, I’ve got a whole bunch more in the master list of ninja reading in the dojo.
Plug in. Read well. Report back. Stay inspired!
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001920.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.