Dakota Shepard was probably on the honor roll back in school. Notes. Research. Data analysis… possibly to the point of “analysis paralysis.” No… not *possibly* to that point — definitely to that point. Until she leapt. If you’re a research junkie, you may be about to have a harsh mirror held up to yourself. The good news is, once you’re ready — really ready — to leap, it’s a great ride!
Stop Taking Notes and Just Leap!
My name is Dakota and I’m addicted to taking notes. I collect notebooks, note apps, Post-It notes, and whatever else I can use to jot something down that seems important that I’ll want to refer to later. I take pride in being prepared. Until recently, I didn’t understand how this was preventing me from achieving many of my goals.
Obviously, I’m being hyperbolic; note-taking is useful in many instances. The problem was that I used it as an excuse to not actually do anything with all of the information I gathered. I used note-taking and endless research to make myself very busy and to feel productive and failed to realize I wasn’t actually getting anywhere.
This past year, I found a list of career goals I had made some ten years prior and saw that moving to Los Angeles was number one on that list. I winced. It had been ten years since I’d decided that moving to Los Angeles was a step I wanted to make for my career. How the hell had I not made that happen? Hadn’t I written in a notebook that moving to LA was a goal of mine? Hadn’t I read many books and articles and taken extensive notes? Hadn’t I bought a plane ticket? Oh.
It suddenly seemed crystal clear: Sometimes you just have to jump.
If you’re at all like me, ten years will go by and you will spend them preparing. You will forget that being prepared to do the thing you want to do was never your endgame. You may impress people with your organizational skills and ability to–I don’t know–use binder dividers, but you will be so focused on a possibility that only exists in the future that you will not be available to act on opportunities when they arrive in the present. You will justify this by telling yourself you will take action when the time is right, which will be when you have gotten all of the information you need.
Spoiler alert: You will never get all of the information you need.
On my last birthday, I went skydiving. Now, I am terrified of heights. I feel lightheaded when I look out a fourth floor window; this was not something on a bucket list. But that “move to LA” thing had really been bugging me. I reviewed everything I’d accomplished in the past ten years and instead of feeling a sense of satisfaction, I felt the cold, hard truth: Those things were no substitute for doing what I’d really wanted to do all along. I saw myself for what I was, which was a big ol’ chicken. I bought the plane ticket to LA, and then the one to… the ground.
Skydiving helped me; there’s only so much preparation you can do until you’re forced to deal with the situation at hand actively. Sure, you take the class before you go up in the plane, but then class time is over and it’s time to use what you’ve learned. Skydiving also helped me see other areas in my life where I behaved as I had with my intention to move across the country: as though endlessly gathering information would somehow equal doing the thing that required courage.
I found the same dynamic in how I approached my career, my finances, and my relationships. It was all over my life. I prepared myself for big events but lived my life in a manner that ensured they would never happen.
I ended up giving away a lot of books and recycling a lot of notes. Because you know what you need to know when you’re jumping out of a plane? “Let go of the plane.” Turns out, I didn’t need notes to remember that. Similarly, when I got to Los Angeles, while I found that some of my notes proved useful, I learned the majority of what I needed to know simply by being here.
The biggest lesson that these experiences taught me is that I can trust myself to apply what I’ve learned in life.
Since making each of those big leaps, I’ve found that I’ve needed to make these things a habit; my tendency to retreat into endless preparation is just too strong. I practice being present with meditation and by hitting the gym. I practice courage by singing my untrained lungs out at a crowded karaoke night, by looking that guy in the eye and saying “I like you,” and by raising my hand in class instead of scribbling down what someone else says. My experience with this has been that life never stops requiring my courage, but it does take me less and less time in between preparation and taking action these days.
In terms of my acting career, I’ve discovered that there’s a definite payoff as well. When someone invites me to a networking event where I won’t know anyone, I just go. When a great opportunity to collaborate presents itself, I just say yes. When I come up with a bold choice for an audition, I just make it. Indeed, the heart of acting is being open and available in the present moment. Spending those moments trying to prepare for them simply doesn’t work. At some point, you have to let go of the training and trust that you’ll know what do to.
I still enjoy taking notes and being organized. But now I’m much more eager to volunteer to try something new. I’m more willing to take risks and to look foolish and to get up and try again. I started taking improv classes. I’m a little messier, sure, but I’m also a much more active participant in the work I’m bringing to the table. I’m a lot less worried about making mistakes and not being “ready” and just having a lot more fun. Sometimes there are moments of embarrassment, but those moments are nothing compared to years of regret. Moments of embarrassment pass quickly. And then I can’t wait for the next one.
Dakota, thank you for this. So many actors want to be sure they “get it right” that they neglect to do one of the most important things in life: Launch at 85%. Perfectionists end up getting told they have great potential more often than they may like (and that’s a sure sign they’re not kicking their plans into ACTION). I’m thrilled you got these leaps under your belt and can’t wait to see the next ones!
About Dakota Shepard
Dakota Shepard is a Los Angeles-based actor and writer who recently relocated from Boston. On both stage and screen, Dakota plays a lot of smart women with terrible taste in men. When she’s not working, Dakota volunteers with some wonderful kids and enjoys the things her mother says while watching Battlestar Galactica. One of Dakota’s proudest achievements in life was when Elmore Leonard said she was cool.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/plus/pov/2015/05/stop_taking_notes_and_just_lea.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the managing editor’s personal archive.