A couple of weeks ago, I had a bit of downtime between meetings and — as I’ll usually do anytime I have downtime — I pulled out a pad of paper and a pen and started working up a list. This list was different from the ones I usually make: Casting lists, producing lists, column topic lists, future books lists, good ol’ fashioned to-do lists. This list had to do with a bit of the “What do I want to be when I grow up?”-type questions we’ll sometimes ask ourselves (although, to be asking myself these types of questions as I near 40 seems odd. But maybe it isn’t. Maybe I’ll be asking these questions of myself at 60 and 80 and beyond). And my list actually became two lists.

The first was: “Stuff I Love Doing.” The second: “Stuff I Don’t So Much Love Doing.”

Ooh, that “Stuff I Love Doing” list was FUN to make. Super fun! It included things you’d expect, some things you might not expect. Loads of the things that make me happy, keep me inspired, fill me with joy just as I walk around in my life.

And the “Stuff I Don’t So Much Love Doing” kept coming back to the first item I put on that list: “Dealing with non-pros.” EVERY single thing I started to put on that list came back to the people I’d be dealing with. For example, I don’t love chasing down money people owe me for my casting services. The fix: Deal with professionals who pay per the terms of the contract. I don’t love having my process micromanaged by people who hire me to do a job. The solution: Deal with professionals who trust the members of their team to do the jobs they’ve been hired to do. I don’t love having to explain the same dang thing over and over again to actors who seek out my advice, are given it, and would rather negotiate to hear something else than actually take it in and be grateful. How to avoid that? You guessed it: Deal with professionals who only ask for advice after doing the bare minimum research required to know what it is they’re asking, and how to process what it is they’re receiving.

Wow. This list-making was getting really easy. A huge, long, awesome list of stuff I love doing. And one key item that — when kept in check — makes sure that I’m pretty much only ever doing stuff that I love. Handy!

Well, when I posted a status update at Facebook about these two lists and how strongly I recommend everyone do this sort of thing, in order to get very clear on where energy should be focused, I clarified (both in that status update and in a vid I posted that same day) that while the definition of “professional” involves being paid for the work that you do, I believe professionals exist at any level. It’s the act of being professional — whatever your level at the time — that makes you someone people want to deal with. The lovely Tracey Evans suggested that this be a future column topic and, well, here we are. (Thanks, Tracey!)

The Professional Beginner

So, you’re a newbie. We all were there once. And people who try to make beginners feel like they (the non-beginners) never stood in your shoes before are lying to you. No one was born with a SAG card. No one was given an agent at birth. No one earned double-scale for an acting gig right out of the womb. Nope. We all started at the beginning. We all had to figure this business out. We all had to figure our place in this business out! We all continue to figure those things out.

But the professional beginner is aware that he or she is new. This person knows there is work to do. There are things to read, classes to take, experiences to have before even attempting to compete at the next level.

Last week, there was a lot of discussion around the Internet about Josh Olson’s piece in The Village Voice. Whatever side of the debate you happen to come down on, I think we all have to agree that much of the issue is about the attitude of the beginner asking the professional for a favor. When you’re dealing with a professional beginner, he or she does a good amount of research before reaching out. He or she doesn’t send an email that says, “Hi, Bon. You don’t know me, but I’ve read your articles and would like you to do a referral to an agency for me.” *thud* That’s a non-pro, right there. A hapless, clueless wannabe.

At least for now. 🙂 Believe me, I never say a non-pro is stuck in that status for life. There’s always the possibility that he or she can figure out the more professional way of behaving and change to a pro, anytime!

The Professional Intermediate Actor

This is the actor who knows some things, but isn’t at the tier he or she plans to be. If the actor is a pro at this stage, you’ll see things like mentoring, giving back to the community that has gotten him or her to this point, but also a hunger to know more. A delight in discovering depth and nuance to the things he or she does already know about this business. A seeking out of opportunities to challenge what he or she thinks about how things are. A willingness to be wrong. A willingness to share what he or she knows to be right, based on experience.

The Professional Professional

And the professional professional is the most wonderful critter of all. This is someone who has achieved career success, who is a delight to work with, who “gets it” and shares it. Doesn’t badmouth the directors she works with (I’m looking at you, Megan Fox) or steal a magical moment from a young award-winner he didn’t back (And that’s me staring you down, Kanye West). Publicity stunt or legitimate rant, professional professionals simply won’t engage in such things. They’ll be human, of course, but not believe that suddenly — due to their fame or success — they can do or say anything they want, because dammit, they’re that important to the world. Uh-huh. Non-pros. NON-PROS.

When I talked in my Facebook vid about professionalism being something you can cultivate at any stage of your career (whether or not you’re being paid to create… yet), talented writer and actor Eric Loya shared the following:

Loved this! I feel like sometimes it’s tough, choosing to be professional. That’s not quite right. I guess I mean, it’s really easy to see the non-professional way, and it’s often the path of least resistance, so I can imagine how easy it would be to fall into that.

I remember back when I was doing background work, and it was a goal of so many of us to get those SAG vouchers. I would see people, on every set, asking for them, bitching and moaning because they didn’t get them, etc. And I just remember thinking, “I’m so glad I choose to come in, do a damn good job, leave this place slightly better than I found it, and move on.”

And at the end of it all, I got my SAG eligibility through background work. And do you know how many potential bridges I burned? Exactly zero. And do you know how many things I did to get those vouchers that I now look back on and cringe with embarrassment and shame? Exactly zero.

You’re right that it’s absolutely about being professional. At any level.

So, are you a professional? Do you live with integrity and do you find even your most embarrassing career hiccups to be something from which you learned and grew, allowing you to become the professional you now are? Do you do your research before charging into a situation? Do you enjoy being a part of the creative process and respect those who are on the creative journey with you, even if you don’t always see eye to eye? Are you having fun and giving back and sharing your toys and staying both inspired and inspiring?

Congratulations! You are a professional. I so look forward to working with you.

Bonnie Gillespie is living her dreams by helping others figure out how to live theirs. Wanna work with Bon? Start here. Thanks!

Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/001080.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.

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  1. Bettye Zoller November 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

    You have written many great things but this one is THE BEST EVER. I am going to have this duplicated and GIVE IT to my Dallas voice over meetup group (if you’re ever in Dallas area, oh GAWD would love for you to say a few words!) I would like about a month’s notice to advt. you big time. I think you are so clever and wonderful and admire you so.
    Much hugs
    Bettye Zoller
    Voice Overs/Audiobook Narrator (You’ll love my new “Marilyn on the Couch” and the novel “Rebooting in Beverly Hills.” The latter is out. “Marilyn” is publ by Beacon Press and should be released in six weeks or so….a real goody.

  2. Bonnie Gillespie November 17, 2013 at 11:13 pm

    Well, thank you, Bettye! I’m so glad you’re sharing this with your meetup group. Hooray! I look forward to my next trip to Dallas. Hopefully soon! Stay awesome. 😀 And stay professional. 😉


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