I was watching this weekend’s Georgia game and heard one of the commentators say something that seemed somewhat meaningful. This was in the final moments of the fourth quarter. The score was tied and the Bulldogs had the ball. With less than one minute to go, we either had to score a field goal or go into OT. Obviously, scoring a field goal right then would be preferable. Game over. Let the celebration begin. But we only had one time out, and our coach was saving that for setting up his kicker, rather than having him sprint out while the clock was still running. So, we needed to get a first down to stop the clock (without using that one last time out sooner than we wanted to).
The commentator said something along the lines of this: “They can’t be thinking about the field goal. It’s not about how to score the field goal. They need to get this first down and that’s all they can think about right now. Don’t worry about that score. Get that first down.” And I thought, “Hmm. How tough that must be, staying focused only on the thing you need to make happen first and not about what it means to be able to get through that in order to do the bigger thing.” And then, as if on cue for a “hey, write this week’s column about this, Bon,” moment, I came across a paragraph in this awesome book I’m reading (Created by…) from showrunner Barbara Hall.
[When] I was halfway through writing the pilot [for Joan of Arcadia], I realized I had no real idea what the series was all about and I shouldn’t even finish writing the pilot. I thought about calling CBS and saying, “I just don’t know what this show is, so let’s not even bother.” Then, I had a change of heart. I decided that what happens to the show after I finish the pilot is not really my business. My business was to finish this pilot. So, that is what I did.
So often in this business we find ourselves consumed by our goals and our dreams to the extent that we lose sight of the one thing we need to get done in order to even have the opportunity to score. And that’s why sometimes the best thing you can do is train yourself to stay present. Because thinking too many steps ahead can actually prevent you from getting the chance to go for it.
Now, how do you know the difference between staying focused on your goals and becoming preoccupied with steps that are too far down the road to matter yet? Great question. I’ve learned that it all comes down to one simple element: anxiety.
When it’s a goal you’re focused on, there is very little anxiety involved. You are somehow comforted by the “what ifs” and you enjoy considering what life will be like when you’re in that great new place (on your own series, on location shooting a starring role in a studio feature film, fielding reporters’ questions on the red carpet). But when you are preoccupied with future steps, you feel very little sense of comfort. You instead feel this itch of anxiety. It could be a bellyache, a migraine, flop sweat, even just a touch of actual physical tension, but somehow there’s this worry that falls over you when you’re anything other than present.
And the key to accomplishing your first goal (which is, let’s face it, essential to getting the chance to accomplish your next goal) is staying present.
Case in point: I recently saw an actor’s question posted on a message board. Seems this actor had auditioned for a project and had a buttload of questions about how to handle about a half-dozen elements of the booking, should she get cast. I found myself wanting to post a reply: “Have you even gotten a callback yet? Why are you worried about so many things that might never even come to be?”
Of course, it’s a tough balance. Having a plan in place for how to deal with issues such as getting time off from your day job, paying proper commission to multiple reps, or saying no if the project somehow differs from what was originally in the breakdown is absolutely important. Regular readers know how strongly I feel about creating — and then sticking to — a personal “no” line. But there is a difference between having a plan and fixating on the “what ifs.”
If you find there is a sense of anxiety involved, you can be pretty sure you’re doing the latter. And that’s not going to help you accomplish the first goal, which is what will get you well on your way toward accomplishing the next one.
So consider this a reminder to keep yourself present when you find yourself feeling anxious about a “what if.” How? If a sports metaphor works for you, look at that first down you need to get. Then deal with the points you need to score. (Yes, you’ve spent months doing drills and working with the playbook to know how to handle that, once you’re there. But right now, you just focus on that first down.) And if Barbara Hall’s experience suits better, remember that the network has hired you to write a pilot, not to create a series. Yet. You do what you were hired to do first. Then execute the plan for the long haul once you’ve handed in that first element they’ve asked for.
Being anxious about “what comes next” when your creative energy needs to be squarely fixated on the task at hand is the surest way to be asked not to continue on to the next stage.
Originally published by Actors Access at http://more.showfax.com/columns/avoice/archives/000770.html. Please support the many wonderful resources provided by the Breakdown Services family. This posting is the author’s personal archive.