This time last year, I headed back to my hometown of Atlanta to appear as a guest speaker at a large celebration for the acting studio at which I had trained as a kid actor.
They were celebrating a major milestone and had flown back notable alumni (Holy crap, that includes me!) to be part of this anniversary celebration.
As I got up to speak to the crowd, I noticed a bunch o’ kid actors — much as I was: eager, excited, hopeful, absolutely certain of the fame and fortune to come — and a bunch o’ parents to those kid actors. While the young actors’ emotions were clearly emitted and similar from face to face, those parents’ emotions were all over the place.
Some of them were supportive but nervous. Some were reluctantly invested. Some were just happy their kids were having fun. Others were banking on a future the kids’ success would pay for… at whatever cost to the kid.
I took a break from what I had started out to say to the group, took a deep breath, and then I addressed the parents specifically.
“My folks were supportive of my young acting career the same way they would’ve been had that been a deep-dive into after-school activities, student government, band, sports, scouting, whatever. My mother dutifully schlepped me around to auditions and rehearsals and fittings and shoots but if my grades slipped, on ice the headshots would go!”
Knowing laughs from the parents and kids alike.
“But I’m certain my mother would’ve loved to see me go on to be a doctor.”
Ooh, there was hearty laughter… both from the parents of kid actors currently training at this studio and from the adults “we” became (those of us who came up together, here, as kid actors).
And the truth of it is, while I was working on my PhD, my mom was super proud! (Hell, she was always proud. She just slept better when I was working on advanced degrees and doing things that looked more “normal” than living an artist’s life.)
“Here’s what I'd like to see us want for our kids: No more, 'Ooh, you could be the first in our family to graduate college,' or, 'You'll be the first in our family to become a doctor,' or any other achievement-based goal. While those are great and they'll come too, how's about we say, 'I want you to be the first in our family to be truly, deeply happy' instead? 'And if following your dreams is what makes you happy, I'll support you in that.'"
Just then, a dad hopped to his feet, shouted, "YES!" and led a round of applause.
I was a bit taken aback.
It didn't seem like a shocking thought to assert… but I guess maybe it was.
We're so used to achievement-based goals that we forget (or maybe never realized) that the goal of being happy is the far more important one.
Creating a generation of happy humans… imagine what the global impact could be!
Here's what the commitment must be on the part of the artist, though: Your pursuit of your dreams actually has to make you happy!
Because it's too much to ask of those who love you for them to unconditionally support you when you're miserable. (Tweet that, babe!)
Of course it's the right thing for them to say horrible things like, "Oh honey, come home!" when every time you talk with them about your creative pursuit you're complaining about how damn hard it is.
Two choices: Either find anything else to do with your life so you can live it filled with joy *or* find so much joy in your pursuit of acting that when your folks suggest you try something else, your badass retort is simple!
"Mom, I'm so freakin' happy. Thank you for your concern. I know what you want for me in life is to be happy. I really am. Thank you."
Ah… so very simple once we realize that most of the time we feel unsupported it's because we have given the people who love us the exact words to use against us!
We've told them it's hard. We've told them we can't get anywhere. We've told them it's a struggle. We've told them there's so much rejection and ageism and sexism and elitism and nepotism and on and on and on.
Welp. If we want to get the support of our loved ones as we live our dreams, it's time to provide them with the right framework for what it is that we're doing.
Sit down with them and your IMDb-Pro account and show them what famous people's careers looked like at the beginning. Show them the length of time that existed between their first teeny speaking role and the day their name meant anything to your family member. Show them footage of the working actor at the tier just above yours so they understand how early you are in your journey and how much patience and persistence is required, while also showing them how close you are to that next tier.
And for the love of all that is holy, stop bitching about this business.
That's a toxic practice and it doesn't serve you.
I want you to have unabashed bliss in your creative pursuit. Sure, there will be ups and downs. There are for all of us. But that's true of all lives, no matter what road is traveled! Better living through those ups and downs while on a journey that surprises and delights you! 🙂
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I am so elated to get to help you bring more joy into your life as you move through to the next tier… and — Psst! — the secret to all this is that you get the joyful experience first and the bookings roll in like a mo' fo' from there. Spread the word!
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All my ninja love,