Up until November of 2011, I’d been a dentist for thirty-one years, a professional actor for about six and an Amway IBO for even longer. I’ve been to more success seminars than almost any other ten people and I’ve just about beaten myself to death trying to “succeed”, but I certainly would not characterize the results of my massive and prolonged efforts in any of these pursuits as particularly successful in spite of the acclaim I’ve received from many of my patients, peers and associates. Yet I’ve done more than two dozen movies (not background, speaking parts!), eight TV commercials, a couple dozen TV and cable appearances, stage, convention, radio, corporate and web videos, print and billboard modeling gigs and sponsored over 100 people without profligate spending and have little to show from all of it in the bank. So, what business do I have even discussing the subject if I ain’t rich? Well, if the only people you listen to are the rich ones, you’re as likely as not to hear spurious cause/effect correlations as much as real reasons. “You too can be a success! Do as I have done, and you can have what I have.” Cause and effect, recipes, plans, goals! That’s the ticket!
Is there a formula for success? Will doing the same thing that a successful person says he has done make you a success too? A lot of people seem to think so, but guess what. You can be a failure too trying to do the same thing and the implication is that if you’re not a success, it must be your fault. “You didn’t follow the formula.” Or maybe you didn’t really try. But perfect duplication of what someone else has done and re-creation of the same circumstance are both impossible in any event. As much to the point, there is as much or more ascribable to the phenomena of randomness as there is to any one-to-one cause/effect relationships in the stuff of life. The human brain is not built to deal with either probability or randomness. We see patterns where they don’t exist and miss them where they do. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb points out in his book of the same title, we are all Fooled By Randomness.
Then again, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve read or been told that success has little to do with how much money you make, I would be rich. I’ve gotten tired of hearing it. Those who insist that success has nothing to do with money simply don’t understand what money really is or what it measures. A person’s honest wealth is a function of the amount and quality of the goods and services that he/she has caused to flow to other people and the husbandry thereof. Much as it’s not so much what you possess as what you can find, it’s what you manage to keep as much as what you’ve managed to create.
I’ve searched for years for a profession or occupation that would facilitate the creation of value for others and for which I could be paid for doing what I like and do best: reading, writing and speaking. By gum, this is it. My friend Steve Pavlina has shown me the way. Blogging will facilitate all three.
However that presupposes that I have something that others would want to read or know and I have often wondered if I have 55 years of experience or just the same year 55 times. As it turns out I have a lot of experiences which I’m told a lot of people want to hear about and learn from.
Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned is to never regret anything. Everything we’ve done (even the stupid and cruel things) and everything that’s happened to us (even the stupid and cruel things) have served to make us who we are, truly unique individuals from whom both we ourselves and others can learn. So here are some of those things from me from which you can learn. Please write me back and teach me some of yours as well.
My friends and colleagues ask me all the time how I get so much acting and modeling work while at the same time many of them can be heard saying, “Oh, I wouldn’t work for that.” or “I don’t work for free.”. Here is the reality: I sometimes have a great payday, but often work for free and the fact is if you’re only working very rarely or not at all, then free for you is probably overpaid, because “for free” typically means that as an actor you’re getting a copy of the end product and that would have cost you a bundle to have it done for yourself. If on the other hand you’re so busy that you have to turn work down, you’re underpaid! As an actor you are in a sense a commodity and the value of your services is determined by your availability (supply and demand) and what someone else is willing to pay as a function of how much they value your services. Period.
Now, how did I get into acting and how is it relevant to the subject? I am who I am and being who I am, years ago a friend of mine said, “JD, when I make my movie, you’re going to be in it.” Years later, she called. I took the opportunity and got the bug. I took acting lessons, learned the vocabulary, got a good color headshot, went onto Google maps, did a search for agencies and start calling. I got rejections, disconnected numbers, friendly and unfriendly calls and a mix of advice. I went on Craig’s list for auditions and looked for functions where actors congregate. I accepted auditioning as the profession and gigs as the gravy. That’s what the two actually are. Auditions are an opportunity to perform and should never be passed up. When I got cast, I did these five things and got a reputation that got me cast again:
1. Show up early or on time, every time. There are no excuses in this business. If you’re not there, you don’t exist.
2. Be able and willing to take direction. You are an employee. You are being paid to bring a character to life either by someone who has been entrusted with the task of directing, by the person who wrote the screenplay and most importantly by the person or persons who are paying the costs of production. Even if you’re not being “paid” (read money) you are being paid with the product itself and you’d better act like you’re being paid in any event or you never will be.
3. Be competent. You have to be able to deliver the goods. Take classes, workshops, lessons. You owe it to yourself, your colleagues, your employer, your audience.
4. Be prepared. Know your lines, your character. Wear what you’re told to wear.
5. Be the kind of person other people want to be around on a set or backstage. You’re going to be around them a lot, as long as 18 hours in a day. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. If you’re a jerk, people won’t want to work with you again.
There is no formula for guaranteed success, not in acting, dentistry, Amway or even the continuation of life itself. The belief that there is such a thing is an illusion. There is however, a guaranteed formula for failure. Don’t do these or things like them. Don’t be prepared when the opportunity appears. Don’t keep trying and you’re guaranteed to fail. The assertion that a certain or special plan will succeed is an illusion. One can not predict that a specific seed will germinate, but if you throw enough seeds out, watch for one of them to germinate and then give it light and water…well you’ve got a good chance. But in the final analysis, it’s still just a chance. And that’s the fairness of unfairness. Be prepared and keep exposing yourself to opportunity. Take advantage of the law of large numbers. There are plenty of chances out there.