Congratulations, Graduates! (Now Don't Screw This Up Like I Did)

Graduation season has just past, and it has gotten me thinking about my journey as an actor, and how things might have been different if I had gone to school elsewhere. 

I was pondering the other day the ways that my college education (and to be honest, the education system leading up to that point) failed to help me deal with the real world and real work of acting:

  • I wasn’t taught how to self-motivate

  • I wasn’t taught how to take risks

  • I wasn’t taught good habits

  • I wasn’t taught self-care

  • I wasn’t taught the actual steps to success in acting (business-wise or creatively)

  • I wasn’t taught how to network and use my relationships to create work opportunities

  • I wasn’t given the tools to overcome my major acting “problem” (tendency to play small, to fear overacting, to underplay and be under-energized, all under the guise of being “real”)

As a result, I left school not wanting to enter the corporate world, but without any other real sense of purpose or direction. I was a straight-A honors student who graduated into the world completely adrift, and therefore struggled. A LOT.

I’m not saying I learned nothing at all in college. I did. But if I could go back and do it again, I would do it differently. 

I would listen to my gut. I would go to school in Los Angeles, like I originally wanted to. I would ignore my mother’s admonitions about the practicality of going to school closer to home and the cost of going to a school out of state, and I would have applied for scholarships. 

Here’s what I believe going to school at a university with a truly competitive acting program, in a place like New York or LA would have given me that going to school in Minnesota did not: 

  • A much more detailed road map of the “how” of getting started in this industry

  • Confidence from having to really be on my own

  • An expanded view of the world

  • Much greater opportunities just from being in that particular geographic location 

  • A head start on getting to know casting directors and making my own connections in the area

  • A healthier view of myself as a business person in the “show business,” rather than a starving artist with a mentality of lack

  • And most of all, the energy of being around other ambitious actors to inspire me, drive me to do more, and make me aware of the possibilities beyond my current experience

I can’t change the past. And my present is pretty great. But if I knew then what I know now, I would do it differently. 

So, I put this out there as an idea for parents, and not just those whose children are headed off to college in the next year or so, but those whose kids, like me, announce at the age of 3 what they want to do in life and don’t waver. 

And I also put this out there for anyone who has a dream but thinks that they’re too old to start going after it: 

Research your dream or your child’s dream. Not just in the abstract, but in detail. Find people to serve as examples—find out who is doing what you or your child wants to be doing, and then figure out what those people’s paths were.

The more information you can gather, the more paths you will find to get to your goal. You will learn what the common steps are, where others have stumbled before so you can avoid stumbling as well, and what the daily life of that person actually looks like, so you can decide if it’s for you after all, before climbing all the way up the mountain. 

We artists love to romanticize what we do, and imagine that we’ll be discovered one day. But it’s not magic. In order to be discovered, we have to be good, we have to be in the right place, and we have to have a good attitude. 

Those are all things that we can learn to do, at any age.