What Spanx taught me about acting

Have you ever had that horrible dream when you’re trying to make an emergency phone call but you keep hitting the wrong numbers? Or the one when you arrive at a posh wedding or high school reunion and realize you forgot to shower and are still in your sweaty workout clothes

Frustrating, right?

It’s a bit how I felt after I drove to my first audition in LA only to find out, after the fact, that they decided to go non-union.  

Luckily, there was a HUGE bright side to my 14-hour drive.

Podcasts.

But not just any podcast. I listened to NPR’s  “How I Built This” which tells the stories of the entrepreneurs and innovators behind brands like Drybar, Spanx, Chuck E. Cheese, LaraBar, and Atari.

There were throughlines to acting in every one of them that excited me as much as when I find a surprise bar of chocolate in my cupboard.

Because, as an actor, you’re an entrepreneur, too: You’re building a career!  

Here are my biggest takeaways.

A GOOD IDEA

All of the innovators started with a good idea or at least a glimmer of one.  Often, their idea was for a need they had themselves, but couldn’t find in the existing marketplace.

Just like you.

You had a good idea to follow your dreams to become an actor.   

And I know you have a lot of people who don’t get this ‘acting thing’ you’re doing.

Or maybe you haven’t made the jump yet because you think it might sound cocky to claim you’re going to be an actor.   People might think ‘What makes you so special?”

Right?

Or maybe those people are just trying to protect you from getting eaten alive.  Or maybe, that voice is actually yours.  And it’s fear talking.

Many entrepreneurs think, "Who am I to think I can start my own company?" And you may be thinking the same thing.

Who are you?

I’ll tell you who you are. You’re someone who has a dream and who isn’t going to let anyone stop you from going for it.  

And if you fail or get hurt or decide to take a different path at some point, no one (especially you) can say you didn’t try.

BE DIFFERENT

Any innovator or inventor, almost by definition, is creating something brand new, and thus, different.

As an actor, you want to be different too, but it feels harder.  There are so many actors "your type"  and whose coloring and age range is exactly the same.  So how do you differentiate yourself?

There's one thing you have that no other actor has.

It's your own combination of powerful talents and strengths. You just have to learn how to use them properly.

You have to get to know yourself. 

You need to know exactly what makes you tick and why you make the decisions you do so you can lean into those decisions.  You can also tap into these same talents to get into your character's skin on a whole new level.

GET SCRAPPY

The acting industry is tough. I know.  But you’re going for it anyway. And you’ll continue to keep doing it even when you’re not booking nearly as much as you would like.

Sara Blakeley couldn’t find a manufacturer willing to help her.  Someone finally took a chance on her because he was impressed by Sara's tenacity and excitement for her product.

Nolan Bushnell of Atari knew he could realistically create 50k Atari consoles for his first Sears order.  So he told the salesperson he could produce 75.  And the Sear's salesperson gave Bushnell an order for 150k consoles.

And Bushnell delivered.

It's kinda like the old adage "Jump and the net will appear."

Take heed from Nolan Bushnell and start before you're ready.  

If you wait until all of your ducks are in a row, you'll never move to LA or take chances on yourself that could mean fulfilling your life's passion and being able to say, "Yeah, I did that."

BE WILLING TO FAIL

What does failing actually mean in our industry?  To me, failing doesn’t mean not booking. Most people don't book. Even A-listers. 

Failing means not trying.

If you don’t try, you’ve automatically “failed” anyway, so what’s the worst that could happen?  

Sara Blakely originally planned to be a lawyer but bombed the LSAT. Twice.  If you listen closely, you might hear the thrum of a collective sigh of relief from millions of women around the world.

When Blakely had the idea for Spanx, it took two years to get someone to believe in her.

Also at her two year mark, Lara Merriken of Larabar was starting to question what she was doing and why she was doing it. And then, with a little foresight and a lot of chutzpah, she got her first order of 500 bars into Whole Foods. 

It took both of these mega entrepreneurs TWO YEARS to get traction!  So, give yourself a break.

Sara also said, “It’s important to be willing to make mistakes. The worst thing that can happen is you become memorable.”  

Indeed.

BELIEVE IN YOURSELF

Lara Merriken says,  “It was actually great that people questioned me and wondered why I was doing what I was doing... it made me dig in more and recognize that I really did want to do it, that I didn't need to get approval from anybody... I had found something that was important to me, and I just could not be stopped.”

JK Rowling took Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone to 12 publishers before one took a chance on her.

Sara Blakely purposely kept her idea to herself for a whole year. She knew she had a good idea and she didn't want a well-meaning friend or family member to try to talk her out of it.

She said, " ...[because] then you end up spending all your time defending it, explaining it and not pursuing it. So I needed to be at the place where I knew I wouldn't turn back no matter what I heard."

Here's the bottom line. Believe in yourself and keep going. You’re right on time.

And don’t let anyone steal your dream.


This post was originally published by TheatreNerds.com