You’ve got a vision of where you’d like to wind up… at WDI in Glendale or an executive suite at Google or a tenured position at Carnegie Mellon… and you’re ready to start taking practical steps toward that destiny.
For me, the practical path began with a quote I found in Richard Bach’s inspirational book, Illusions: “You are never given a dream without also being given the power to make it come true. You may have to work for it, however.”
I was in high school when I read that and I’ll confess I started weeping, because I sensed it was true. I felt like the universe was reassuring me that my dreams of a career in the performing arts – even the specific goal of Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Revue – were attainable if I only worked at it hard enough.
So inspired, I decided that from that moment I would seize any opportunity that my desperate little mind thought would take me closer to my goal. I tried out for everything, whether I felt I was right for it or not, believing that the very experience of auditioning would be helpful. As a result I quickly grew completely comfortable auditioning, something that terrified so many of my friends. I read everything I could find about live performing and studied the comedy of the Marx Brothers and Laurel & Hardy and episodes of ‘I Love Lucy’; from them I learned comic delivery and timing.
And I fed my theme park obsession by visiting the parks as often as possible. If any of my friends – or any strangers – even mentioned they were going to Disneyland I was quick to invite myself along… in 1969 alone I visited the Magic Kingdom 16 times. And I usually took along my cameras and a cassette recorder.
My purpose in relating these tender stories (and I do have one) is to demonstrate how I manufactured my own course of study for the life I dreamed of having.
Then I reached out to the people I encountered along the way, letting them know of my passion and soliciting their wisdom and advice. Note that I didn’t ask for assistance or a job or recommendation. What I sought made no demands on their valuable resources… only on their knowledge and experience, things I’ve found that professionals are only too happy to share with those who ask humbly and politely.
A word about seeking advice: Do it. (Alright, two words… )
I once knew a would-be screenwriter – an exceptionally bright and talented fellow – who had no experience with the form. I had a copy of what is arguably one of the best books on screenwriting, and suggested he borrow it. He refused, saying, “I don’t want to copy anyone else’s mistakes.” I pointed out that he wasn’t required by law to learn anything from what he read, but it might inspire him in his own efforts. He still wasn’t interested; he put more faith in his desire for success than in anyone else’s proven track record.
Desire is a wonderful, powerful thing… but – as anyone who has watched the preliminary auditions on American Idol can attest – desire counts for very little when it comes to getting your dream job. I once asked my grandson what he wanted to do with his life and he told me he was going to be a rock ‘n roll guitar player. He figured it should be easy to get the job, since he was so very skilled at the video game, Guitar Hero.
Skill, knowledge and experience are what counts when it comes time to getting that first job. If the old Catch-22 (‘You can’t get the job without experience, but you can’t get experience without the job’) were true, no one would ever get hired to do anything. The work-around for the cliché is to focus, not on getting your dream job, but on breaking that job down into achievable goals that you can pursue elsewhere.
So take that starter job… and relish the experience. And when you find yourself taking that NEXT starter job, smile and embrace ‘starting over again’. In every school I attended, I enrolled in ‘Beginning Acting’ and was a better performer for doing so.
A friend of mine had spent years as a property manager-and-renovator for a hotel and apartment chain, but had to move on and start over cleaning rooms for another company. Her new boss has read her résumé and wants to move her up… but not until she has re-learned the basics. Besides the benefit of the experience and knowledge she’ll gain, she’s demonstrating her willingness to be a team player.
One more thing about starter jobs… seek out the knowledge of those above you, and the friendship of those working beside you. My college acting teacher at LACC Theatre Academy, the great Norman Mennes, used to point to his comb-over and tell us, “There’s decades of knowledge and experience up here… Come and get it.”
As for the people beside you on the front lines, find your Fellow Dreamers and share with them your most precious asset: yourself. You’ll find that, as time passes, these same people may become lifelong friends and a source of encouragement and opportunity as you all grow and prosper.
Following your bliss, they say, means that you’ll never have to work a day in your life… since doing what you love is never work. Don’t you believe it. You’ll work harder at a job you love than you will at any other kind. The difference is that you’ll be rewarded in more ways than a mere paycheck; ways that can fill your heart and feed your soul. At present, friends, I’m underfunded and unemployed… but I have only to remember the millions (and millions) of kids and families I’ve entertained and inspired to know that my time on this earth has not been as wasted as my present bank balance might lead me to believe.
Next time, kids, your Uncle Dreamfinder promises a very realistic look at what you can expect from that dream job… and how to survive a nightmare.