Hollywood fascinates me.
I recently had the chance to hear a veteran of the Hollywood process give a small lecture on what life in the entertainment business is really about.
She called it the city of broken dreams. In her words, everybody is desperate to do something to make an impact before they die. Usually, to sell a script, have a breakout acting role, get that record company contract, or become a runway model before their youth expires.
She described bars in Los Angeles filled with washed-up people who failed to achieve their goals, with aged men and women, nursing away at their bottles of liquor and wallowing in their lack of fortune. They never made it, they never became “somebody”, and now they are forced to reconcile their appearances which are rapidly decomposing through a combination of natural age and excessive habits like alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.
This description made me very sad. Later in the day I had to sit down somewhere quiet and try to reconcile what sends people on this unforgiving road, and why so many end up in this situation, devastated by their lack of success in the professional world.
Eventually, a few epiphanies dawned, and I realized that by understanding how people end up on this dead-end path one can discover the keys to avoiding this situation in your own life, and also formulate strategies to actually succeed—whether in Hollywood, New York City, London, Paris, or simply on your own.
The Mistake People Make: Career As Self-Worth Supplication
I could probably write an entire book about the danger of supplicating a career, material possession, status, etc. for your sense of self worth, but all I can do is touch on it briefly right now.
The reason these dredges end up in bars, drinking their failed careers away is because from an early age they placed their self-esteem in the hands of fate and circumstance. Somewhere in the process of youthful self-determination, an individual will place all of their chips on the table—they believe in absolute determination to achieve their goal, as an example we will use singing (given the seductive qualities of fame, money, and an exciting lifestyle).
The aspiring singer is quick to take lessons from the success stories of celebrities, usually “complete determination” as one of them—working around the clock and never giving up. He or she converts part of her house into a sound-stage, spends thousands on vocal coaches, internet-markets herself, and eventually begins seeking local gigs, realizing that eventually she will be recognized.
Where things go haywire is that in the process of this determination, the aspiring singer may shelve concepts like happiness, other goals in life, self-exploration and personal growth until their bus finally arrives at Fame Street. They won’t give themselves permission to be happy until they become recognized. Anything less than success is failure. Ambition becomes obsession.
This behavior is probably reinforced through childhood experiences, and other things which would be in the realm of a psychiatrist to explore.
The issue is that sometimes complete self-determination will not lend success, fame, and fortune. There are reasons for this, in particular your heart may not be into your work, but you are focused instead on the outcome and result of your conquest. For instance, our aspiring singer may not really enjoy singing as much as he or she enjoys the attention of crowds, the lure of money, and the thrill of the lifestyle. Meanwhile, the person who sings out of passion, and works on it every-day as pleasure instead of labor, has a greater chance of hitting it big, as the work is more effortless, and thus his or her performance is naturally greater. The fame, attention, and money she receives are a byproduct of her passion.
But our Singer #2 has another advantage over Singer #1: she has nothing to lose. For Singer #2 singing is a passion, it is not labor. She could be mercilessly turned down by Arista Records, and it would make no difference because she can still sing, she still loves what she does, and she probably has her own niche following.
For Singer #1, her goal was the fame, fortune, and lifestyle—the results of the conquest versus the enjoyment of the journey. If Arista Records dismissed her, it would not be a minor hiccup, but a soul-crushing defeat. All her hard work and determination for nothing, and no reward at the end of the voyage.
Unfortunately for Singer #1, her determination came at the expense of other aspects of life and personal growth. She placed her self-worth and value as a human being on the gamble of fame and success. When these chances are (seemingly) taken away from her, then her whole world crumbles down. The negative self-talk will probably fire up, as she considers herself a failure.
In summary, to avoid professional disappointment, never place your self-worth as depending on something like the results of a successful career. This is essentially gambling your happiness away. If your ambition is to become a top-notch salesman, do it as part of a hobby or passion which does not trump your inner self-development as a person.
Never allow the fruits of success to become greater than your inner-happiness, or the happiness that you draw from what cannot deteriorate.
Or, as I like to say, play the game—just don’t be part of the game.