In my years of fighting the battle of life ascension and helping my clients do the same, I have discovered that the two biggest growth killers are success and failure. Certainly, sabotage in all of its various forms (drugs, sex addiction, drinking, bad relationships, and escapism) is a big enemy of progress, but nothing debilitates one’s development the way that success and failure does when the ego gets a hold of your spirit. Plus, sabotage is often linked to the fear of having what you want or not being able to cope when things go wrong.
In my teen years, I was behind in school and kept running into setback after setback. Life seemed to be giving me the message “What’s the point? I am just going to fail anyway.” Those failures deflated my spirit and caused me to only do the minimum required.
I was insecure, directionless, and suffering from what I call the “why even try” syndrome.
This went on until I moved to Los Angeles and met a mentor who helped turn things around for me by teaching me the joy of work ethic and accomplishment. I got on that work bus and rode it to success. I was happy; one great job led to another; I was suddenly living the life I had dreamed of, and, for the first time, I had felt a sense of real confidence. With the spoils of my success, I bought a new car, rented a nicer apartment, and treated myself to other material comforts. I busied myself with parties, shiny people, and the intoxicating feeling of validation. After awhile, the buzz of validation wore off, and I felt stuck, depressed, and lost. I began to wonder what happened to the passion and excitement for my work.
The problem was that my ego, which at that point convinced me that I had arrived, distracted me. I had become lazy and stopped doing the things that launched me where I wanted to be, like going to therapy regularly and taking enriching classes of any sort. I had forgotten how good it felt to be excited about my personal potential and that being creative is the path to passion, joy, and all things good.
Success had stifled my growth.
I work with many successful actors who also run into dry spells for these same reasons. Sure, sometimes it’s just the ebbs and flows of any career, but mostly, it’s that they become complacent and they lose the work ethic and passion that booked them their first job.
I also have extremely talented clients who have experienced “failures” and let those results rob the world of their best effort. After a set-beck or two, their attitude becomes “Why even try? They’re just going to pick someone else anyway.” Or, even worse, “Well, if I don’t give my best, when they reject me, they aren’t REALLY rejecting me because they aren’t rejecting my very best.” Little do they know that these thought processes become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Why? Because when the opportunity does arise, they often aren’t sharp enough anymore to get the job, and their overall defeated demeanor and lack of passion does not inspire the confidence of casting. These clients actualize their beliefs, as we humans always do. If you are going to actualize your beliefs, wouldn’t you rather they be positive beliefs?
It’s just life, isn’t it? You win some; you lose some. Your job is to pick yourself up and to keep on believing.
When faced with feelings of rejection, the first step to dealing with these emotions is to know that there is no such thing as true defeat. Think about it: the illusion of failure is merely a byproduct of shortsighted thinking. Every setback is a valuable lesson and an opportunity to start anew, better, stronger, and smarter. As cliché as it sounds, we should never give up on something we have a gift for, and if we ever decide to move on, we most certainly should never cite failure as the reason to cease.
How does one navigate the tough question of quitting versus healthily moving on? A therapist of mine posed a very important question to me when I was in the pains of transition: It’s not our job to make easy decisions but, instead, to continuously ask the hard questions. To the question of “Should I keep going,” if the answer is not a clear “no,” for any reason, then you must keep trudging forward. Sometimes, you can be in that place of discovering for a number of years.
When the answer is clearly “no,” and typically that answer will come to you organically and be very clear, then that is when it is time to start something else. So now, look at your life and ask yourself: Am I moving forward the way I’d like to? Am I becoming stagnant because of success or failure? If you are feeling stagnant, there are many ways to re-inspire yourself and bring passion to your work: reading inspiring blogs, taking a new class, booking a life coaching session, starting therapy, etc. Ask yourself: Am I at a crossroads where I need to move on and the answer is clear, or do I need to keep moving forward despite my insecurities?
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this blog, what you are currently struggling with or have struggled with, or how you overcame success and/or failure when it got in the way of your ascension.
Michael Woolson has become one of the most prominent and respected acting coaches in Los Angeles. He is recognized for his unique ability to cultivate depth and authenticity from his students in an environment that is nurturing and inspiring. Woolson has worked with thousands of actors from talented up-and-comers to award-winning celebrities. He is the author of The Work of an Actor and Emotion on Demand: An Actor’s Workbook for Mastering Emotional Triggers.
*Image courtesy of Kristy Morrow