Goal setting is at the heart of nearly all successful people. In fact, it is of utmost priority. One of my favorite quotes in this regard is by baseball legend, Yogi Berra. He said, "If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else." We have to know where we're going, and how we’re going to get there, or we'll never become that successful actor we came to LA to be. The problem is we "actor types" aren't necessarily the kind of people who love to itemize our goals, make priority lists and fill our in calendars with “to do by" dates. Somehow that just doesn't seem to be in the average actor's DNA. “Live by the seat of our pants,” seems to be our motto. So, let's approach this from as artists perspective and assign ourselves artist’s tasks and see if it helps. I want to keep this as simple and doable as possible.
Step 1. The first thing you need to do is decide where you’re going with your life. Look at your dreams. Look at the end result. In essence, answer that question we all got as kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Let yourself play with this question for a while. Meditate on it. Don’t just slap down some answer like, “I want to be an actor.” Really think about it and visualize what that looks like. What kind of an actor do you want to be? See every detail of that life. I want you literally to paint a visual picture in your head of exactly and specifically what it looks like. Every little detail. Ask yourself questions like: Where will I live? Who will I be eating dinner with? Will I be a TV star, a movie star or just a happy character actor? How will I dress? Do a character study on “you” and how you will look, act and be at the end of the story, when your goals have been achieved. Get a crystal clear visual in your head. This should be completely natural. We have to do it all the time when we act, right? We have to visualize what we are talking about so we can connect to our dialogue when we speak it. So get a clear picture of your head of what you want your life to look like when you achieve your dreams.
Step 2. Put it on paper. This is like elementary school stuff... but oh so powerful. Make a visual collage of your “perfect” life and what you want. Take photos out of magazines and place them on a large piece of paper or a big corkboard. Draw on it. Place photos on it. Do what ever you want to, just make sure it is everything you visualized in step one. You can also do this in photoshop if you are good at it. And, you might even set it up in Pinterest. I don’t care how you do it, I just care that you do it. Trust me, this is way more important than you think it is. If you do it on your computer, then print it out. If it’s a huge file, take it to Kinkos and make a poster out of it. Then, when you are finally done I want you to post it in your house in a place you look at often, the refrigerator, bathroom mirror, above the dresser, etc. As an artist, nothing will inspire you more than a visual reminder of what your life will look like and where you’re going. Nothing! You may have done something like this in the past with quotes, etc, but this needs to be specific, thorough and visual. One last thing, never stop working on your life poster. As you come across a great photo, mover poster, TV promo piece, celebrity quote, the picture of a house or whatever, add it to your paper. As time passes, if something you pasted up is no longer something you care about then take it down. Like our dreams and our goals, our visual life poster is ever changing.
Step 3. Look at everything you have on your poster, list that item on a new piece of paper and than write down, step by step, the best way you can think of to get it. Work backwards starting with the end result. For example, if you have a picture of an Oscar on your poster, your list might look something like this:
- Win an Oscar
- Act in a film opposite Meryl Streep playing a girl who has struggled all her life to be loved (because it is a roil I can now do in my sleep).
- Meet Ang Lee (director) regarding his next film and book it.
- Act in a film opposite Toni Collette playing a girl who has struggled all her life to be loved (taping into the thing that I've struggled with my whole life).
- Meet Curtis Hanson (director) about his next film and book it.
- Sign with CAA after Sundance.
- Do a couple of indies, one that sweeps Sundance.
- Get an Emmy for an HBO series.
- Book a series regular on a brand new HBO series.
- Shoot two network pilots in one year and get in the “big leagues.”
- Star in an indie film that wins at the Santa Barbara film festival.
- Do a recurring role on "Homeland."
- Do a recurring role on "Bones."
- Do a great Guest Star role on “Criminal Minds” that gets a lot of media attention.
- Do a nice featured role in an indie that goes to the Palm Springs Film Festival
- Do a great Guest Star role on "CSI."
- Do a bunch of Co-Star roles playing the girl who's had a tough life.
- Sign with a nice B+ agency
- Do another lead in a play that gets great reviews and gets me a lot of attention.
- D a lead in a play that gets great reviews and gets me a little attention.
- Do one casting director workshop a month. Get to know CDs.
- Study acting diligently for at least a year at a top acting studio.
Step 4. Now, do this with every picture you have pasted on your life poster. I know, I know, it sounds like a ton of work. Well, it is. But, once you've done this with all your pictures, photos, quotes, etc, you will have a very clear picture in your mind of the kinds of things you need to be focused on if you are to have your dream life. To take an old Entertainment Industry quote out of context, "If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage." If you don't do this work, you'll never have the results. Without a plan you'll simply walk around in endless circles hoping to get somewhere. You’ll do whatever comes your way, hoping to get something from it, rather than picking one thing and diligently pursuing it. To quote one of my favorite Russian proverbs, "If you shoot at two rabbits, you'll hit neither." You need to know exactly what you're going after, how to get there and what to do first. This exercise will give you that. Without a plan you are not taking your future into your own hands, you're simply hoping someone comes along and hands you a career. And let’s be really honest, how many people have actually had that happen in life? Almost none! So, start writing.
In my 6-Week Type, Image and Talent Evaluation Intensive my students are asked to go out in public and do surveys with total strangers in order to find out how they are perceived and what people's first impressions of them are. Then after they tally up the results I ask them to look in the thesaurus and write down literally hundreds of synonyms for the words they received from the surveys. By the time they are done they will have completed at least twelve hours of work. Every time we start people complain. They say they don't have the time or it has little to do with acting, etc. But, by the end of the course everyone thanks me for making them do the work. The results (the pages of accurate descriptions and specific branding phrases) make it all worth it. So, take the time and do the work mentioned above. Trust me, you will thank me when it is all said and done. The step by step picture you will have in your head of what you need to do and how to do it will be worth every second you put into it. However, if you don't do the work, the picture you will continue to have in in your head will be murky at best.
Step 5. Make a “To Do” list. Write down what you need to do, step by step, based on the work above, and then prioritize each step. When you look at all the different descending plans you wrote down in Steps 3 and 4 you will see duplications and similarities. This will make it easier to put together your step by step plan.
Next, you can either make this your daily "To Do List" or you can do what the real anal people do and put each step into your calendar. That way you'll have incentive day by day and you’ll have a date when each step need to be completed. Either way, just make sure you write your plan down. Don't just leave it in your head. If you've not heard before, you use a different part of your brain when you write things down. Once it’s on paper it’ll be a lot easier to remember and act upon.
Step 6. Each morning when you wake up or each night before you go to bed take some time to look at your poster and go over your list. Some days it will inspire you to no end, others it will serve as a reminder of why you came to LA in the first place and on some days it will inspire you to adjust what's on the list to make it a little more doable. Your "To Do List," like your poster, should be a constantly changing list. You need to adjust it as you go. Hopefully, you’ll be taking things off as you accomplish them.
Finally, HAVE FUN with this stuff. It taps into the creative side of our brain. I know it gets a little anal in the end but as long as you have that visual poster to look at it should make things a lot easier. Be creative, do the work and you'll get what you've always dreamed about.
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Mark Atteberry is an award winning actor, teacher and photographer. As an actor his work includes features like Miranda July’s "The Future” and Ang Lee’s "The Hulk.” His recent TV work includes “The Newsroom,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Luck,” "House M.D.," “Justified,” "The Closer," “The Mentalist,” "Dexter" and “Criminal Minds.” Mark is internationally known for his commercial advertising and headshot photography. His clients include NBC, CBS, A&E, Bravo, CAA, ICM, WME, and Big Lots. Mark regularly teaches and lectures on the topics of "Branding, Marketing and Type" and "How to Succeed in the Entertainment Industry." He has authored or co-authored several books on the business of acting including the best selling, "Working Actor's Guide to LA." For more of Mark’s acting credits go to: www.imdb.com/name/nm0040992. For Mark’s headshot photography go to: www.idyllicphotography.com. And, for Mark’s classes go to: www.beaworkingactor.com