A gentle assessment of 2013

I’ve periodically been told that I can be too blunt, too judgemental, and too impatient. I am definitely my own worst critic. These qualities don’t exactly bode well for a compassionate self assessment of the past years’ progress towards my long term goals, but I’ve been working towards treating myself, and others, with more patience and empathy. As the year winds down, I’ve been doing some (gentle!) reflecting on what went right, and what went not so right in 2013. I already have several long term goals in place, so I don’t feel a need to post 2014 specific resolutions, but it’s my hope that this (gentle!) analysis might help clean up a few of my goals, and might help you all think about some of yours.

I often think about my life in compartmentalized sections. For me (a dancer/choreographer/director/business owner), these sections break down something like this:

1) General Health/Fitness level
2) Personal financial health
3) the state of my business
4) artistic growth/development
5) relationships (familial, romantic, friends)
6) Personal projects

These are in no particular order, and I think they’re pretty applicable to most artistic types (or almost anyone, if you sub in “life passion” of choice for item four.

All of my short, medium, and long term goals fall into one of these categories. In fact, I have short, medium, and long term goals IN every single category. I won’t bore you all with the particulars of each- but I think it’s a good idea to think about the arenas of your life that are important, and either come up with a plan to make those arenas even better, or a plan to ensure they stay strong and stable.

This year, I’m particularly proud of the progress I’ve made with my financial health, and my artistic career. I’ve worked on several great productions, and I’ve laid the groundwork for several other wonderful 2014 projects. I also finished paying off my student loan, opened my first retirement account (hey, I’m an artist, it took a little while!), and am completely debt free.

My relationships and personal projects have been mixed, and all a little too involved to write about here. My business and personal health, the two categories I would say I’ve felt really great about in the past, have definitely suffered. My sleep schedule is much more irregular due to all my wonderful artistic projects, and this has definitely resulted in less working out, less healthy meals, and less rest in general. And my business has also taken a bit of a hit, again due to artistic commitments.

As I write this, I’m realizing that an appreciation of progress, a bit more gratitude towards myself and others, and a mindset of balance can definitely help my 2014. Oh, and I lied- I do have one resolution. I’d like to publicly declare that I will complete my chinup challenge (3 full pullups, 3 military pullups, and 3 dips with no assistance) in 2014. How about you? Any unexpected discoveries? Realizations that you have “areans of life” that you consider important but don’t really have a plan for? Random declarations? I’d love to hear em!

Say YES!

Say yes to opportunities!

We’ve all heard this one before, but I’m going to give you all my two cents and personal twist on this little pearl of wisdom.  When it comes to building your artistic brand, resume, and personal and professional reputation, it almost always pays off to say YES. Now, when a really great, big, dream job type of opportunity comes along, I’m assuming you all already plan to take it. However, I’m talking about taking this one step further: 

Yes- I will attend your party. 

Yes- I will choreograph a small scene in your movie, even if it’s for free (to a point, but more on this later). 

Yes- I will try to help you with your personal project. 

In each of these instances, you have the opportunity to gain collateral. Personal collateral with friends, and professional collateral with colleagues. And maybe, the type of collateral that will let you later open doors towards that dream opportunity.

Expanding your circles of influence very rarely comes with a downside- except when you don’t keep your word. So, say yes to as many things as you realistically can, and then make sure that you follow through. Respond to invitations on Facebook (you know the ones, to a friend of a friend’s gallery opening, to your college roommate’s cabaret performance, to your ex-boyfriend’s friends CD release party), and then actually attend the events you say you’ll be at. If you can’t attend, mention that too, and if you’re really unsure if you’re available, actually tell the hosts of the event why. Seems like a small thing, but people will notice. 

You’ll soon become that person who always keeps their word, and is considered, thoughtful, helpful, and generous. Someone who cares about the things their friends, acquaintances, and colleagues are working on. And let me tell you, those adjectives and that reputation will go a long way. 

How I got a gig, deconstructed.

Just yesterday, a friend asked me to tell her about how I scored one of my last assistantships. The story went a little something like this:

I was ushering at an off-broadway musical, and I happened to run into someone who I thought looked familiar. When I stopped them and asked, “excuse me, do I know you?”, they stated their name, and I immediately realized they were a fairly well known New York theater director (for our purposes, “director X”).  I had heard this director speak on a union sponsored panel a few years back, I stated that that’s how I recognized this person, we immediately began to talk shop. I mentioned a few of the recent projects I had worked on, including the fact that I had just assisted with another NYC director that director X was 90% sure to know. A bit into the conversation,  director X verbally offered me the opportunity to assist them on a new project. BOOM. 

My friend complimented me on my “ballsiness” in being able to talk to this person, once I realized who they were. While I think that’s definitely part of this little success story, I think there are SEVERAL key take aways.

1) I was ushering. You too, dear artist, can have the opportunity to learn and grow from your peers. Go to galleries. Volunteer for an orchestra. Get involved in a work/study program at a dance studio. Any of the above will get you out and about, will enrich your mind, and will increase the likelihood of you meeting someone who can help your career.

2) I recognized this director from A UNION SPONSORED PANEL. Right away, this director has learned two things about me- that I go to see theater, any way possible (like through Ushering), and that I attend the career development events sponsored by my desired profession’s union. I’m two for two in the “I care about the future of my career” category, and I’ve only spoken one sentence.

3) I mentioned other projects: a career in the arts has so many fits and starts. But once you start to string together a few credentials- USE THEM! You worked HARD for them! Assuming that you did your best work possible on the project (and of course you did, right?), why not do a little name and project dropping?

And yes, it does help that I was “ballsy” enough to talk to this person. I know that that in of itself is a difficult thing for many of us to master. However, I think that what I said after making this connection was even more important than my ability to speak with ease to someone who is my professional superior. The three little things I discussed with this director are, on their own, inconsequential. Yet when I added them all up, they resulted in a great assistant position.

 

 

I love the look of you

So, as I mentioned in the last article, the next ten blog posts will expand on the basic life/art guidelines I outlined previously.  I’m sure as I continue writing I’ll modify these, but hey, I need to start somewhere! This is post number one of ten.

Let’s say you’re frantically trying to leave the house to mail a hard copy of a grant or artistic residency application. You throw on whatever you can find, jump on the subway, and rush to where you’re going. While you’ll get that application in on time, you might look like a crazy person while doing so. And if a friend asks you to meet up for lunch afterwards, you’ll probably have to decline.

In the same vein- let’s say you made it out to lunch with a friend, and all of the sudden, the friend starts to introduce you to another acquaintance of theirs-let’s say a music director.  You’re looking alright…not your best, but presentable enough. However, you might have been more gregarious, and altogether more impressive, if you had looked slightly more put together.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is this: in an artistic field, our lives are so fluid. Of course, people in many professions never know who they could meet. But in the arts, a person’s day can literally turn on a dime- a trip to the post office could turn into a lunch with a friend which could turn into a choice networking opportunity. I think it’s really important to recognize this, and consider this as you get yourself dressed each day. Why not take a little more time to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward?

Looking for better odds

I can’t begin to tell you the amount of times I’ve had people ask me “oh, so you’re trying to build a career directing, choreographing, and performing in Musical Theater? What’s your backup plan?”. Not that I blame them- the odds of success in my chosen field are frightfully slim. I sometimes wish I had chosen a different career, but I know in my heart of hearts that I’ve made the right choice, as I really love what I do.

That being said, I do often wish that I had better than a one in one hundred shot of success in my dream field. So, instead of just sitting around wishing, I’ve tried to create some actionable steps to realistically increase my odds of success among the other “competitors”. I’ll be talking about each of these in further detail in the coming weeks:

1) Looking presentable as often as possible
2) Saying yes to every opportunity
3) Leveraging my time/creating passive income streams
4) Creating apprenticeships
5) Building meaningful relationships
6) Putting my money where my mouth is
7) Knowing when to use your connections
8) Scoring high in the game of life every day
9) Realistically thinking about your future as an artist
10) Always find ways to improve in your artistic craft

So much of our chance at success depends on the little choices we make day after day. We can all greatly increase our odds of success in a competitive field if we keep our heads in the game.