I have a friend who wants to be an actor.
Anytime somebody asks what his one true goal in life is, that’s what he says. To act. To be paid to act. To have a career in acting to some degree.
However, he actively does nothing to progress this dream. He acted in high school and college, but ceased regularly auditioning for roles after that. He works in a field he isn’t interested in. He’s done some small videos for local productions and one theater production a couple years back. I’ve occasionally told him about productions I’ve heard about or paid commercial gigs. He appreciates it, but never actively pursues it. Over the years I’ve heard him mention time or long-term plans or not being the right fit.
The cycle always ends the same: My friend passes on opportunities and then laments not having the career he so desires.
Unfortunately, my friend’s story, while an extreme example, is not uncommon with many people I know and have spoken to over the years. People find something they want or something they’d like changed, but take no action to achieve it. They so desperately want their life to be one way, but they avoid taking any of the appropriate steps to do so. I myself still have plenty of things that I wish upon wish for, but seem to pass on constantly for various reasons.
But why? Why do so many people both young and old have goals that they just inherently relegate to unobtainable? Time is often a factor, where we decide that the real world and obligations that come with it just don’t allot us the open schedule to accomplish what we want. Sometimes we’re afraid that stacking the work we put in toward our goal will over-complicate our life when balanced with full time jobs and social lives and leisure time. We’re afraid to sacrifice time we could be using for things we love, like television or gaming.
In a lot of cases, we’re just generally afraid. Afraid of rejection. Afraid of failure. Afraid of missing too much while we work. Afraid of losing one opportunity while we pursue another.
In the end, the only way out is to push past the fear.
Not an easy answer by any means. This post isn’t meant to be one of those “oh thanks, I’m cured” type of simplifications of complex problems. This fear digs deep and grounds itself in our real world anxieties. It builds off of other fears, which is how it so successfully holds us down whenever we try to rise against it.
It starts with focusing small. Too often, we want to focus on the end goal and not the steps that lead to that finale. If our goal is to find love, we focus on what our ideal partner is and the life we hope to have with them instead of focusing on immediate happiness in the world of dating. If we want to achieve something creatively or in our career, we focus on our expected joy once we reach the acclaim we want and not the difficult, rocky climb to the top that awaits us. In doing so, we aren’t adequately preparing ourselves for the challenges of getting to that end result. It makes the small beginning seem excessively complex and painfully mundane. We’re made to feel impatient: Why can’t we have the joy and release of the end result now?
If instead we focus on the steps, then we begin to center our minds around the progress we make and not how far we are from the end. If you’re trying to write a book, write it in pieces, save each piece as its own file to be compiled later. Watch as the pieces build. Don’t say “man, I still have over half of my book left to write” but instead say “Man, I remember when I only had one piece, now I have this many.” If you’re trying to get a new job, focus on the work to get to that point. Focus on how you’ve perfected to your resume or portfolio. Think of the amount of jobs you’ve applied for and the interviews you’ve had. Is there any way you could improve your interviews, maybe by doing mock interviews or more research beforehand? Focus on the steps instead of reminding yourself that you don’t yet have a new job. Pay attention to the skills and knowledge that you are honing in driving through the process.
The second thing to remember is that achieving the goal doesn’t mean an end to the work. That tends to be the idealistic world we create in our minds when we want something bad enough: That achieving this goal will mean an end to the hard things in life. In reality, that’s just not how it works. Whatever you hope to achieve, you’ll still need to work to maintain it. Musicians don’t become world-wide sensations and never have to practice again. Actors have to maintain their brand and their image, delicately balancing their persona in the public and what projects they attach themselves to. Highly successful business people or scientists or engineers have to be constantly looking for the next thing and focusing their energy wisely. Just because you’ve found the love of your life, doesn’t mean you can kick back in the relationship and not put in any effort to the needs of your partner.
If we accept the reality that the work continues after the goal is achieved, we can make the work we’re putting in right now seem more approachable. Suddenly the distance between the daily grind of building toward a goal and the world beyond the finish line seems a lot smaller. We ground our dream in reality and make it seem like something we could totally do, something that belongs to us and not just some perfect ideal of who we want to be.
But it all has to start with us taking action.
Again, not always easy for everyone, but it’s important to remember that no challenge is truly impassable. Everything, no matter how large or small, has steps we have to take. Sometimes its worthwhile just winding those steps all the way to the bottom. If getting from where you are to the next step seems way too hard, then there must be a step in between that is being overlooked. This is part of the impatience I mentioned before, in that we always want to take large leaps up the list of progress, and so we sometimes overlook incredibly small but necessary steps that might be important.
If you’re trying to write a book, maybe you need to workshop a particularly complex section of dialogue with some people you trust. If you find yourself stuck, reading a book of a completely different theme than your own may help the juices flow.
If you’re building your career, perhaps there is a lecture or conference you can visit to address an area of improvement. Also, reading articles in your field, possibly writing them may be the key to new ideas that help you grow.
If you’re dating, picking up a hobby, signing up for some classes, or just generally spending more time out and about during the day will give you more opportunity to meet people. Sometimes, it even just boils down to learning how to enjoy spending time on your own that unlocks the necessary confidence to meet people and build relationships.
There are always steps, even if they don’t seem to directly relate to the desired goal. If they provide some sort of benefit and progression, then they are necessary to the overall process. So wherever you are on your journey, think about what step is next. If it feels unreachable, ask yourself why it feels that way. What step might there be in between that you’re forgetting? Don’t be afraid to think small.
And obviously, there is the element of mental health. Some people are inherently at a disadvantage on this discussion, finding it hard to even get out of bed, let alone take a passionate step forward toward something they care about. In that case, remember you’re not alone. You don’t always have to walk the journey isolated from those around you. Enlist others, reach out. Find someone who can help get you on the path, someone who can aid you in pursuit of your passion.
For my friend, his obvious next step is auditioning. Maybe that seems unreachable, so maybe he needs to find some other projects to prepare him. Maybe shoot for a smaller audience or start a vlog or join an RPG group of people he has never met all in the name of shaking off the cobwebs of his acting abilities. Maybe he could take an acting workshop or join an improv troupe. Whatever it takes to get him started and marching toward his goal.
Maybe he’s afraid. That fear we mentioned earlier, what if it’s just too much for him to push past?
Well, then he might never achieve his goal. That is also a possibility.
The thing about this fear is that it is entirely self-imposed. It has no grounding in fight or flight. The things we’re afraid of (typically) are not things that could cause us physical harm. Rejection does not kill you. Failure does not kill you. Embarrassment (also typically self-imposed) does not kill you. While all these things are very possible when shooting for a goal, they do not mean the end of the journey if they do happen. More importantly, they don’t mean the end of YOU.
But being afraid of these things is what will keep you from ever being the best you.
You HAVE to push through the fears and anxieties, and that’s why you have to bring the steps down to a reachable level. Start small and build up. Dip your toes in and see that you can progress without rejection or failure or any other negative outcome. Better yet, experience failure or rejection and look inward once it happens. You’re still here, still kicking, still able to push forward. Learn from these things but don’t let them stop you from moving forward. It is very likely that the journey will not be smooth the entire time, but the thing about rejection, failure, criticism and judgement is that they are all easier to handle as time goes by. The first cut is always the deepest. Your skin grows tough with time, so don’t be afraid of that initial impact.
You have to take the steps if you want to get to the finish line.
The only one stopping you