An Actor’s Guide to Motivating Yourself Through Uncertainty
Katie Redford offers the advice you need to get through the inevitable uncertainty of the acting world...
Accept that you feel uncertain and give yourself credit for doing so. Trying to fight against it and worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet won’t make things any easier.
For those of you who are reading this, who also happen to be pursuing an acting career, I’m sure you’d agree with me that it is a path full to the brim with uncertainty. Being told to just ‘stay motivated’ doesn’t quite cut it. We could not have chosen a more uncertain industry to work in if we had tried. Firstly, the practical uncertainty; not knowing when you’re next going to work, not knowing when you’re next going to get paid, not even knowing if you can ‘just book that week off’ in May 2019 for your mate’s 30th in Lanzarote. Then there’s the mental uncertainty, which I’d argue to be the worse of the two. Staying motivated whilst feeling uncertain is tough - brutally tough - so here are a few suggestions to hopefully help along the way.
Start with acceptance
Of course, you’re going to feel uncertain; you’re not made of stone. You’re pursuing a path that requires very little stability and despite your talent and hard work, offers no guarantees of a successful career. So firstly, give yourself a break and accept that anyone who was pursuing something and not receiving reassurance or any sort of feedback, would feel exactly the same. Accept that you feel uncertain and give yourself credit for doing so. Trying to fight against it and worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet won’t make things any easier.
I recently ran my first (and last) marathon. I despised the training; however, I was advised I’d have a ‘change of heart’ on the race day itself. “You’ll breeze it,” they said. Yes, well it’s safe to say I did not ‘breeze’ it. I far from breezed it. I lost the feeling in my legs after 3 hours, listened to power ballads and cried on a Dutch man at mile 21.
However, on reflection, I now understand what people meant when referring to me simply enjoying the day itself. It’s the bit before that I found to be the scary part. The months that lead up to it, the night before the race… What if I struggle in the heat? What if it hurts so much that I can’t move for days/weeks after? What if I get even more excruciating blisters? What if I fall over and everyone sees? All of these things happened. But I still did it.
We can let the fear of uncertainty eat us up, but really, what’s the point? Why waste time fighting against all of the ‘what ifs’ when you could have an easier time by just accepting them? With a lifetime of uncertainty, there are going to be times when things are bound to get ugly. So, instead of worrying about the things that have may not have even happened yet, just accept you’re going to feel a bit uncertain. And at the very least, try and have confidence in the fact that the more struggles you encounter along the way, the higher the highs will be.
Do something else
Sometimes, you just don’t feel motivated. And not only is that absolutely fine, but it’s absolutely normal. So, chuck yourself into something else for a bit. My mum is a writer. She writes poems, mostly based on the theme of nostalgia, but there are some days when she doesn’t feel nostalgic in the slightest, so instead, she designs bookmarks - not to sell or anything, just for herself. She just whacks out her felt tips and starts doodling. She’ll go back to her writing at some point, but she needs to do something else unrelated to her writing, in order to ignite her other creative job.
This particular process is called ‘Combinatory Play’; a simple act of opening up one mental channel by exploring in another. According to our old mate Einstein, he believed Combinatory Play to be ‘the essential feature in productive thought.’ Doing another creative task quietens both the ego and the fears by simply lowering the stakes. It’s not procrastination with the right intention. Last Wednesday afternoon, I caught my mum curled up on the sofa, watching Gogglebox. “Aren’t you supposed to be working?” I said. Without looking up, she just replied, “Combinatory Play.” Yeah… not entirely sure Einstein would agree with that one.
If you’re feeling uncertain and unmotivated, don’t just let it all bottle it up and let it come out when you’ve had a few too many Jägerbombs.
Remember why you want this
I don’t think there’s any shame in admitting to ourselves that sometimes, our passion and enthusiasm for acting can get a little lost in the act of juggling the practicalities of it all. So, take some time out from the challenge of trying to ace this ridiculously-uncertain-self-employed-lifestyle-we-call-work and do something to remind yourself why you’re doing this. Reconnect with your enthusiasm again.
I always find going to see something helps; whether that’s at the cinema or theatre. For me, there’s something about someone else right in front of you, regardless of if you know them or not, demonstrating exactly it is that you’re itching to do, that gets me fired up again.
It could be anything that triggers this; an interview with someone you admire, a certain place, a piece of music - whatever it is, use it, watch it, listen to it, go to it. Do whatever you need to do to reconnect with that. It’s so important that we do this. Without passion and enthusiasm, what are we even doing this for? These feelings often instantly trigger motivation, so it’s a win-win, really. Think back to a time where you were massively motivated: Where had you just been? Who were you with? Who or what had caused you to feel motivated? Remember the feeling and try and recreate a similar pattern.
I personally would prefer this heading to say ‘Eat chocolate’ but that piece of advice is so obvious that I thought it just went without saying. So instead, I went with this one. It sounds so ridiculously basic but if you feel as though you need to motivate yourself whilst feeling uncertain and you’re not sure where to start, start with exercise. Do something physical.
Whether it’s a run, a swim, a cycle or jumping up and down to Joe Wicks, whatever it is, it will get you out of your head. When you’re not feeling motivated, being struck in your head isn’t always the best place to be. It’s such a positive distraction and may be the shift in focus that you’re after. If you have the option of being outside whilst breaking out into a sweat, do it. Get out of the house. Go to places that are inspiring to be around - rolling hills, a park, a riverside, a busy built up road, whatever. As long as it’s scenery that removes you from the one that’s not exactly inspiring you at the minute.
Talk to the right people
If you’re feeling uncertain and unmotivated, don’t just let it all bottle it up and let it come out when you’ve had a few too many Jägerbombs. Talk to someone, but make sure they’re the right person to confide in - someone who not only knows you well, but who understands what the uncertainty is genuinely like. You don’t need to hear another round of how you must ‘keep your chin up.’
I remember once I was in a bar with my friend (who’s also an actress), and the barman abruptly interrupted our conversation (if it helps set the scene, he was called Geoff). He’d obviously heard my friend telling me how frustrated she felt with the lack of acting work and as he was pulling a pint, he shouted down the bar to ‘stop moaning’ as she ‘didn’t realise how lucky she was, pursuing her dream.’
I’d just like to point out that my friend hadn’t had an acting job in four years, was living back at her parents with her young son and was working three part time jobs, one of which involved her dressing up as a carrot. So, I’m sorry Geoff, but I beg to differ.
Surround yourself with people who encourage you and that will simply listen to you voice your concerns. If we were in a job in which we had a boss and a team around us, we’d have regular meetings where we’d discuss our targets and our progress so far, where our concerns would be discussed. So, because these chats aren’t scheduled in for us, we must make sure we instigate them ourselves with those who we know will reassure us in the right way. Just stay away from barmen called Geoff.
Katie is an actress & writer originally from Nottingham. She's a member of BBC Comedy Writersroom and is a part of the BBC Talent Hot List. She currently plays Lily Pargetter on Radio 4's The Archers and Beth in BBC1's Still Open All Hours. When she's not in work, you can find her in the soft play centre in Epsom where she takes the children she sometimes nannies for, so she doesn't have to do any actual work.