One of the recurring lessons of being an actor—or the parent of one—is that we exist in a state of uncertainty.
The terror of this is one of the chief reasons that many parents shudder at the thought of their kids pursuing a career as a professional actor. Uncertainty can feel incredibly uncomfortable.
As a lifelong entrepreneur, I realized years ago that the uncertainty of self-employment was really no different than the uncertainty of being an employee. The difference: as an employee you can generally maintain the illusion that you have certainty and stability in your life. But as anyone who has ever been fired, or downsized, or had the unexpected happen in their job knows—this can be a pretty thin illusion.
This past week Liv and Maddie shot its final episode of Season Three. We don’t yet know if there will be a Season Four or not, and may not know for months. Disney stops at three seasons for most of its shows, and sometimes stops after only two. They never take a show past four seasons.
So everyone involved in the show—actors, writers, producers, and all the many talented artists who are part of the tech side of production (hair, makeup, wardrobe, set construction and decoration, props, lighting, sound, etc.) must go forward knowing that they may or may not have another season on this project. Moving through the day, the week, and the next few months in accordance with two opposing future realities is an exercise in patience, faith, and cognitive dissonance.
The writers had to create a script for the last episode that would work as a season finale in case we move forward to have a fourth season… and equally well as a series finale in case we do not. Everyone had to say goodbye hoping that it was for only a few months, and not for good.
This is in no way unusual, or a “Disney” thing—it’s how the whole industry works. One of the realities of the life of an actor is that they never know where their next job is coming from. The difference in landing a series regular role on a successful show is that it can become such a central part of your life that it becomes hard to imagine life without it—just like any job that has become part of someone’s identity.
Being part of a series makes it easier for a while to forget that uncertainty is actually the norm in the world of an actor—and in the world in general. But this week we were all reminded again.
I think that one of the gifts of being a professional actor (and the parent of one) is that you are compelled to acknowledge the true state of our existence as humans, and to develop the skills to live with that. When you are hit with the next reminder that life is uncertain, you can meet it with confidence instead of fear.
How do we learn to live in a state of uncertainty? Here are a few strategies that work for me, and that I have encouraged my daughters to use:
- Remember the big picture.
- It’s easy to get wrapped up in what feels like a crisis at the moment when something unexpected happens (or something expected does not!). Remember that you have survived every crisis of your life to get to this point today, and that you will survive this too.
- Remember what actually matters.
- Very few things really matter. Family matters. Health matters. Love matters. Friends matter. Integrity matters. Pretty much everything else can be negotiated or rebuilt.
- Understand that you are not your work.
- You may love your work, but you are bigger than your work. Your work does not define your value as a human being (and while we are on the subject, neither do your looks).
- Build your networks before you need them.
- When you need help, you want your village to already be in place. The phrase “it takes a village” is absolutely true in my experience, whether we are talking child rearing, or problem solving of any kind. How do you do this? Contribute. Help others when they need it. Make the world a better place now, and it will be a better place when the chips are down for you.
- Remember that you must let go of one thing before you can take the next.
- It can be hard to let go of something cherished. But if we did not let go of each phase of our lives, we would never grow, and we would never have the possibility of the wonderful things still to come. Trust that even if you can’t see what is next, the future is likely to surprise you with good things.
Even really young actors can learn these approaches to dealing with uncertainty if you use language they can understand. And they can use these strategies effectively all their lives, whether they continue to pursue acting as adults, or move on to other adventures.
Embrace the uncertainty and lean into the questions that come with it. You’ll have more fun, and probably land on your feet more gracefully.
My book, The Hollywood Parents Guide, available on Amazon contains everything I wish I’d known when Dove and I started this journey, and will save you untold amounts of time, money, and stress. Full of information you MUST know, it also features stories from parents of other kids who’ve made it!
Or book an hour consulting with me to come up with an individualized plan that takes your own unique needs into account. For about the cost of an hour with a professional acting coach, you can get your questions answered and a road map to help you move forward toward your dream.
Invest a little in your kid’s future today.
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