Worst Advice Ever (or Semantics Matter)

Every time someone gives advice, particularly about life in the arts or the entertainment industry, I have to count to ten and tell myself to chill. Some little nuggets just never go away. We’ve all heard them, and yes, in theory, since they’ve stood the test of time, they should be accurate. I’m not convinced, and since I’ve spent a lot of my life in the pursuit of precision, expression, and improvement, I’m going to put my two cents out there.

BUT I’m not trying to sound like downer clickbait, so here’s an example of what it’s going to look like:

IT’S EASY TO BE A MORNING PERSON IF YOU GET UP TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE.

morning Kate
This is Morning Kate.
WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN:
Find what you love and do that.
WHY IT’S CRAP AS IS:
Define “morning” for the person who rehearses, performs, and generally works at night. Define “morning” for the person who works in fits and starts or whose work depends on any number of variables. And no matter what profession you’re in and no matter how much you love what you do, there are going to be crap mornings that aren’t inspiring or fun or meaningful. You might love sheltering stray kittens, but you shouldn’t have to feel like the sun is shining out of your pores as you clean the litter boxes.
THE LONGER (hopefully better) VERSION:
A meaningful way to spend your life should not drain the life from you. If something energizes you, makes you curious about life, or encourages you to be a better person, then maybe that something is what you could spend your time doing.

 

Okay, yes, the meaning behind these things might be obvious. At the same time, how something is said can have consequences. Semantics matter.

So here we go. My four least favorite pieces of career/life advice:

IF YOU’D BE HAPPY DOING ANYTHING ELSE, DO THAT INSTEAD.

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN:
Don’t put yourself through hell for something that doesn’t fulfill you.
WHY IT’S CRAP AS IS:
Oh, this one gets me right in my pubescent heart. First heard this advice in high school when attending a Q&A session about pursuing a life in theatre. Yeah, I get why they said it, but all it did was encourage a “watch me prove my devotion” mentality for years. No, it’s not the person’s fault who said this, but it’s also complete bunk for anyone who has more than one passion in their life. Many things make me happy. If I strictly followed this advice, each thing that makes me happy would counteract each other thing, and I would end up doing nothing.
THE LONGER VERSION:
Find your happiness. It might not be what you originally thought or hoped it would be. It might not be flashy, and it might not prove how hard-core you are about what you set out to do. Maybe you actually find that mowing lawns is more satisfying than being a movie star. Glamour is only seen from outside reality. And hey, who knows, you might find out that more than one thing brings you joy. That’s epic! Embrace all the happy you can!

BE WILLING TO GO WHERE THE WORK IS.

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN:
Your goal might require you to be somewhere else, and you need to consider how serious you are about that goal.
WHY IT’S CRAP AS IS:
Yes, if I want to be on Broadway, it’s going to be hard to make my call time if I’m physically in Indiana. (Side note: I don’t want to be in Broadway.) At the same time, this advice misses something key. Art exists – and is needed – everywhere. I get that certain geographic locations have the monopoly on certain industries, but some of us really don’t want to spend our lives in LA or NYC or London or… (okay, I really like London…). That doesn’t make us less at what we want to do and be.
THE LONGER VERSION:
Make the work you want happen where you want to be. It might mean you’re in charge of creating the voice over market in your small town, but it might still be possible. Just as important as doing what you love is being where you want to be.

BE WILLING TO WORK FOR FREE.

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN:
You’re not necessarily going to make the big bucks right away. There are more reasons to work than money.
WHY IT’S CRAP AS IS:
No! No no no no nononoNO! Working for free leads very easily into getting used. Working for free can slide into a habit that has the nasty symptom of making a person feel like that’s all their work is worth.
THE LONGER VERSION:
You have worth. Your work has worth. Even if you’re not getting paid in dollars and cents, be able to acknowledge that your work isn’t free. Work for experience or for connections. Work to donate to a cause. Work to have fun or help a friend. But don’t work for nothing. If your work is no longer doing what it’s supposed to be “for,” then maybe you don’t have to keep doing it.

THAT’S JUST THE WAY THE INDUSTRY IS.

WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN:
Life isn’t fair, and it won’t always be smooth sailing.
WHY IT’S CRAP AS IS:
I’ve tried for years to understand how the very people attempting to better the world through their art can also accept the awful way things are in a given industry. I get that life isn’t easy and that I need to not have every setback grind me into the dust. I need to be able to handle rejection and obstacles. However, requiring artists to have asbestos hides (and people in general) seems counterproductive. The way things are isn’t the way they have to be, and working in a tough industry isn’t an excuse for someone to be a jerk.
THE LONGER VERSION:
Industry standards are one thing, but learn to recognize the difference between standard and room for improvement. It might take changing your definition of “reaching the top” and “success,” but find ways to make the industry you work in better. Find your strength in who you are and what you do, because you’ll need it to live in a world that isn’t fair. But that doesn’t mean that you have to accept it. Start asking why it isn’t fair, what could make it better, and take responsibility for what small parts you can control.

In short, the biggest takeaway for me is that advice isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing, and what I say might not resonate with everyone. My advice says more about me than it does about any given situation, and I have to accept that the receiver is free to take it or leave it as they see fit. Caring about how I say something is just one small way I can do my bit to make things better for others as well as for myself.

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One comment

  1. Love your words on all of them, but today the last two about working “for” something and working to make things better particularly speak to me when I am thinking about work past, present and future. Thanks.

    Like

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