On Monday evening’s Daily Show, the Moment of Zen at the end was a clip of Phiilip Seymour Hoffman speaking at the Golden Globes. When you’re just starting out, he said, you must take every opportunity to act. Even auditions for parts you know you won’t get are important to mastering your craft.
It’s a message that frequently gets lost on mature adults. Sometimes our egos prevent us from embracing the beginner stage of a new project. Sometimes we forget how important it is to keep practicing even after we’ve already invested a great deal of time doing just that.
When I first moved to Minneapolis, I spent a year writing and editing. Although I wasn’t planning to do any speaking during that time, I realized that I certainly wanted to include it in my future repertoire. I also knew that taking a year away from speaking was an invitation for rust to set in.
To my delight, I learned that the Guthrie Theater, which I adored, had openings for backstage tour guides. I applied and soon was spending my Saturday mornings standing on that stage where I had watched Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy perform—as well as unknowns Morgan Freeman and Don Cheadle—sharing the theater’s story with visitors. I answered questions, showed off the rooms where costumes were made and sets built.
It was a perfect fit and when I launched my new seminars a year later, I had almost no stage fright.
Those early days of Making a Living Without a Job also brought invitations to speak to local groups. If I had the time available, I said yes to every request.
Sometimes it was a good fit. Sometimes it wasn’t. Almost always, no money came directly my way. I still said yes. As Hoffman reminded me, there’s value in putting yourself at the front of a room with other people watching.
I considered it valuable practice and, as it turned out, it was also marketing. People began showing up in my seminars after hearing me speak at a meeting or dinner.
We assume that serious actors sign on for a lifetime of auditions. We may not have noticed that successful entrepreneurs do the same.
As conductor Benjamin Zander points out in his marvelous book The Art of Possibility, “It is only when we make mistakes in performance that we can really begin to notice what needs attention. In fact, I actively train my students that when they make a mistake, they are to lift their arms in the air, smile, and say, ‘How fascinating!’ I recommend that everyone try this.”