So how do you become a successful actor? Is there a secret formula, something that a few A-Listers know that the rest of us don’t? Is it luck, good genes or just plain hard work?
I’ve been a self-help junkie for years; studied success and top performers, became a certified life coach and was privileged to work some uber successful people. Everyone of them taught me so much about what it takes to build an incredible life and fulfill your dreams. Many times I think I learned more from them than they did from me but each one assured me that was not the case.
Here are the 9 personality traits I learned from my highest achieving (I’m talking self-made, multi-millionaire and sometimes celebrity) clients about wealth, success and following your dreams.
1. PATIENCE: Success is built over time, not overnight.
Sigh, I know, patience, patience, that’s not what you wanted to hear. But the truth is careers are built, relationships are built and a resumes are built – nothing happens overnight. More simply put, be an artist, not a hack! This is your life’s work not a get-rich-quick Ponzi scheme. Treat it like it’s something you value.
“I think people sometimes don’t pay enough attention to what they do. I’ve done well, but the reason is pretty simple: I’ve worked my ass off. The toughest thing a performer can do is make it look as if it comes easy.” – Justin Timberlake
2. RELATIONSHIP DRIVEN: Whenever you can, work with people you want to work with for the rest of your career.
Back to this being a long-haul game, and think of some of the great producing partners out there, those actors, directors and producers who seem to work together again and again. In this crazy business it’s especially important to have a “work family” – people who you like, respect, can trust and love to create with! Hopefully bigger and bigger projects for years to come.
“Don’t worry about being successful but work toward being significant and the success will naturally follow.” Oprah Winfrey
3. LIFE-LONG LEARNER: Always be willing to learn.
Remember when I said self-made millionaires hire coaches? Really surprised me, but every single one I met was a HUGE fan of learning, consuming new knowledge and hiring a coach or teacher whenever possible.
“I’m very glad my mother didn’t let me quit piano lessons at age 10. She said I wasn’t old enough or good enough to make that decision, and she was right. I remember at the time I was shocked. I did not like that my mother said those things to me. But when I got a chance to play with Yo-Yo Ma or more recently with Aretha Franklin, I thought, I’m really glad she said what she did.” – Condoleezza Rice
Want more advice from the greatest in the biz? Read:
4. FOCUSED: Ruthlessly prioritize.
This is something I heard Matthew McConaughey say just after he won the Oscar for “Dallas Buyer’s Club”; you have to prioritize the things that you value, are going to make you happy and help you reach your goals. Warren Buffet is also famous for touting “the power of no” saying that wealthy people say no to almost everything and focus exclusively on a few key values, habits and priorities.
“There’s no such thing as overnight success. That’s my concern with a show like American Idol. It encourages the false belief that there’s a kind of magic, that you can be ‘discovered.’ That may be the way television works, but it’s not the way the world works. Rising to the top of any field requires an enormous amount of dedication, focus, drive, talent, and 99 factors that they don’t show on television. It’s not simply about being picked. Which, by the way, is why very few of the anointed winners on American Idol have gone on to true success. Most have flamed out and gone away. That should tell us something.” – Malcolm Gladwell
5. COURAGEOUS: Don’t fear failure, but fail strategically.
Lots of people say “don’t fear failure”, but that doesn’t mean go out there and do poor work or intentionally f——up. It means you give it your all, but look at everything as an experiment not a surefire outcome. If it’s not going to work out, or it’s going to turn out badly, find out fast! (Hence the saying “fail fast”) Learn the lesson then move onto something that is more likely to work better.
“You learn from the mistakes you make and from the mistakes other people make. The truth is, you don’t learn from success; you learn from failure.” – George Clooney
6. SELF-WORTH: Place a higher value on your time than you do money
This may sound counter-intuitive, because we’ve all heard the saying that “time is money”. But time is time and money is money. Money is infinitely replaceable, time is not. We all get 24 hours in the day – that’s it! No matter how much money you have no one gets a second more. This makes time the great equalizer. You only get so much to spend so use it wisely.
“I’ve been very lucky. All I wanted was to pay the rent. Then these characters took off and suddenly there were Hulk coffee mugs and Iron Man lunchboxes and The Avengers sweatshirts everywhere. Money’s okay, but what I really like is working.” – Stan Lee
Actors face a lot of rejections and self-worth needs constant nurturing. Read more here:
7. SELF-RELIANT: Stay strong, look for help but rely on yourself.
Yes, we were all fed fairytales, but the bottom line is, no one is coming to save you, and no one is gong to do it for you. Any mentor, any acting coach, career coach or even a that fabulous producer /director that takes you under their wing is still only background in the scene of your life – you will always have the staring role and that means making the tough decisions and carrying the show. Another way to think of it; you can work with a personal trainer, but no one can do your push-ups for you!
“’May the Force be with you’ is charming but it’s not important. What’s important is that you become the Force – for yourself and perhaps for other people.” – Harrison Ford
8. RESILIENT: Never give up!
There are going to be days when you think about throwing in the towel and feel like it’s never going to happen – just know that going in, be prepared for that. But hang in anyway. 10 years from now you are still going to be 10 years older no matter what you do, so you might as well make it worth while!
“Success is just a war of attrition. Sure, there’s an element of talent you should probably possess. But if you just stick around long enough, eventually something is going to happen.” – Dax Shepard
9. OPTIMISTIC: Stay positive!
Bad things will happen. We all have career setbacks, life challenges and sometimes are running to beat the odds at an incredible pace. Grieve when you need to, when and where it’s appropriate. Allow yourself time to vent, but this is ‘show business’ after all, so when you show up …. SHOW!
“What brought me into the TV business is what keeps me here and happy. You can learn something new every day if you have a really positive attitude.” – Katie Couric
This post was originally published June 3, 2020 but is frequently updated.