How Actors Slay the Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”
– Theodore Roosevelt

Every artist shares a demon. When will you slay the beast?

An actor’s journey can be a self-imposed hell if the actor eyes the successes of peers with envy. Sound familiar? You look over your shoulder and suddenly there’s a colleague who breezes by effortlessly on to their goal while you ask yourself, “What about me? Where’s my happiness and success?” Despair fogs your muse. Daily life becomes gray. Enter the demon: Comparison.

I occasionally live with this career hobbling devil. Comparison haunts me.

On an autumn day, my partner and I were leaf-peeping in the mountains of northwest New Jersey. I should have been enjoying the rust and umber of oaks and elms. No. I was bemoaning my perceived lack of momentum in my career, the darkness having been spurred by news of a high school friend, a writer for TV and film, having his second hit musical opening in New York. I overlooked my own achievements. I’d written my first soon-to-be published book, several directing opportunities coming my way, and casting projects looming in the near future. I also overlooked my history in the arts (my thought being that unless you’re hot now, no one cares that you were hot then). But there I was b*tching. I felt as if my work wasn’t growing. Worse, I refused to validate my own achievements. That’s when my partner said to me, “I’ve never known you to be happy with any of your jobs.”

Ow.

I may have vented occasionally, but I always thought myself happy. Then I wondered, why did what he say hurt me? My work had been my life-long love since being reluctantly pulled onto a stage at fourteen. But did I appreciate and enjoy my accomplishments? Yes and no. I always want more.

Comparison stalks me.

Eventually, Comparison withers away. I return to my work. And that’s what is important for all creatives: the work, not the amount of recognition achieved. To joyously flourish, creative souls must continually birth new imaginings. Far too often, actors, living with Comparison, lose focus on creating. They tangle themselves in emotions brought about by the psyche. That marvelous cranium computer can create things as beautiful as Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel or as ugly and vile as recursive thoughts restraining us from pursuing our creativity.

How do you reach beyond the demon Comparison whispering in your inner ear, “I can’t dance as well as her,” “I can’t sing as well as him,” or “I’ll never be as great as that.” Understand firstly that you’re not alone. Recognize that what you see in yourself exists in others. It’s human nature to believe an experience or thought is something we own alone. To move beyond fears, doubts, overcompensation and restraint, you’ve got to stop owning the singular experience myth. Let go. Share your doubts and you’ll discover others experience what you do. You may discover from your fellow artists that they have ways of striking Comparison down.

If I’d let my demons rule me, thousands of actors—friends and strangers—would never have moved beyond their own demons via my efforts to help artists, and ACTING: Make It Your Business would have been abandoned—forgotten on a long since abandoned laptop.

Enjoy the journey. Toss Comparison off of your train. Lighten the load and you’ll arrive at your desired success swiftly and sane.

My best,
Paul


Paul Russell’s career as a casting director, director, acting teacher, and former actor has spanned thirty years. He’s worked on projects for major film studios, television networks, and Broadway. Paul’s taught the business of acting and audition technique at NYU, and speaks at universities including Elon, Yale, Temple and the University of the Arts. He is the author ofACTING: Make It Your Business – How to Avoid Mistakes and Achieve Success as a Working Actor.For more information, please visit www.PaulRussell.net.

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