Friday, May 18, 2012

Eyes On Your Own Paper

I've been reading a lot of articles on the fantastic website xoJane recently.  xoJane is a site founded by Jane Pratt, a woman who was the founder and editor of (much beloved) Sassy magazine, and more recently Jane magazine.  She's a wonderfully ubiquitous presence in the media and her latest project is just as stellar as the other items on her impressive resume.

One article from xoJane really stood out to me recently.  It's one in their section called "It  Happened to Me" (a fascinating section that showcases a variety of real experiences and viewpoints) and the article is, It Happened to Me: I Went to College with HBO's New It Girl Lena Dunham, and I'm Seething with Jealousy.  

The author, Ella West, attended Oberlin College with Lena Dunham and took some classes with her.  I give Ella a TON of credit for sharing her candid feelings and for being unflinchingly honest.  That's not easy, especially in this day and age of anonymous internet commenters and the bile they are wont to spew.  At points in the article, Jane Pratt weighs in with commentary, which is a nice way to temper a piece that could be construed as whiny and a bit self-pitying.  In the article, Ella talks about a very unbecoming situation: being jealous of a peer.  

My artist/performer/writer friends and I talk about this type of thing a lot--navigating the waters of being a productive and prolific artist, balancing a day job (in many cases), all while trying to achieve your dreams and watching peers achieve their dreams, be it in the form of a late night TV spot, or a job writing for a TV show, or selling a book, or whatever.  It's certainly hard to keep a good head on your shoulders through it all, but more often than not, my friends and I are not "seething with jealousy" for our fellow comedians, writers, or actors.  I hold onto a few handy sayings (that I have learned from friends, family, and experience) and I'd like to share them with Ella and you:

-Eyes On Your Own Paper
This one comes from my wonderful comedian friend Katina (who just reminded me that she learned it from yet another awesome comedian, Matt McCarthy.)  Comparing yourself to other people is an exercise in frustration--just don't do it.   Maybe your peers are getting auditions for a festival you want or being cast on an improv team that you wish you were a part of--none of that matters.  Focus on YOU.  If you're frustrated with your career, get to work on changing it.  Don't waste time seething with jealousy over a peer who got an opportunity that you want--eyes on your own paper. 

-Stop Looking For Justice
My sister Laurel and I talk about this a lot.  You are a fool if you think that fairness or justice will EVER apply to anything in this life.  People who are mean and awful sometimes land TV shows or get coveted jobs or [insert what you want here] and it does NOT affect YOUR journey.  If you pull your hair out every time Joe Schmoe Unfriendly Guy gets a good opportunity, you're going to be bald soon.

-A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats
So a guy who you knew from your old sketch group is now writing for a hit TV show.  Good for him.  Don't spiral into, "How did David get that job when he never even seemed that funny?  Why not me, why not me?"  "Why Not Me" is the name of a beautiful song by the Judds, but it's an ugly way to live.  Sure, you're allowed have a moment of jealousy as you digest this new information about your peer David's new job, but then remember that a rising tide lifts all boats.  Perhaps, if that hit TV show ever needs another writer, your old friend David will think of you and recommend you.  And just be happy for your peer--you have no idea how hard he was working or how much he was writing at home, alone, to score that job.

-Just Do The Work
Quit wasting time wondering who is having a meeting with Comedy Central or who got a callback for the Montreal festival or who just landed an agent or just got dropped by their agent--just do the work.  Just write and practice and prepare and put in the time and develop and work at it.  You can't control what opportunities other people get--you can only control how hard you work. 

 -There's an Infinite Number of Pathways to Success and an Even More Infinite Number of Definitions of Success
This one is mine.  I wrote it to an ex-boyfriend in an email a few years back.  He was trying to make me feel bad about not having a commercial agent at the time and he thought that having a commercial agent was VERY important.  It was important--to him.  It wasn't important to me back then, and he couldn't wrap his brain around that.   He and I had different definitions of success and that's totally fine.  For some people, "success" is landing a national commercial.  For other people, "success" is selling a book.  For others, "success" is buying a house.  For others, "success" is being made a Vice President within their company.  For others, "success" is having children.  They are all the right answer.  You choose for you.

-Go Where You're Celebrated, Not Tolerated
My lovely friend Giulia Rozzi introduced me to this phrase (and she learned it from another rad lady, Margot Leitman, who saw it on a poster in college) and it's fantastic.  Do you feel like you're banging your head against a wall trying to break into this one comedy club or getting cast on a team at this one theater or getting this one agent to look at you?  Stop trying to convince those people to like you and move on.  Go to another theater or group or agent who understands and appreciates you and your voice and your talent.   

-It's a Marathon, Not A Sprint
My sister Laurel and I quote this one a lot.  I would never want to be an overnight, flash-in-the-pan sensation who gets thrust into the public eye before I am ready.  I was terrible when I first started at standup and I'm SO glad that few people saw it (and that there weren't video camera phones back then).  It takes a while to find your voice and write a book or a script or a web series.  It's a long haul, so don't freak out if you didn't land that one opportunity this year.  There's always more opportunities right around the corner.

-Vienna Waits For You/The Wheel Comes Back Around
I'm not sure if I have that second part exactly right, but it's something that my brother-in-law Bobby heard in a martial arts movie (my brother-in-law writes MMA movies--no joke.  He rules, as does my other bro-in-law Jon and my other sister Emily, but I digress).  For a lot of improv theaters, there's one big round of auditions once a year and TONS of people walk away from those auditions feeling rejected.  But then there's another round next year.  And in the meantime, there are plenty of indie teams you can join and shows that you can produce yourself.  There's no such thing as THIS IS THE ONE THING.  There are plenty of things and they'll all come in time.  So maybe you didn't do so well at a big audition this year--there's always next year.  And in the year between, you can work hard and improve and develop.  So maybe you didn't get put on Such-and-Such Tourco, but perhaps another theater will come knocking and you'll be free to jump on THAT opportunity BECAUSE you didn't get cast with that other theater.  

These are just a few things that occurred to me as I read Ella's article.  I know it sounds hippy-dippy, but each one of us is on his or her own journey and nothing is a bigger waste of time, energy, and brain power than jealousy. 

28 comments:

  1. Great piece with awesome little sayings! In respect to the "Eyes On Your Own Paper" saying, I love that sentiment, but personally prefer the saying, "Run Your Own Race." That way it embodies the idea that the second you start looking around at the other people in the race, the slower you wind up running. The most efficient runner is the one who focuses on his/her own path, looking straight ahead the whole way. Whichever of those sayings you choose, that sentiment applies far too often in life!

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    1. Ohhh I love that-- run your own race. I've heard a similar saying to that one, too-- it's not a race against anyone else, it's a race for your personal best. I love sports metaphors! :) Thanks for reading, Michael! :)

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  2. I'm going to pretend "Vienna wait's for you" is a Bachelor reference.

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    1. Oh yes. It's about a song that Billy Joel wrote about a Floridian Bachelor winner named Vienna.

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  3. Great read Selena! Thank you.

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  4. A very good set of sayings. Thank you for posting them and commenting with both wit and heart.

    One thing to keep in mind: While a rising tide does, in fact, lift all boats, you better make sure you've got a boat before the tide comes in. If you can't get yourself a boat, you'd better damn well make sure you can swim - and find a boat filled with people willing to reach down and pull you aboard. No boat, can't swim, no friendly boaters in sight = drowning.

    So you might consider one more saying - a bit less pithy, but awfully important: Get a boat.

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  5. You are full of good wisdom and good cheer.

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    1. Thanks, Aalap! Thanks for reading, sweet amigo :)

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  6. New fan,

    I freaking love this post!! My favorite quote lately is "it takes years, to become an overnight success"

    new follower CJ

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    1. Thanks so much for reading & commenting, CJ! That's a great saying! :)

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  7. I love reading things like this, I always feel renewed with hope and motivation. Very well written.

    xo,
    a fellow aspiring dreamer

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    1. Thanks! Yeah, I find that it's really easy to spiral into negative thinking without quite knowing that you're doing it. So these little mantras are good ways for me to stop myself, take a breath, think about things, and reset, ya know? Thanks for reading! :)

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  8. Thank you so much for writing this. It's so nice to read smart, affirming and inspiring advice. I'm going to need to bookmark this one and make it a regular read.

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    1. Thanks so much for reading! Please do come back to this 'ole blog :)

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  9. I agree completely, especially with the celebrated not tolerated idea!!

    Thanks :)

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    1. Thanks so much for reading the essay and for mentioning it on Twitter! :)

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    2. Thanks for the link Pish, this article was just what I needed.

      I was trying some new jokes last night at a local open mic, and got a good response from the crowd. Not constant howls of laughter, but promising.

      All of that good feeling was popped when I was chatting to the guy running the night, who I have met on numerous occasions, and he asked if it was my first time up on stage. Sigh

      There is a guy who started at roughly the same time as me, who is emerging as a real talent, and I am happy for him. I have never once felt jealously towards him until he went onstage after the conversation above. He has broken into the local scene and he is away! And I'm still left with introducing myself to everyone. Again.

      So thanks :)

      I will have to have a browse through

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    3. You're not talking about me are you?

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  10. this is a great article. eyes on your own paper -so true.

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  11. All of those things are things we should all know by now, but forget way too easily. Thanks for the reminder.

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  12. Thanks so much for reading! Yeah, the sayings are all really common sense, but I always need reminding :)

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