Actors - Lower Your Expectations
Ambition vs Aspiration
Actors, it is time to lower your expectations. Let me be clear here, lower your 'expectations' not your 'aspirations'. We can still have lofty, meaningful and far-reaching goals without adding the pressure of achieving them. Having a goal is a tool best used to make things into a kind of game, not a competition. It's something to carefully aim towards, not blindly rush in the general direction of. We need to be smart and skillful. The same is true whether our goal be a fulfilling career in the arts or reaching your highest spiritual ideals. The idea is to treat it as a game with humor and a slight irreverence, whilst still moving more skillfully in that direction than those who take themselves too seriously. By taking our-'selves' less seriously we undermine the illusion of the hard edged boundaries that separate us from the rest of humanity and reality.
Whereas ambition is governed by the achievement of expectations set externally from society and reinforced from within, aspiration is gauged by the pursuit of something greater than oneself. It is the journey itself that counts in aspiration, not the achievement. In other words, it’s time to trade in ‘ambition’ for aspiration’.
As Epictetus the revered Stoic philosopher put it “Circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they do. People behave as they are. Embrace what you actually get.” This means we can still aim for a certain type of career and achievements without getting caught up in 'expecting them to happen' and being constantly disappointed when reality doesn't turn out exactly the one specific way we imagined it ‘should’ have. This is so limiting and unrealistic it borders on the absurd to hear it out loud.
Comparing Yourself to Yourself
How often have you compared yourself against the societal proclaimed 'geniuses' in your particular profession or passion and then continually reset that boundary directly in front of your nose as you've aged? If you are a writer, maybe you started as a teenager comparing yourself against Christopher Paolini for having written the epic Eragon in his teenage years, thinking "I've achieved nothing even close to what he has at his age" Then as you grow older you continue to use the arbitrary marker of birth anniversaries to continually berate yourself for your continued 'lack of success' by a certain age compared to ______ (whatever new famous ‘achiever’ has risen in your profession). I used to do this with actor's IMDB and Wikipedia pages all the time and this behaviour is perpetuated by our culture itself. We all do it, we all feel the secret shame, we all get either dispirited and apathetic or neurotic and overzealous. Then we all silently or not silently encourage each other to follow suit despite the fact that this behaviour is doing us no good ourselves. How many times in life do we advise someone to do something the same way we're doing it, despite the fact that it doesn't work for us either?
This is the very behaviour that perpetuates erroneous propagandas like 'The American dream', or working hard in one job all your life, saving, getting married and having a family by age ‘__’ will make you ultimately happy. *eye roll* My friend used to tell me her antidote to herself, whenever she caught herself in this kind of stubborn self-advisory state, was to have Judy Dench pop into her mind and say in her warm, wry manner "Oh yes? And how's that working out for you?". To which my friend would inevitably respond, "*Sigh* Not very well..."
The Path is the Goal, The Goal is the Path
But I tell you again it is not the aspiration to do great things that is holding us back, for aspiration is not based on comparing oneself to others. It is based on comparing yourself to your past self. Have you grown in the direction you wish to grow in. Are you getting better at what you want to do? It is an aim, not just a destination. And hopefully as you get closer to the goals you have, the vision of them becomes sharper. Maybe the goal itself doesn't quite look like what you originally thought or ‘expected’ it to. Likely you'll start to recalibrate your navigation to make more specific route choices. On our journey to the moon, we need to keep righting the ship.
As Billy Joel says in my favourite song of his 'Vienna', "Dream on but don't imagine they'll all come true"