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Careers Clinic: How can I stick to my new year goals?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I know some people tend to get a bit down when the new year begins, but I’m the opposite.

By the second week of the year, I’ve normally spent all of the gift vouchers I have been given on self-help books and guide books, whether general or theatrical, and have a whole selection of smart motivational goals to “take my acting career to the next level”.

This year is no exception: I’ve already got my new headshot session booked, am researching various showreel companies and have set aside an hour every morning to write scenes, with a view to taking a one-person show around the festivals.

The only problem is that I also use my writing notebook as a journal, and, having had the same one for the past few years, if I look back at Januarys gone by I can see very similar types of goals featuring in it every year.

For some reason, when I get midway through the year, a lot of them seem to fall by the wayside, and by the end of it I’m often exactly where I started again.

Any advice to make sure I don’t send you this same letter in 12 months’ time?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I’ll be sitting down to help quite a few actors and other performers this month to plan for the year ahead, but probably a more relevant piece of information to give you is that I’ll also make a point of connecting with people who can give me a perspective on my own plans.

Whenever I am in a similar position to yourself, wondering why some of the big commitments made 12 months ago didn’t come to fruition, a little honest questioning often reveals that many of the reasons tend to be internal – things I did, didn’t do, or stopped doing – as opposed to unforeseen external factors.

I can often see, with the wisdom of hindsight (or more usually somebody else’s hindsight) that though a particular setback may have been unexpected, the way I reacted was entirely predictable. Most of us tend to sabotage ourselves in exactly the same ways, year in, year out, rather than inventing new ones.

The sense of newness and freshness that abounds at the start of the year is certainly excellent motivation to start making life changes – be they in the area of diets, fitness or how we run our acting career. Like all bursts of adrenalin, it can often bypass the common sense (or ‘boring’) part of our brain, which, let’s be honest, we artistic people are often quite good at turning the volume down on at the best of times. I actually think the fact that we have a tendency to self-sabotage is a good thing, because in a profession where so much of what happens career-wise can feel outside our control, identifying how exactly we do that, and deliberately building in buffers to prevent those behaviours, can make all the difference.

Tweet or email me if you’d like my full list of new year questions, but, for example: Do I make plans to apply to a certain number of castings or agents per month and then peter out after the first batch of rejections? Who can I ask to check in with me, remind me of what I committed to on a regular basis and (supportively) kick my butt to get me back on track? Is my social media usage mainly nattering rather than networking and, if so, can I separate my work and playtime online – or must I be honest and use an app or software to do it for me?

You know your own personal stumbling blocks – or at least, you will do if you take time to do the honest audit I’m suggesting here. A little time now spent making sure they don’t trip you up is the best way I know to hit the ground running in what I sincerely hope will be a truly successful year ahead.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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