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Careers Clinic: I’m on a roll. But how do I handle it?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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This is probably going to sound strange, but what I currently need help with is not so much how to handle a bad patch, but how to get through a good one.

So far, this year has been really productive for me, with two stage shows, a nice TV role and rehearsals for a panto about to start. After that, I have another tour and then an overseas gig that should take me almost to the end of next year.

I can already feel your readers starting to hate me, so let me quickly say I have been acting for more than 15 years and, most of the time, work has been as sporadic as it normally is for jobbing actors. I had one previous good streak shortly after I started out, but that was followed by two really lean years.

I don’t ever want a repeat of that experience, which is why I’m asking for your advice to handle this fruitful period properly this time around.

JOHN BYRNE'S ADVICE While consistency can be hard to maintain when things aren’t going according to plan, it is normally in the context of adversity that we encourage people to ‘keep going’. However, if you look at the many sad stories of performing careers that have either gone downhill or spectacularly imploded, the roots of disaster often lie in an inability to cope with and manage success as much as failure.

We definitely want to avoid the very obvious dip that happened when you got to the end of your last good streak. We do need to be realistic, though. This has never been a business where we can predict the future to any great degree. It is therefore best that any decisions we make and habits we put in place are based on common sense rather than either overconfidence on one side or irrational fear on the other.

Like most actors, you have probably learned to live within your means during the lean times. The same approach is good to take when cash flow is a little easier. You can certainly loosen your belt a little when it comes to spending, but try to do it in a sensible way.

Start off by averaging out the money that will be coming your way from the next few projects. Budget based on this monthly average rather than splashing out when a big payment comes in. By all means allow yourself a little more spending leeway and maybe think about setting up an extra account into which to skim off any surplus from your main account, so it is safe for rainy days. It is much easier not to spend cash that is not staring at you every time you check your balance. If there is a lot coming your way, it may be worth getting independent advice on how best to invest it.

Work wise, remember the ‘distant elephants’ principle – they look small when they are far away, but by the time they are upon you they are a lot harder to deal with. A potentially dry period, even a year away, can be such an elephant.

Even if you will be in work until the end of next year, keep an eye on what will be happening on the other end that you might want to be part of. Look out too for advance clues of new commissions, seasons and festivals. You are currently appearing in projects that showcase what you can offer, and that is always the best time to send out feelers and approaches.

Lastly, and most importantly, do take time out from your current work and forward planning to celebrate where you are now. How long this streak lasts ultimately isn’t down to you. Making the most of it while it does certainly is.

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

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