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Careers Clinic: Help, I don’t have a 2019 game plan!

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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It’s already over a week into the new year, and I seem to have failed at my very first task: making any plans at all for 2019.

It’s particularly embarrassing as I freely admit to being one of those people who fills actor friends’ timelines with positive quotes and inspirational memes about industry role models all year round.

I’m not sure any of those role models would be very impressed by my own lack of drive so far in 2019. I love following career experts and attending workshops on both the technical and business side of acting, and often pick up tips and techniques that I find really motivating and useful.

But when I try to pull them all into an overall game plan, it doesn’t seem to work quite as well. I think what’s holding me back is trying to set career goals with confidence when the main lesson I have learned from my time in the industry so far is that luck, as much as planning, usually decides what happens year to year.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE I’m all for big goals and inspiring quotes, and I do believe that our chances of achieving those goals are greatly enhanced by our commitment to working towards them. However, I’m not sure that the plethora of ‘positive slogans’ that we are all prone to sharing at this time of the year actually help with motivating us to work.

That’s especially true of the hectoring type of memes reminding us that we have ‘the same number of hours in the day’ as our favourite role model, or that said role model gets up at 4am, hits the gym and then writes a hit TV series before they have even finished showering. I’ve worked with enough industry icons by now to know that they have their down days just as much as the rest of us – it’s just that those days don’t end up recorded on social media nearly as often as the victories.

It is also the case that by the time somebody reaches that career stage, there tends to be at least a close circle, and in some cases a small army, of unseen helpers employed to support with day-to-day tasks and free up time to do the ‘important’ stuff. That’s not a criticism – it’s a sensible way to build on and sustain success, but it’s a reality worth bearing in mind when you compare yourself unfavourably with where your heroes appear to be.

As you rightly point out, our industry is not known for its predictability. The gap between what we would like to happen and what actually happens can be very hard to bridge.

For this reason, I wanted to pass on one of the planning methods I have found most useful over the years: the ‘what I don’t want to happen’ list. A quick review of the last year or two will often throw up patterns of unhelpful habits, poor decisions and sometimes toxic short or long-term relationships that have hampered our progress and that might not have been so obvious when in the moment. Often those habits, decisions and relationships are linked.

Unlike things that ‘might’ happen, we can start right away on changing behaviours or beliefs that, if left in place, will ensure last year’s bad decisions happen all over again this year. Start small: pick one unhelpful belief or behaviour from last year and commit to practising the opposite for a few months. Let me know how you get on. Once you have made a change in that area, move on to the next one.

By next January, you may or may not have achieved all of your big goals but you should definitely have seen some concrete progress on sorting out the small things that trip you up. That’s not a bad outcome for any year.

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

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