Permission To Not Be Perfect


How many times have you left an audition room wondering if you “did it right” or if you were “what they were looking for.” Questions like these are so defeating because they imply that there is some sort of perfect answer, and it implies that you, the actor, are trying to zero in on some form of correctness or some sort of zone that is free of flaws and error. This is a problem in more ways than one. First of all, it’s entirely futile as we’re talking about art and art is always subjective. That Jackson Pollack is, after all, a masterpiece to the guy sitting next to you, and a goddamn mess to me.    

The real danger with maintaining focus on some fanciful notion of perfection is that it can subvert the crucial journey of trying (and failing) requisite for artistic development. “The master has failed more times than the beginner has even tried,” says cartoonist Stephen McCranie. In fact, I would argue that the master has failed more times than the beginner has even fathomed trying. Perfectionists are named as such because they do not take action—they find any and all excuses not to do something. Have you heard these? “I’d put myself on tape for that role I’m perfect for, but I have to lose 10 pounds first.” “The production company likes my script and is ready to purchase it, but it’s not where I want it to be yet.” “The audition is tomorrow and I don’t have enough time to memorize the lines so I probably shouldn’t go,” and so on.

Giving yourself the permission to not be perfect means you’re giving yourself permission to take a big jump and perhaps sail over to the other side of the cliff—or of course, plummet to the ravine below. This is the name of the game that you signed up for. Big risk, big reward. You may fail, and that’s part of life, but if you’re going to fail (and you are to some extent), you may as well do it on your terms with your head held high and making an impression.

You’re exactly who you are at this moment. You’ll either get cast or you won’t. But when you don’t take action (if that action is to pick up the phone, go to the audition, or sign on the dotted line), you’re protecting yourself from both potential failure and success. “You miss 100 percent of the shots you never take,” is a famous Michael Jordan quote. I help and empower all of my clients to launch their careers by competing for every role they’re right for—to not let a single role slip away.

Protecting yourself from taking action in the name of perfection or some related excuse also prevents you from engaging in the absolutely requisite work of forging a career. Every TV or film script you read and think is amazing is a 10th draft. Every performance you are blown away by is either a 10th take, a take after 10-plus years of intense training and experience, or several takes finagled into one by the editor with more experience than every actor in the project combined. This is a collaborative process brought to you by people who have been knocked on their asses for a period of years and the reason they’re able to call themselves professional actors, comedians, or musicians is because they kept getting back up. Maybe some bitching, moaning, and whining were included in the process as well, as after all, they’re human, but the bottom line is their career goals were more important to them than pasting on some oversimplified excuse that shielded them from having to take risks. 

Nobody’s perfect; no project is perfect. Everyone is part of the process from craft services to the EP, and everyone is working together to make a phenomenal project. All you can do is jump and see what happens. Don’t wait. How old will you be by the time you get the courage to tenaciously pursue your dream role or create your own Web series or pitch yourself for a role you’re right for? The same age you’d be if you never did.

Any actor I know who has a career I envy says, “I just never left.” Sometimes the only thing you can do when you’re at the end of your rope is to just keep hanging on. 

This article was originally posted on Backstage