How To Explain Your Career to Friends and Family (An Actor’s Guide To Surviving The Holidays)

Disclaimer: As you know, this career path is not all roses and apple pies. If you’re not having fun—cathartic, invigorated, and empowered fun—it’s not working (in acting and with regards to your career). Having a healthy sense of humor can make those tough times easier to swallow.

With the holidays approaching and certain branches of the industry grinding to a halt, some of you might be heading home for visits, or have vacation plans which include spending time with family members or old friends—some of whom, might think your career choice is totally nuts.

It’s great to reconnect with the people you care about, but at times it can feel like you have a judge and jury scrutinizing your life and making assessments on how well you’re doing—or not. Sometimes this scrutiny can take the form of a barrage of questions; other times it’s a few passive-aggressive remarks.

These moments can make you feel inadequate, judged, or like an outright disappointment. Friends or family members seldom intend for us to feel this way—these questions or remarks often come from a place of concern for our welfare, or envy at our brave decision to not compromise and pursue our dreams. Sometimes these anxieties or personal opinions have a way of seeping out. People say things like, “Do you have a savings account?” “I think you’d make a great lawyer” “My friend Fanny is an actor and she booked a recurring on Forensic Files and a Nike commercial.”

If it were a perfect world, everyone would just say supportive things and wish you the best, and treat you with respect, like you’re a competent person charting the path of your own career. However, because cold reality awaits us, it’s best to carve a game plan so that you can still spend time with loved ones without taking a blow to your self-esteem.  

I would be thrilled if this article offered you the slightest bit of relief when going home for the holidays—to make stressful interactions go smoother, to make you feel better and to stop any looks of pity, words of pity, or any other such negative exchanges. You’re not there to be the punching bag. If say, cousin Mikey is going through a divorce and has a half-million dollars in med school debt, you’re not going to be the tool he uses to make himself feel better in front of the entire family because, at least he’s not an actor and on the fringes of society.

Tip #1. Adopt a body attitude of success and happiness—as if you have the successful career you’ve always wanted. People can sniff out discontent and personal misery almost effortlessly. It’s part of human nature. Walk into any potentially threatening interaction with the attitude that you’ve already made it—that you have the career that you want today. If there’s any universal truth that I’ve witnessed to be true, it’s that what you project—what you put out there—you will become.

Tip #2. Prep your responses. Now remember, you’re the wild one. You left home to forge a path in the big city in a ‘scary’ industry known as show business. People are going to want some feedback on How Things Are.

Here are the questions you are going to get when you go home. Sound familiar?

  • What have you done?

  • Is there anything I can see you in?

  • What are you working on?

  • How come I haven’t seen you on any billboards?

  • Are you on any shows?

  • How are things? (tone of pity)

Below are several responses that you should tailor to fit your situation. Feel free to add in some of your own personal successes (such as: my improv team had ten sold-out shows or I met the (writer, director, producer, casting director) for “Better Call Saul” and she loved me).

“Things are great! I’m in development for a couple projects and it’s really exciting. I can’t give too many details at this early stage, but I’m frankly thrilled and my reps couldn’t be happier.”

You can use the phrase “in-development” to refer to scripts you’re working on or shopping around or projects you are developing with friends or other collaborators. “In development” sounds more impressive than “my friend and I are working on a script.”

“Things are great! In the last few months I’ve met some really high-level (producers, directors, writers, casting directors) and had some big auditions that all went really well. My agent and manager are really happy. I’m not supposed to talk about the finer details just yet, as the paperwork isn’t signed, but I have no complaints.”

This response allows you to be honest if you haven’t booked anything and then throws the listener more of a curve when you talk about “the paperwork not being signed.” What paperwork? Frankly, it’s nobody's damn business which paperwork you’re referring to—if it’s a contract with CBS or a gym membership. If people would ask more sensitive questions, then you wouldn’t have to protect your life choices like this.

“Things are great! I’ve booked some really cool indie projects with some really awesome up-and-coming directors. It’s been a crazy ride but I’ve been really pushing myself as an actor and I couldn’t be happier and the road ahead is really exciting.”

It doesn’t matter if you’ve just done some low-budget indies or short films recently with so-so scripts. That’s exciting to the rest of the world, who earn a living from pushing papers around. These are actually meaningful and important endeavors which add to your blossoming career.

While friends and family may sometimes intentionally, or unwittingly deflate your sense of achievement, every little milestone in this industry is seriously awesome and should be celebrated. It’s a tough as nails business and you have to truly love acting to succeed—the only way to “make it” is by chiseling your own path to success and creating your own opportunities. I help my clients launch their careers—on their own terms—and empower them to never wait around for industry breadcrumbs and handouts.

 

This article was originally published on Backstage