Hey everyone, we’re back again and this week let’s talk about how to define success!
What IS success?
What does success look like for you? Success will definitely mean different things to different people and I’ve been doing some thinking about “What is success” in the last week or so. Of course, in this blog I’ll be talking about success as a voice over artist and actor, but honestly most of this could apply to any area of your life.
What I’ve come to realize is that not only is success defined differently for each person, but there are also different levels of success along the way. In other words, while you may not have achieved your ultimate goal, you can still consider yourself successful at different stages if you are accomplishing intermediate goals on the road to your ultimate success goal.
What success means to me
So, I’ll start with what success means to me, and then give you some things to think about and apply to your own situation.
For me, as a voice over artist and actor, my ultimate goal is to be a recognized professional that casting directors seek out for roles (as opposed to pouring through casting calls and auditioning like mad the way I do now). Ultimately, I’d like to be known to industry professionals who think of me for roles I am a fit for and who then seek me out either directly or through my agent. In my mind, success is NOT how much money I am making (although, I DO like to make money!), but to have some level of “fame” or notoriety…even if it is just among industry leaders in the entertainment field.
A look at my cousin
Here’s an example to give you an idea what I’m talking about: I have a cousin, on my father’s side of the family, who is a professional musician. I’ve actually never met him (I’d love to) but my dad talked about him a lot. He is a percussionist to be more exact. I’d tell you his name, but I’m sure you’ve never heard of him unless you are a professional musician in the LA market…then you MAY have heard of him. He is not a household name, yet I would consider him extremely successful. Why?
If you are in the music industry and you need a percussionist, and assuming you can afford him, he is the guy you are going to call…almost every time. He has played in the band on the tonight show, he has toured as a percussionist with the likes of Frank Sinatra and has played as a studio musician on so many albums for well-known artists it’s nearly impossible to count them. He is considered a master at his craft by music industry executives and producers, yet no one outside of the music industry even knows his name. He has never headlined a band, but he has played for many, many, big-named performers for decades. He also makes a ton of money – but that’s beside the point here.
He is not successful because he makes a ton of money (in my mind – you may feel differently) but because he is recognized as an expert in the field of percussion instruments, In my opinion, the money is the RESULT of his success, not the reason for it.
But why does this matter, and why am I spending time talking about it? I mean, each person is going to define success in their own way, but – and here is pretty much the key to this entire blog post – If you don’t ever actually DEFINE what success means to you (for any given endeavor) then how will you KNOW when you are successful?
You have to plan your route
It’s like taking a road trip. Before you set out heck, even before you pack the car and fill it up with gas, you FIRST have to define a destination (success). First, it’s important to know where you are starting from, then you have to have a target location in mind, or you will wander aimlessly. You NEED a destination. And you’ll know the trip was successful when you reach that destination.
Your trip may be long or short, but in every case, you don’t start out until you have identified your present location and destination. The same is true of your VO or acting career, before you start you have to know where in your journey you are, and have a destination in mind, or you are just wandering aimlessly hoping to trip across something that interests you. You’ll never KNOW whether or not you were successful!
Even the simplest things, things we typically don’t think about in terms of success or failure, require this “destination” (to stick with the road trip analogy).
For example, let’s pretend for a moment that you want to make lunch but are out of bread and cold cuts. What do you do? Well, you decide you want to make a bologna sandwich for lunch (defined an end goal), identified what items you needed to accomplish that goal, and then determined what steps you would take to make that happen. So, you grab your keys, jump in the car, head to the grocery store and buy bread and bologna…maybe some cheese and mayo as well. Then you return home and make your sandwich. SUCCESS! You defined your goal, identified the actions to take to achieve the goal, and then executed the plan.
While this is a veery simplistic example, the same principal holds true for nearly any endeavor you decide to undertake. The steps are essentially the same for anything you want to accomplish even though the number of action steps and length of time to achieve them are going to vary. Sometimes dramatically.
Back to the road trip
Let’s go back to the road trip analogy. Assume you live on the East Coast of the USA and need to go to California to attend your daughter’s wedding. You are afraid of flying (otherwise, why the road trip across the entire continent?), so decide to drive. Pick any starting ending location, I chose these because this represents a very LONG trip. In this instance, the definition of success would be to arrive in time for the wedding with the appropriate attire and to be present to walk your daughter down the aisle.
You have to have a plan!
Simple, right? Pack a bag, jump in the car and start driving west. What could be simpler?
Not so fast! For a trip like this you are going to need to do some planning and preparations. You’ll need to make sure your car is ready for a trip of several days, you’ll need to make sure you have sufficient finances for gas, food and lodging. You’ll need to plan a route across the USA, with intermediate stopping points along the way and you’ll probably want to plan lodging ahead of time to make sure you have a place to stop and rest during the trip. There is a fair amount of advanced planning and arrangements that you’ll make before you even start packing the car. You’ll know you were successful when you are AT the wedding, on time and in your best suit to walk your daughter down the aisle.
In this imaginary trip across the US, you have an ultimate goal (walk your daughter down the aisle) and several intermediate goals along the way to ultimate success. You’ll have mapped out a route, found hotels along the way and made reservations and planned how far you’ll drive each day to reach your ultimate destination on time. You’ll know you are on track to achieve success as you meet each of the milestones of the trip along the way.
But what if you miss one of the milestones?
In life, nothing ever works out perfectly. In the military we have a saying: “The best strategic plan never survives first contact with the enemy”. So, what do you do? You assess the current situation and adjust the plan, so you reach the ultimate goal in spite of setbacks. Flat tire? Fix it and drive longer than originally planned. If the car breaks down along the way? Get it into the shop and rent a car to finish the trip. You start executing the plan, periodically assess and readjust the plan always with the ultimate goal in mind.
The same idea applies to your VO or acting career.
Where are you starting from?
The first step in your career requires that you honestly determine where you are in your career, and where you ultimately want to be. Then lay out a plan to get from where you are, to where you want to wind up. Next, identify intermediate goals that you can use to determine if you are on the right path and headed toward your ultimate success goal, and start executing them. Once you are “on the journey”, you’ll need to periodically assess your progress, and potentially (PROBABLY) adjust your plan to get back on track. You MAY even modify your ultimate goal along the way.
Only you know what success means to you
At the end of the day, success for you will be defined by YOU. Don’t ever let someone else define your success for you and try to ignore the negative Nellies in your life who try to tell you that you’ll never make it. As we used to say in the Navy: “Aim high. Even if you miss, you’ll be better off than when you started.”
All of this sort of psychobabble and philosophical rambling sounds great and fills up pages for a post, but what does it all mean to YOU? Well, ultimately only you can decide, but let’s take a look at what it means to ME to give you an idea of what I am talking about.
I started this career way back in 2014 when, as an avid listener of audio books, I decided “I could do that”. I didn’t have a plan beyond doing some quick training and then jumping right in. I had no plan, and no “destination” in mind. I pretty quickly decided a couple of things:
- This is not as easy as I thought
- This took a LOT more time and effort than I thought
- I was not very good at it.
Before we go on, let me explain what I mean when I say I was not very good at it. Producing audio books require a number of skills that, at the time, I simply did not possess. Sure, I could read through and entire book and capture it in software, and I was (am) a pretty good “storyteller” so that the reads were not flat and monotone, but, and this is a big but, I was not at all good with making sure the audio was good quality. You’re welcome to go search for my name in audible if you like to verify that.
Quitting (or more correctly “pausing”) my VO career
Once I realized the time investment, and measured against my “day job”, I realized my goal of becoming an accomplished audio book narrator (and I had no idea what I meant by “accomplished” BTW) was going to take more of an investment in time than I was willing to invest…so I hung up my microphone. For a while. I adjusted my plan so that I would re-start after I retired from the day job. And I have – so – success (in an unusual sort of “I give up” sort of way anyway).
When retirement was looming, I realized I needed a plan and an idea in mind what success would mean to me. Initially, I defined success in a monetary way, such that I would break even on my investments – a goal I am working on but have not yet achieved. My initial plan looked something like this:
- Research and buy equipment including a treated vocal booth, interface, microphone, headphones and software: Check.
- Study Audio engineering: Check
- Identify coaching to become better at my performance: Check
- Audition for and book audio book productions: Check
Within a month of beginning to audition, I landed my first audiobook gig. The title is available here if you are interested: Alpha Squad: The Sixth Martyr. I had achieved my initial goal, so had to re-assess my goals.
I decided that long form narration (audio books) was not my favorite type of VO work and began to investigate other forms. I adjusted my plan to this:
- Investigate commercial and documentary VO: Check
- Find appropriate coaching: Check
- Produce professional demo reels: Check
- Subscribe to online casting sites and begin to audition: Check
- Book commercial VO work: Check
Again, I achieved the goal I was shooting for…but now what? All this time, I have been aiming at what I consider intermediate goals, but what was it I was REALLY aiming at? I had no idea. Up till now, I had really just been sort of flailing around trying to find a foothold. I had no idea if I was on a path to real success or not. I was just letting the wind take me in whichever direction it happened to blow. I had not charted a course.
Along the way, and really on a whim, I applied for and was cast as a background extra in a TV series. After being on set for several days, it struck me that I really LOVED acting for film and TV. Time to re-assess again!
Stop focusing on intermediate goals
Since I really didn’t have any idea what a career in film and TV looked like, I first had to seek out professionals and try to assess where I was. I contacted an acting coach and started training with him. Apparently, and according to my acting coach, I have some natural ability, although it is clearly raw and needs work. I began to seek out training not only in the craft of acting, but also in the business of acting. How DOES one proceed methodically and steadily through and acting career and achieve success?
If you ever wondered what a career in acting looks like, with all the goals and milestones laid out and defined for you…take a look at her material. It has helped me define success in a much different way.
Dream big and shoot for the stars
Now, as mentioned earlier, I define success for me, for both VO AND acting, as being a recognized expert in the field and having casting directors searching me out for roles or narration gigs. I still have the goal of breaking even on my investment into this career, but I now have an action plan mapped out to someday achieve that goal. There are defined milestones along the way like signing with an agent, making industry connections with local casting directors, appearing in supporting roles and becoming a co-star. As a VO artist I am aiming at character roles in animation and audio drama and working with a coach to produce a character demo reel.
These are just a random sampling of the items on my action plan, the point is I now HAVE an action plan…and so should you if you want to succeed in any endeavor.
Do you know where you are now in your journey to success? Do you know what the destination “success” looks like and where it is? Do you have an actionable plan to move in the direction of success and eventually arrive there? If you answered no to these, then how will you know when you achieve success? It is imperative, no matter what effort you are working toward, to make sure you have a well-defined destination and a plan to achieve it. Sit down today, decide what success means to you and think about what activities you need to focus on to achieve your success. Will this be your final, chiseled in stone, plan forever? No. As you can see with a brief look into my journey, your plan will evolve over time, as will your goals. So, here, in a nutshell, is my “Plan for Success”:
- Decide what you want to do and what success in that field looks like
- Assess where you are in relation to what your success goal is
- Research what it takes to achieve what you are aimed at
- Lay out an actionable and measurable plan to get from where you are to where you want to be
- Execute your plan
- Don’t forget to “check off” milestones as you achieve them!
- As you progress, re-assess not only where you are, but where you are headed. Course changes are OK.
- Refresh your plan and actionable steps based on where you are and where you now want to go.
- Lather, Rinse, Repeat (forever).
Most of us (me included previously) just sort of blindly try things until something sticks. If you are OK with that, then you gotta do you, but if you have a goal, a destination, in mind in terms of success your chances of reaching that goal are greatly diminished without a plan. It really doesn’t matter what you are trying to achieve. If you have a plan and continually execute to that plan you are going to achieve success.
Now, before you go any farther, go figure out what you want to achieve and lay out a plan! I’ll see you at the success party!