Actor Tom Hiddleston says the following, “Actors in any capacity, artists of any stripe, are inspired by their curiosity, by their desire to explore all quarters of life, in light and in dark, and reflect what they find in their work.”
Both actors and entrepreneurs are huge risk-takers: The actor takes emotional risk. The entrepreneur takes financial risk. Good ones are both fundamentally artists.
I was an actor, among other things, for many years before I ever considered being an entrepreneur. I don’t think I’d have succeeded in business without the gifts I gleaned from that experience.
Acting is not a lucrative proposition for most of its practitioners. A ridiculously small percentage of the members of SAG, AFTRA and Actor’s Equity make an actual living acting. It is a hard life. Not at all the romantic, indulgent, cossetted life portrayed on Entertainment Tonight and Hollywood Extra.
But there are non-financial rewards to acting that apply very directly to business. First, you learn the skills of listening and human observation. Good actors are first and foremost good reactors. Two (and a corollary to one), acting teaches you human empathy and understanding at he deepest psychological levels, not just for yourself, but for a multifaria of people. Three, acting teaches honesty, even when you are playing a dishonest character. (Al Pacino says, “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.”) Acting teaches you to understand motivation on many levels. And, therefore, four, it helps you to read people quickly and accurately in life. Five, without actually living the lives of people very different from yourself, you can come to understand what motivates and moves them in even the most quotidian of actions.
Furthermore, the very fact of needing to survive forces actors to take jobs that broaden human and economic understanding. When not working as an actor (which was most of the time when I was a actor), I have personally worked as a bartender, a tennis pro, a cook, a teacher and an assistant dean of students. I was even employed part-time as a nude model for art classes at the School of Visual Arts and Cooper Union in New York. I have actor friends who survived with jobs as variegated as dog walking, prostitution, and cab driving. (One of the oddest survival jobs I ever heard of was that of “stretcher.” This job consisted of hanging young men up and pulling on their legs to make them temporarily tall enough to qualify as policemen or firefighters. I heard Martin Sheen describe this as one of his survival jobs on Jay Leno one night.)
But I think the greatest gift of my failed acting career, to me as an entrepreneur and salesman, was learning to handle rejection. An actor faces very personal rejection day after day in the auditioning process. Compared to that, the simple vicissitudes of selling for any entrepreneurial company are a piece of cake. The process of business selling, with all its to be expected rejection, is as nothing compared to the much more personal rejection of the actor’s daily process.
Finally, the actor’s life is a training in courage. Entrepreneurship is a very personal act of risk-taking. A good actor’s craft is quite akin to this and an excellent form of emotional weight-lifting in preparation for the everyday unpredictability and Darwinian fearsomeness of business.
As Tallulah Bankhead said, “It’s one of the tragic ironies of the theatre that only one man in it can count on steady work–the night watchman.”
Thank you, Tallulah.