I met a fantastically talented young actor at the Australian Musical Theatre Workshop recently who asked me for advice on how he should go about making his dream of becoming a professional performer into a reality. I get asked this kind of question a lot, and I understand why – when you’re at the beginning of any journey, knowing how to get where you’re going is always the biggest challenge.
I asked this young actor to get specific. It’s easy to say “I want to make it”, but what did that mean for him specifically? What exactly does that look like? What are the details? If you don’t know where you’re going, you could easily end up anywhere, so I encouraged him to paint a clear picture for himself of exactly the life he was striving for.
When I was 17 and in my final year of high school, I used to keep a diary. I found that diary in my garage recently and in amongst pages filled with my feelings about the movie TITANIC (and my deep love for Kate Winslet), my stressing about what to wear to the school formal and the beginnings of my mild obsession with Oprah, I found an entry I wrote the day after I graduated high school. On the 3rd December, 1998, I wrote:
“Well, school is done. It’s sad to finish but I feel like now I’m finally free to get on with what I want to do with my life. Everyone’s feeling so sad and lost about the end of school, but I think that’s because they don’t know what they want to do with their lives. I’ve always known. The only thing I feel scared about now is that now I have to go and actually do it. I’m going to write down my plan so that I have something to look back on in years to come to prove I always knew I’d get there some day.
I’m going to stay in Queensland and run my own theatre company.
I’m going to produce musical theatre
I’m going to make a place where people who love musical theatre can perform and train and feel like they belong.
I’m going to make a difference.
I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I know it’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to give up. I will find a way.
And some day I’ll look back on this and say “see, I told you I said I’d do it”
Fifteen years later, I’m so glad I bothered to write that stuff down. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think by putting pen to paper and actually articulating my dream, I was moving myself one step closer to making it a reality.
So to this young actor who asked for my advice, and to anyone reading this who has a dream for their life, I would say this: When you ask yourself the question “Will I make it? Will this dream I have become a reality?” your answer simply must be “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I know it’s what I’m going to do. I’m not going to give up. I will find a way.”
It’s easy to stop when things get hard, and I’m telling you now that things are going to get hard. You are going to have times when you are poor. You are going to have times when you are sad. You are going to have times when it looks like nothing is working in your favour. And you’re going to have to find a way to just keep on going, because what I know for sure is that it’s hard to fail when you are determined to succeed.
In the fifteen years since I wrote that diary entry, I have been poor, I have been sad, I have had times when things were not working in my favour. It has not been an easy road. In fact, at times it felt like it wasn’t even a road. I felt like I was cutting through thick jungle to get where I was going. There were times when I would lie in the foetal position and cry my eyes out because it felt like no matter what I did, I wasn’t getting anywhere. But, I never gave up. I kept on going. And I achieved every single thing that I said I would.
And I hope that you do too.
If you have a dream, then write it down. Get it clear in your head. Decide where you’re going, and get going in that direction and don’t stop until you reach your destination. Nobody else is going to make it happen for you. You have to make it happen yourself.
Simon Gallaher once said to me “You can have everything you want, you just have to go get it. The only thing stopping you is you”. It was good advice then, and it’s good advice now. The only thing I would add to it would be “Dreams don’t just come true. You have to MAKE them come true”.
So time for a little less dreaming and little more doing, set your destination and get going. Don’t stop until you get there.
I’ll see you at the finish line. xx