Leadership and Acting: How Hollywood Can Make You a Better Leader with Jenna Fischer

Back in the day, did you have a MySpace account? Had my Blackberry supported it, I might have created one. As a result of being such a late adapter to the social media experience, apparently I missed out on some great advice that would have been tremendously helpful. It stemmed from a blog written by Jenna Fischer.

Jenna Fischer is one of my favorite actresses who starred in one of my favorite shows, The Office. When she received acclaim for her role as Pam Beesly, it is understandable that most of us saw her as an overnight success. In reality, her “overnight” success took eight painstaking years to achieve.

Based on her experiences as a struggling actress, Fischer penned a now-infamous MySpace post for The Acting Advice Blog during the early years of The Office. It describes her journey including some do’s and don’ts for anyone interested in a career in Hollywood. Ten years later, this piece is still being circulated and became the basis for Fischer’s new book, The Actor’s Life: A Survival Guide.

While intended for the aspiring thespian, Fischer tees up advice applicable for anyone interested in aspirational professional goals. In addition to such guidance as the need for persistence—”It can take a very, very, very long time to succeed in this business and my best piece of advice is to not give up… The first year is the hardest followed by every anniversary up to about year 5 when you’re so beaten down you don’t notice the years passing anymore.”—I was particularly enthralled with how Fischer was “discovered.” Here are four takeaways:

Do the Work

So, how did I get The Office?… I developed a relationship with [The Office’s casting head Allison Jones] – not because I met her at a party and we schmoozed – but because I had proven to her over the course of many years that I was a reliable and serious actor capable of providing a consistent body of work. That is what this business is all about – from a real working actors perspective.

I know too many leaders who try to skip this step. They act as if opportunities are doled out based upon contacts, not substance. Who you know if great, but it means little if what you know is lacking.

Also, growing a business network rarely happens at parties. Should you go anyway? Sure, if you like parties. But the leaders who are heavy hitters are seeking other heavy hitters based upon work product, not bar tab. If you can deliver the goods, your success will not be reliant upon attending every outing.

Control Your Readiness

I have a great acting coach who says that success in Hollywood is based on one thing: Opportunity meets Readiness. You cannot always control the opportunities, but you can control the readiness. So, study your craft, take it seriously. Do every play, every showcase, every short film, every student film you can get. Swallow your pride. Be willing to work for nothing in things you think are stupid.

Leaders must control their readiness in the same ways. Do every project, every committee, every mission, every opportunity you can get. Volunteer for assignments. This is how you grow and develop beyond the job description everyone else is constraining themselves to abide.

Learn the Basics

Work as an extra… It’s a great boot camp. You learn the set terminology and etiquette from a safe distance. That way, when you book your first acting gig you will know what it means to ‘hit your mark’ or how to ‘clear for second team.’

Why learn the hard way? Before amassing leadership, grab a first-row seat while blending into the background. It will allow you to observe the operations, get some hand-on experience, and meet the team on a more individual basis.

Build a Network Family

Go out and meet as many people as you can. Create a family for yourself of creative, supportive people. AND, don’t stop your personal life for your career. I know a lot of people that wait to do things – visit family, friends, have relationships, get married – because they are waiting until they ‘make it’… I believe that in order for my professional life to move forward, I have to keep my personal life moving forward as well.

Its basic work/life balance…although calling it “basic” does not mean we do it, even when we know we should. Careers are a marathon, not a sprint. You can remain hungry and determined, while also pacing yourself. Take a weekend. Enjoy off time with family and friends. Spend time recharging your mind so you’re ready for the next leg of the race.

There are many similarities between actors and leaders. Both are performing for onlookers. Both are trying to convey a message. And both are gambling with success when “safer” career options remain available. Take a page from Jenna Fischer. With her guidance, maybe you can expedite the learning curve.

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