There's one thing you can always be: better.
And that's where your career problems start.
I'm going to tell you a story, and this story will be about you. But in this story, you're going to be an actor, and your dream job will be to star in Hollywood Blockbusters. Ok? Ok.
So here you are, some random John Doe no one's ever heard of, and you're struggling really hard, going to acting classes all the time, attending 100 auditions and hearing back from zero of them.
You spend all your hard earned money from waiting tables on the debt of student loans while also paying for extra acting classes, wondering all the while if you're only shooting yourself in the foot. Maybe you should get a real job.
And then one day, suddenly, you get a call back from an audition. You got the job! You actually got the job! Sure, it's a suspiciously under-funded indie short film with questionable writing and even more questionable work hours. But it's a real, proper, paying acting job.
You give it your all, the film sees the light of day and some people pat you on the back, nice work!
A couple of months later, you get a part in a play. It's in a small, dingy theater and you don't have that many lines, but you do your best. And then comes that musical- you can't even sing- that you agree to embarrass yourself in. Then there's another play; a quick gig for another short indie film; a couple voice parts here and there and then-
Some guy calls you up, he's seen one of your performances and he'd like you to try out for a real, decently funded, play in a theater people actually go to. He's an agent.
It seems to snowball from then on: one thing leads to another. You're doing this play, next thing you know you've already got something signed on for next week, some indie crew calls in but you turn them down because you are booked solid (how cool is that!! You had never said 'no' before!!).
Few months into this roller coaster ride and you get to do a commercial- you're going to be on TV! TV! That thing that people actually watch! Wow! Go you! Your mom tapes it and everything- her kid is a star!
Your agent hooks you up with another play, and this one will be directed by that guy who was in that soap opera what's-it-called! How awesome is that! But as you're sitting in the backstage, the main actor shows up and you find out that Jack McPants over there has already been in two Broadway productions. What?! The kid is, like, 12!! (He's 19).
And when you stop to think about it, there are people like that Harry Potter guy. I mean, by the time he was, what, 17 he had already made 8 huge blockbusters and enough money that he could probably buy himself a small country. And what about that 9 year old girl who got nominated for the Oscar last week?
And here you are, 27 years old and you were happy because you got 10 seconds on TV talking about toothpaste while dressed as a toothpaste. What a loser.
You go home that night feeling like shit.
Next few months aren't that fun. You have steady jobs, but what's even the point? You're never going to amount to anything. Maybe you should accept that you'll always be a mediocre, rundown theater, indie film, commercial-making guy.
You did not see it coming.
Remember that one film you did that came out a couple months back? Yeah, the one that had a really well rounded script and characters? Well, sit down my friend, because it was shown all over film festivals in Europe and you are now up for your first award.
YOUR FIRST AWARD.
Take that, Jack McPants!
At the ceremony, you're sweating like a piglet inside your smoking – you barely owned a suit to begin with. You feel like this is more than you could ever imagine. Look at all this stuff! These women in gowns and all these fancy catered food and- you've made it. You've made it big. You've finally made it big!!
Well… not really.
You did win the award. But, come on, it was just a stupid second class random award that had started, what, five years ago? Pfff get over yourself!! "Big star" yeah right!
You soon learn that most people will agree with that. "You won… what?" they will ask, half confused half disinterested. And when you find yourself, for the fifth time, having to explain what award you won, you decide to never bring it up again. It sits on your shelf, collecting dust, and the bit of pride you had by looking at it is gone now.
Second class award or not, this baby open doors for you! And next thing you know, your career starts snowballing into better and better and better and better gigs.
It comes to a point that your agent can't say 'no' to new projects fast enough. He's proverbially fighting indie directors off with a stick, while more and more "proper" casting directors come knocking on your door (or, you know, you knock on their door and they open).
It starts with secondary roles, but still! They're in movies that will actually appear on normal cinemas (!!!). And then it turns into more and more prominent roles until one day your agent gives you the news: finally, oh finally, you get cast as a main character.
Oh dear god. You're a main character in a Hollywood movie.
You did it!! You freaking did it!! No more catches, no more Ifs and Buts, no nothing! You've made it to the big screens, Hollywood is yours, baby!! Your freaking face is on a 6 feet tall poster for Pete's sake!
Your rise to stardom is exponential. People recognize you on the streets! They ask you for your autograph! They take photos with you! THIS IS AMAZING! THIS IS EVERYTHING YOU'VE EVER WANTED!
Is that- is that Jack McPants' name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Oh my god, that is Jack McPants' name on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Are you freaking kidding me? Why does he get a star and you don't?! This is ridiculous. There must be some mistake-
Or… or maybe you're just not good enough, yet. Yeah, I mean, you can get better, right? Maybe in a couple of movies you'll have your name there- sure. Of course. That makes total sense.
It takes you ten years.
But damn, does it feel good to finally lie on that red carpet posing for the camera, feeling like a million bucks (which, by the way, you now have in your bank account, to spare), knowing your name will be on that star forever: you will be remembered as one of the great.
Feels damn good.
At this point in your life, you have it all. That lonely award on the shelf back from your starving actor days has now been joined by many, many other proper awards. In fact, you're not even sure where that first award's gone off to. Sure you haven't actually won an Oscar yet, but, I mean, it's not like you need one, right?
A lot of other actors haven't won Oscars, that doesn't mean anything. You don't need an Oscar to validate your ability as an actor. Look at how many fans you have! How many movies you've made! Come on, you have your own goddamned franchise!
But still, if the critics actually thought you were good-
Your first nomination almost gives you a heart attack (hey, you're pushing fifty now, it could happen!). The media's buzzing all over you and building an expectation that you just can't help but buy into.
You don't win.
In fact, you're nominated twice more and you win neither of those times.
You try not to let it get to you, but it's damn hard. And after that third nomination, when you go home empty handed once again, you feel the same way you did when you met fresh-faced young Broadway star Jack Freaking McPants.
It does not help that that stupid kid won a Tony a couple years back- hope he chokes on it.
You're exactly fifty four years old when it happens- you're sitting on your chair, practicing your graceful loser face (you've got it down to an art form now), there's a camera showing your expectant face on the big screen together with the other nominee's.
This time, it's your name they call.
You almost choke on your own breath, you almost trip over your feet as people help you to the stage. Goddammit if this doesn't feel exactly like that moment you won your Second-Class-Irrelevant-Award back in 1990-when-was-it.
You stumble your way through your acceptance speech (hadn't you had this thing memorized?!) and it's all a blur, really. You're guided back to your seat afterwards, your wife is hugging you as excitedly as she was before. Everyone is beaming at you and you're beaming yourself.
This is it, you think. I'm done. I did it. No one in the world can deny that you've made it.
And then Meryl Streep walks by your table to congratulate you- you've worked with her before. She's smiling at you after giving you a genuine hug. When she walks away, you watch her go, unable to look elsewhere.
"Honey, how many Oscars did Meryl win, again?" you ask your wife.
There will always be someone younger.
There will always be someone better.
There will always be competition, expectation, disappointment, insecurity and what ifs.
There is no "top", there is no end game, no finishing line; chasing success is the same as chasing the horizon. You just keep running and you never get anywhere.
The only thing that changes is the tier you're in, the players you're up against, because the game remains the same.
You will never get to a place where you'll not want more, where you'll not be insecure that you're not good enough. When you're no longer insecure about what worries you now (getting a call back from an audition), you'll be insecure about things you aren't even aware of yet (why haven't you won a damn Oscar??).
Instead of chasing success and letting yourself become consumed by anxiety and the feeling of inadequacy: Enjoy the tier you're in right now.
That guy who was dying to get just one simple call back for a job would be damn proud and excited to be in that toothpaste costume in a TV commercial. Enjoy it like he would. Celebrate like he would. Be proud of yourself like he would.
Do not let your accomplishments go unnoticed. Do not let your life become "just another day at the office", it's a damn fine office and you worked damn hard to be in it!!
Wake up in the morning, look in the mirror and tell yourself how awesome you are! Look at all the stuff you've done! Look at how far you've come!
Don't get distracted by the Jack McPants in your life, let them do their thing; you do you. They may be in a different tier, but they are playing the same game. Don't you ever forget that.
Keep improving yourself and keep moving forward without thinking about getting to any one place at any one speed.
And In the end, no matter how far you manage to go, no matter what tier you end up in, if you let go of chasing success, you'll have enjoyed and celebrated every single step in your journey.
To me, well, that sounds like a much better bet.
Cross posted from my tumblr: alicebessoni.tumblr.com/