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Colleenby Colleen Wainwright | The Communicatrix

Leaving room for growth

Famed coach John Wooden wisely warned that “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” I’m here to add another, slightly less pithy (but no less true) caveat: overplanning is hard to get over.

A few weeks ago, I got a call from a friend—a good friend, the kind you pick up for.

As usual, I was in the middle of five things, behind on two, and still clinging to the rapidly fading notion that I might get a little rest in later that evening. My rule of thumb on cellphone calls, adopted from the youngsters, is that if you really need me, you’ll either call back right away, so I can see it’s urgent, or you’ll move to a secondary form of communication: text, email, or driving to my house and banging on my door. When my friend didn’t do any of those things, I breathed a sigh of relief and moved on. We were meeting the next day anyway; clearly, she felt it could wait until then, or she’d gotten what she’d needed from someone else.

She had, I found out that next day: a person to join her last-minute for Barbra Streisand at the Hollywood Bowl. For free. (If this example has you rolling your eyes, try replacing “Barbra Streisand at the Bowl” with “cocktails at the Vanity Fair Oscar party” or “dinner at Meryl’s house” or other relatively rare offer to meet a childhood idol in a magical setting.)

Granted, it was about 40-below that night, and cold and I aren’t the fastest of friends. Given my exhaustion and my history with colds turning into two-month-long extravaganzas, it’s entirely possible that even had I answered the call, the bigger, grownup part of me would have declined anyway.

For me, the grim takeaway was this: by scheduling myself so tightly I didn’t even have the juice to take a call from a friend, I took myself out of the running.

At this point, you’re saying, “Yeah, but you’re old, lady, and your priorities are fakakta; I, the fabulous and devoted actor that I am, would drop everything for a great acting opportunity—to hell with my job/relationships/health.”

Fair enough. But what if I frame the situation slightly differently?

What if you’re offered your dream role, or even an audition for one, but it conflicts with a lesser acting gig you can’t back out of without burning critical bridges—the background work you’re still taking, even though you know you want to make the leap to something more fulfilling for you?

Or what if you’re invited to collaborate on an amazing webseries, play, or production venture but you haven’t left yourself the financial wiggle room to commit?

Or hey, what if you’re just spinning so many fabulous plates at once, you’re relying on crossed fingers and unicorn farts to keep it all from crashing to the ground? (You may scoff, but this last scenario is something an overachieving friend of mine is facing; I wish him only the best, but I shudder at the mosaics we will be able to compose from the destroyed crockery.)

Yes, there are times when we’re called upon to push ourselves to the limit, taking on more than we thought possible. And hey, stretching can be a good thing—for a while. But I am raising the white flag and waving it wearily, here to tell you that full-speed is not sustainable over the long haul.

My response to this has been trifold: first, I’m adding things back into my schedule sloooowly. I have a minimum number of nights in that must be met per week, period, and a maximum number of things I’m allowed even to attempt to accomplish per day. Anything that falls into a gray area is run through my mastermind group. Second, I signed up for outside help in my areas of identified weakness: for me, a writing coach, who could take an objective look at my habits and goals, tell me where they were unsustainable/unrealistic, and offer adjustments.

Finally, I took a year off of goal-setting, and have been using the time to catch up on unfulfilled objectives, closing loops or officially retiring them as possibilities. This has been an excruciating process—no one, least of all me, enjoys admitting defeat. (I don’t even enjoy admitting I’m human, most of the time.) But it has helped create the room I need to get my footing, to make smarter choices, and to resume some of the activities I enjoy. Slowly, my desire to write is returning; so far, my skills don’t appear to have rusted too badly for lack of use.

I will probably resume my usual goal-setting this February—I’m partial to Jinny Ditzler’s Your Best Year Yet system of values-centered goal-setting, as I’ve shared many times before in this column. But this time, I am tweaking it slightly, adding a one-word root theme for the year: MARGINS. Because to be a joyful and productive artist, I believe I need space to doodle, to dawdle, and to dream up the next big adventure.

Previous planning columns, for your planning pleasure:

And if you’d like some ideas for small changes to implement, the highly-popular “10 things” series:

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BOOK(s) OF THE MONTH: With multiple demands on your attention (not to mention the stress of family gatherings, crowded stores, and Mass Holiday Fever), this time of the year can be tricky for reading. My suggestion is not to stop, but to adapt: enjoy a collection of engrossing (no pun intended!) interviews with actors and other artists; pick up a book of short stories; or re-read an old inspiring or engrossing favorite you haven’t picked up in a while. Just don’t give up—reading makes you smarter and keeps you saner!

Want more ideas? Sign up for my (free) newsletter! Almost every month I send out useful (and specific, and nice) information about how to promote yourself without being a tool, and connect with people in a way that makes them love you. It’s not about acting explicitly, but since you’re a smart actor, that shouldn’t scare you.

Colleen Wainwright is a writerspeaker-layabout who started calling herself “the communicatrix” when she hit three hyphens. She spent a decade writing commercials and another decade acting in them for cash money. Now she uses her powers for good instead of evil by helping creatives learn how to strut their stuff in a way that makes the world fall madly in love with them.