In a previous life, I taught people how to use the internet. It was way back in 2008, and people who were new to and/or overwhelmed by this thing called “social media” needed help making friends with it (even more important than making friends on it). It was my job to help them do that.
While I tended to get good feedback on my workshops, I wish I’d known then what I know now: that we learn slowly, and by doing. It took another Stupid Day Job™ to truly teach me how to teach, and to learn how I learn.
You can only learn one thing at a time.
I’m guilty of having bombarded people with information in the name of keeping things lively and interesting. At the ends of my talks, people would marvel about how much I’d been able to cram into 60 or 90 minutes. At least, I thought they were marveling; now I realize they may have just been dizzy and/or reeling.
When I started working for my current employer, I was warned that the learning curve was both long and steep. This turned out to be an understatement. Even for someone who loves learning, it was a lot. For the first two weeks, I’d go home exhausted every night. For the first six months, I felt stupid most of the time. Fortunately, my first supervisor was terrific at training me: she took things one step at a time, teaching me one aspect of the job until I had it down before moving on to the next. Because as hard as it was to learn, it would have been exponentially harder had she not kept me at what felt like a glacial pace.
I say this because I believe actors who get bitten by the bug tend to take on too much. We want to train in two techniques, get better at movement and dialects, and write our own webseries/pilot/one-person show, all at once. Slow down, cowboy. It’s really better to keep it to one new thing at a time—okay, two, tops.
You can only learn what you want to learn.
Sometimes motivation can be scarce, but it’s critical to tap into it. In my experience, keeping the fire lit under my keister is helped by two things.
First, I was and am highly motivated by the desire to keep a roof over my head. Most of us are!
However, while this is great motivation to work hard at a job I already have, or even a job that’s close in my sights, it is usually insufficient for the kind of day-in, day-out practice that a profession—like, let’s say, ACTING—requires.
Underneath that desire for basic survival there are deeper needs, and more satisfying itches to scratch: the desire to experience a job well done; the need to work in concert with others toward some greater good; the urge to bring stories to life; the thrill of using every ounce of your will, talent and experience to the table. Tap into these, and while you may be frustrated, you will never again be bored by any class, any rehearsal—heck, any wait in a Starbucks line!
You can only really learn by doing.
Whenever I’ve taken on a new interest or endeavor, I’ve immersed myself in the available resources to learn as much as I can. This is great, and I am all for reading—especially the terrific columns in the Networker! But there’s a time to stop reading and start doing. I know every writer on this blog would be thrilled to hear you were inspired enough by something you read to get out there and actually do it.
You can do it badly at first; in fact, you almost certainly will. But your mistakes will be your greatest teachers, providing you with more useful information than I ever could.
REWIND OF THE MONTH: Whenever I’m doing my taxes (or any task that can be a dull go), I treat myself to some comforting television to “watch” while I work. This year, I picked up the HD streaming video of Steve Coogan’s brilliant Saxondale, a wickedly funny pair of series centering on the life of Tommy Saxondale: a suburban-dwelling, retired roadie who is an autodidact with a heart of gold and a wee anger management problem. The characters walk right up to caricature but somehow stay right in the pocket. It’s a terrific example of broad comic concepts kept on a tight rein with crackerjack writing and impeccable performances. Tons of juicy material for actors to feast on. On DVD for patient types; or streaming, for instant gratification.