As the end of 2014 approaches, people find themselves reflecting on the year, their habits, relationships, and the state of their careers. Based on what has worked and what has not, we all start setting goals for the upcoming year. This commencement speech by the innovative American author David Foster Wallace delivers both an entertaining and meaningful message to consider as a matter of daily practice in the year to come. While David gave the talk at Kenyon College back in 2005, years later portions of his speech were turned into this video entitled This Is Water. It’s a fun watch and its message, when carried out, can empower how we frame our thoughts throughout the mundane daily tasks we find ourselves immersed in year after year whether it be sharing the road on our daily commute, waiting in lines at the market, or other boring and/or stressful tasks that involve dealing with people. Wallace emphasizes the power of using your imagination to feel less frustration with others and to help keep you sane–but also to build a stronger sense of connection with others, and essentially be a more compassionate person. Even if the stories we imagine about others are not actually true, he argues, these mental exercises can remind us of the complexities of other people’s struggles and the richness of their stories–which are no doubt brewing below the surface on every individual with whom we cross paths. By acknowledging the wealth of stories that exist in others–and not just focusing on our own personal narratives, needs, and wishes–we can choose to live more emotionally healthy lives.

But it can be argued that these mental exercises have an added benefit to actors. After all, it is an actor’s job to honestly portray the stories of others, to deeply feel another person’s palette of emotions, and be able to move and speak on behalf of that individual in an authentic manner. That requires a whole lot of emotional attentiveness, effort, discipline, and sacrifice. All of your daily mundane tasks surrounded by others can therefore be perceived as opportunities to enrich your acting. Instead of simply being annoyed by the gum-clicking person waiting in front of you, you can choose to imagine a sympathetic storyline behind his or her life. But it’s not easy; as David argues, it’s human nature to default into the pattern of being absorbed in the details of your own life and not to concern yourself much with the strangers surrounding you. But life with all its drama is happening right before our very eyes continuously, and it’s so easy to miss. You can either let it pass you by or harness it for your craft. This can be quite a challenging exercise in imagination–but worth the effort! We’re hoping all the characters you play in the new year are enriched by your infinite imagination and appreciation for the human struggle that surrounds you. So keep an eye out, imagine freely, and use the fruits of this mental exercise in your performances.