Keep Adapting, Keep Trying

May 14, 2012

Had Harrison Ford listened to studio heads early in his career, he would have stuck to his day job as a carpenter–and Indiana Jones and Han Solo would have been played by other actors. Had Penelope Cruz listened to critics in her early performances, she would have given up on acting and never won an Oscar. Had Clint Eastwood put all his faith in the opinions of studio execs, he’d have stopped pursuing a career as an actor and gone down in history as an actor in “probably the lousiest Western ever made.”

Countless aspiring actors have been discouraged by the words of impressive professionals in the field, and have struggled with the notion of giving up. It’s easy to rely on their advice and opinions. After all, they’ve made it, seem highly qualified, are experienced in the field; naturally, their opinions are the best to be found. Similarly, everyone has met people who stubbornly refuse to listen to expert advice–foolishly driving their aspirations into a ditch.

But you have to remember that evolution calls for change and adapting, and no one–not even experts–knows what the future holds, and what the next hot-ticket actor looks or sounds like. Penelope’s accent was too thick, Clint’s adam’s apple protruded too much, Harrison didn’t seem like a leading man. The experts at the time were simply reflecting on what already existed as the norm. Ironically, what Hollywood is most interested in is a fresh, new talent. A new actor needs to be different, but is immediately doubted when he or she is different.

So how’s an actor supposed to know whose advice to listen to and whose to disregard? It’s a slippery slope maneuvering through the opinions of others. And there are no easy answers. The goal for any actor is to keep moving in the right direction. Listen to your heart, listen to your needs, and be open to the views of others along your journey. Harrison needed to feed his family so opted to devote himself to his carpentry work…which ultimately broadened his contacts, leading him back to the entertainment industry. Becoming successful is a process of trial and error, failure and rejection, regathering strength and focus, adapting–and keeping up this process over and over and over again. Respect other’s opinions, but never allow others to stop you from taking risks and believing in yourself.

Tim Harford is the author of the book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. Listen to his illuminating talk about the importance of questioning expert advice, and the challenge of perceiving ourselves as process-oriented works in progress.