Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Having a Hard Time Getting Back Into the Swing of Things After the Summer?

As the summer winds down, I’ve talked to several people who express that they feel disconnected from their goals, desirous of “getting back into the swing of things.”  Some people feel overwhelmed, not sure where to start.  A little anxious even.  Any of this apply to you?

Here are three things to keep in mind as you leave the vacation mind-set and re-enter your pursuit of your goals.

1) Vacation is good for you.   You read that right.  Vacation is not just good for you, it’s great for you.  Steven Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talks about “Sharpening the Saw.”  By that he means taking time away from your work and your goals to do things that make your tools sharper.  This can be a vacation or a day off.  Ideally, you need to take both!  You’ll find that your time working will be much more effective if you take regular breaks—at least one day off every week and a vacation every once in a while.

2) It doesn’t matter how you feel.  What?  Yep.  When you come back to something, be it exercise or work, you won’t feel at the top of your game.  And it doesn’t matter.  I just went running for the first time in 2 months.  Did it feel good?  Nope.  It felt terrible.  “I’m the worst runner on the planet” kept going through my head.  No lie. 

What matters is that I laced up my shoes and put one foot in front of the other.  One of the mantras of the P90X guru Tony Horton is “just press play.”  Meaning, put on the exercise DVD and move your body, even if you don’t feel like it.

You won’t feel like you’re back into the swing of things until you are back into the swing of things.  The key is to let that be okay.  Stop making yourself wrong because you took a break, and you’ll enjoy the process of easing back into the saddle so much more.

3) Set a schedule and keep to it.   As you are easing back into work, the key is to set a schedule and keep to it.  Make keeping to the schedule the victory.  Don’t say that you’ll spend “all day” on your goal and then beat yourself up when you don’t stare at the computer for eight hours straight.  Set a realistic amount of time to work on your goal, say, two hours each day, and then keep to it. 

You’ll feel great that you did your two hours on the first day back.  It will get easier after that.  Your clarity and stamina will improve.  And guess what… you’re back in the swing of things in no time.

Monday, August 6, 2012

5 Ways to Have a Restful AND Productive Summer

5 Ways to Have a Restful AND Productive Summer
By Shawn Tolleson

Who doesn't love summer? It's lazy, relaxing, hot, sun-filled.

And, if you're an ambition person with big goals, well... It's lazy, hot and sun-filled!

If you're like a lot of people, you can't wait for summer, but mid-way through you wonder where the time has gone. You realize you haven't gotten much done!
Well, like the proverbial unfulfilled new year's resolution, it's time to turn this paradigm on it's head. There is a way to enjoy your play and get your work done too! (Book a guest juicy star in July, anyone?)

Read on for the top 5 ways to have a restful AND productive summer.

1. Give yourself that time to relax.
Summer is great because many of us finally relax. Finally. It's funny though, how often we feel bad about doing so! We finally go on vacation, take several long weekends, leave work early, yet we feel guilty about it.

The key to having a restful summer is to, well, rest. Seriously. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about "Sharpening the Saw." A dull saw takes three times as long to cut wood.

So, book that vacation, take that long weekend, leave work early. And, when you do these things, turn off your phone and email. You haven't left work early if you are still putting out fires over the phone. Surprisingly, many of those fires will put themselves out if you give them some space.

Now, part of not feeling guilty is to communicate what you are doing with those who need to know. You can explain that you are going on vacation. Or, you can keep it simple and just say you've got to leave work early for a personal matter. Whatever you feel comfortable with. You don't need to justify taking the time you need to restore yourself so that you are fresh for everything demanded of you.

2. Boundary your time--both work and play.
The next key to a relaxing and productive summer is to boundary both. Why do lazy days turn into lazy weeks and lazy months? Because you didn't boundary them. Funny how they aren't really that relaxing when they drag on and on, huh?

What do I mean by boundary? Simply put, set a start time and an end time. And, honor them. If you are going to leave work early, set your start time, say 9am, and your end time, say 4pm. You'll be surprised how much you get done in the time you've allotted yourself. You will certainly get everything you really need to get done all buttoned up.

If you are taking a day off, stop working the night before, and start the day after. Seriously. Let phone calls go to voicemail. Keep your computer in its case. Put your phone away where you can't see it.

If you are concerned you'll miss something important, set an email auto-reply that tells people when you'll be back. Record a new voicemail informing callers you're out of the office and will return calls on a given day. The same technology that keeps us tied to our phones and computers can free us up!

3. Set a new goal.
This may seem obvious, but if you want to get something accomplished this summer, set a goal for it! Now, I do tons of coaching on goal-setting. The key to the summer goal is that you've got to approach it balancing all of the things we've talked about above. Incorporate your vacation, your time off, into your goal. For example: "My goal is to sell my hour-long television pitch and have a fabulous 2 week vacation with my family before August 31st."

Now, when it's that specific, things start to clarify themselves. With this goal, you know you need to schedule both taking out your pitch (pitching season usually starts July 1st) and your vacation so that you can accomplish both. You might need to take your vacation before July 1st. Or, delay going out with your pitch until later in July to accommodate your vacation.

All of this is manageable, but not without some planning. Setting your goal gets you immediately clear about what you are committed to and then helps you define your priorities. This might seem obvious, but it's amazing how many of the best-laid plans collide because people are not clear about their goals and therefore their priorities.
4. Note the time of year, but look for ways to turn the conventional wisdom on its head.
There's an axiom that everything is dead in late July and all of August. (Not to mention from the second week of November through the end of December.)

Sure, a lot of people take vacations in the summer. But, they don't all leave town at exactly the same time for 6 weeks. Really. They don't.

I have personally heard the blow-by-blow story from a producer who make a million dollar script sale on December 23rd. (You've seen the movie, at one time the most expensive movie ever made.)

I've personally sold a pitch in August. I've signed A-list talent to a project in August. I've signed an Oscar-nominee to another project in July. I've met with an Oscar-nominated mentor in July. You get my point.

Just as some people go away on vacation, some people become available as things slow down. You can't win if you don't play. If you take your ball and go home because you think no one's on the court, you really won't win. Stay on the court. Keep playing.

And lastly...

5. Make summer work for you.
There are some things that are really cool to do in the summer, things that just don't rank in January. Sitting by the pool answering email, anyone?

The key is to incorporate those things into the action steps you are taking toward your goal. Need to meet a colleague? Plan a hike or walk instead of a coffee or lunch. Take your office outside to the back yard or the local park by bringing your laptop. Sure, you might not be able to be online at the park, but you can solve that problem by saving up the offline tasks (writing, brainstorming, running lines, etc.) and doing those stretched out on the grass or with your feet in the sand.

I find it good for the soul to incorporate uniquely "summer" goals into my week. Since the days are longer and warmer, I have no problem going for a run even when I finish my day at 7 or 7:30p. So, I make it a goal to exercise 4 or 5 times a week instead of my usual 2 or 3 in the winter. I feel better, I get outside enjoying the fresh air, and I value my summer even more.
And that's the key, isn't it? Finding how to incorporate what you love about summer into what you love about your work, your family and your friends. Now, that's a goal worth working toward.

Shawn Tolleson is a Career Coach who empowers you to accomplish the career of your dreams:  Strategy.  Action.  Breakthrough.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Specificity Wins: The Key to Getting What You Want

Specificity Wins: The Key to Getting What You Want
By Shawn Tolleson

Specific:  free from ambiguity

If you’re an actor, you know that vague, muddy choices do not make for compelling acting.  If you’re a writer, you know that a generic character is not someone the audience will root for.  In all things in life, the more specific you are, the more likely you are to clearly communicate and get what you want.  If you want to paint your house but you just say “brown,” well, there’s a lot of room for interpretation.

So, why is it that so often you are ambiguous or generic with your goals?  I often hear that someone wants to be a “working actor.”  Not to be crass, but that could mean that you’re working in porn or in my home video for which I bought you a cup of coffee.

In all seriousness, the lack of specificity is one of the main reasons—perhaps the main reason—why you do not accomplish your goals.  It is the main culprit in your requests not being answered and your efforts not paying off.  It is the main source of your frustration and overwhelm, the reason that you look over your to do list and wonder what to do first.

If you are so intent on achieving your goals, why do you leave them ambiguous or back-pedal when you describe them?  For most people, the reason is that you are afraid.  If you commit to something and then fail to achieve it, you might feel like a failure! 

Leaving your goals vague is safe.  It gives you wiggle room.  But it also prevents you from working to your full capacity and enrolling those around you to help achieve your goals.  In the end, though, leaving your goals vague makes it nearly impossible to achieve them.  The irony is that the very thing that makes you feel safe—keeping things non-specific—dooms you to failure before you even start.

So, what can you do?  Read on for some ground rules on bringing specificity to your goals.

1)    Be as detailed as possible when you articulate your goal while still being concise.  This can be very challenging, but remember, as you articulate your goal, so you will accomplish it.  If you’re a director you might think you want to direct anything and everything, but you don’t.  What do you really want to direct.  Say it loud and proud!  You’ll be a lot more likely to direct it. 

Your specificity will also dictate which avenues are most important to pursue.  For example, the people who cast commercials, theatre, music videos and television are all different.  You can’t know all of them, so figure out what you want to do, and then the list of people you need to cultivate relationships with will become clear and manageable.  It’s still challenging to meet and build relationships with these powerful individuals, but at least it’s possible.  It’s not possible to know everyone in Hollywood, so narrow it down.  Narrowing it down starts with the specificity of your goal.

2)    Check your language for non-committal words and phrases.  Look for words like “try” and “hope.”  Once you find them, cross them out!  Replace them with a declarative statement, as in “By (DATE) I will (YOUR GOAL.)”  Your commitment starts with your speaking.  If you aren’t fully committed, how can you expect anyone else to commit to supporting you?

3)    Eliminate milestones and to do list items from your goal.  Your goal is not your to do list.  It’s not the milestones you must cross on your way to your goal.  Your goal is your goal, the end result. 

So, take “clean up my office” and “get new representation” out of your goal.  Cleaning up your office is an item on your to do list.  It might feel like a goal because your office is a mess, but it’s not.  Take it out of your goal, get some help to get it done, and then cross it off your to do list.

Getting a new agent is also not your goal.  It’s a milestone.  It’s something that is challenging, that you’ll need to accomplish on the way to your breakthrough.  Think about it, though, did you come to LA or NYC to get an agent?  Do you face rejection everyday to get an agent?  No!  You came here and you sacrificed because there is a kind of work that you are committed to doing.  You’re committed to making movies, performing live, or working as a series regular on TV, not to getting an agent.  So, keep the articulation of the goal to the kind of work you are committed to doing, and you’ll be more inspired and motivated to do what it takes to accomplish it. 

4)    Make sure your goal has a clear timeline.  This is where we often hedge our bets.  Don’t.  Give your goal a date and then see if what you want to accomplish is possible in that timeline.  It might be hard, sure, but it needs to be possible.  You might find that you have to rework your timeline once you’ve broken down the steps you must take to accomplish your goal.  Without a timeline, however, your path for accomplishing your goal is unclear, and, say it with me, non-specific.

5)    Make adjustments when and if necessary.  The point of being specific is to create a structure for accomplishment.  Do everything in your power to maintain the goals you have declared.  If that is impossible or if you do not achieve it as declared, take stock, understand the issues and set a new, specific goal.

In summation, as you articulate your goals, so you accomplish them.  As you are able to share your goals specifically and powerfully, people will understand them and see ways to support you.  Clear and specific steps will emerge.  Behaviors that have been hindering us will become obvious.  Obstacles that were overwhelming will become manageable. 

With all of this to gain, is it any wonder that specificity wins? 

Shawn Tolleson is a career coach with her company Strategy Coaching™.
Empowering you to accomplish the career of your dreams: Strategy. Action. Breakthrough.

Join Shawn at her upcoming Design Your Breakthrough Workshop at Actor’s Key on 7/21, 7/31, 8/8 or 8/20. Visit for more info!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How to (actually) Accomplish Your New Year's Resolutions

As seen in Back Stage, January 6, 2012

Ah, January… the time to get to work on your New Year’s resolutions. A clean slate. Excitement in the air!

Have you ever noticed that some of the same New Year’s resolutions are on the list every year? And, along with the excitement and possibility of the New Year you wonder, what makes this year different? Will I really be able to accomplish these goals?

This year can be different! Read on for pitfalls to avoid, and the five keys to success…

The top three reasons that New Year’s resolutions fail:

  1. The resolution is in the “impossible” realm.

Often we articulate goals that are literally impossible in the time frame we are giving them. It’s important to note that no goal is impossible, rather, it might not be possible in the time allotted. When we do this, we doom ourselves to failure from the outset. Usually, we know this subconsciously, so we don’t give our goal our all, which also leads to failure.

  1. We have no structure in place to support us.

Accomplishments happen in structures. Think about it. The gym is a structure for the accomplishment of fitness. Acting class is a structure for the accomplishment of acting skills. Why would our New Year’s resolutions be any different?

  1. We have no concrete plan for accomplishing it.

All successful businesses have a business plan. Even if a fluke idea becomes successful, the business must have a plan for capitalizing on that success. That said, you don’t want your year to be a fluke! Your resolutions are the goals you are dedicating yourself to. So, you need to have a business plan for your acting career, a.k.a. your business.

The top five keys for accomplishing our New Year’s resolutions:

  1. Identify a goal that is not impossible, not predictable, but a “breakthrough.”

We’ve already talked about how an inaccurate timeframe could make a goal “impossible.” “Predictable” is a version of a goal you’ve already done before. Goals are most powerful when articulated in between impossible and predictable, the “sweet spot” that is a “breakthrough.”

  1. Put a structure in place for accomplishing the goal.

Now that we understand why a structure is important, make sure to join or create one! You could join a career coaching class, or put together a group of dedicated “accountability buddies” that you meet with once a week. A word of caution in putting together your own group: Be selective! Choose people that really share your commitment, are accountable and truly supportive. Also, put some “structure” in your structure. A group of friends can quickly become a gossip-fest if your time isn’t well-structured.

  1. Enroll a team to support you, advise you, and hold you accountable.

Nothing of any scope or magnitude in life happens alone. Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto, and they both had horses! In addition to accountability partners, you need to work with your representation as a team, you need a mentor (or two), a coach, and the support of your significant other.

  1. Develop a plan that includes a timeline with deadlines and milestones.

Now that we understand how important a business plan is, create one! Your plan should include your goal, a timeline, and an action plan. Share it with your team to get their feedback.

  1. See it and share it everyday.

Print out your goal and post it in places where you see it often-- your workspace, computer desktop, even your car. The more you see it in writing and put it out into the world, the more you will see it in your life.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Juicy Coaching Tidbit
This Holiday, Give the Gift of Acknowledgment

Have you ever thought something nice about someone but didn't tell them? Whether they are a close family member or an acquaintance at work, acknowledgment is direct access from one heart to another. Yes, that can be scary, and perhaps even seems easier left unsaid.

But don't be fooled! Acknowledgment is actually a gift you give to another and, in turn, yourself. And the more you do it, the more fun and easy it becomes. The next time you have a thought like this, speak up, and tell the other person what you appreciate about them. Acknowledge them with no attachment to how they respond.

The gift of acknowledgment is magical. You'll feel a new sense of affinity and love, which is really what the holidays are all about!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Booking Your Own Work: An Interview with Actress Michelle Delynn

Often when we coach clients a big concern is, “ I need an agent!” or “I need a better agent" or "I’m not getting out enough.” For those of us who are actors, or work with actors, how many times have we heard this?

However legitimate this concern is, at Strategy Coaching we like to follow the 10% commission rule. What do we mean by this? It means that as talent, we are responsible for 90% of the work that goes into booking. Our representation is responsible for 10%. This includes getting our own auditions and meetings with decision makers. That being said, how does one do this in the most powerful way?

The expression “It’s who you know” is thrown around this business more than Tyra Banks’ hair on America’s Next Top Model. The truth of the matter is that relationships are very important. With this in mind, how does one make requests of the people you know to generate the results you desire? There’s the rub. It’s one thing to know people. It’s another to enroll them powerfully in supporting you in achieving your goals.

To this end, we interviewed Michelle DeLynn, an accomplished actress in Strategy for Actors & Filmmakers, Strategy Coaching’s on-going, monthly workshop. We discussed Michelle’s process in securing an audition and booking her co-star role on the series finale of Showtime’s, The United States of Tara-- all without representation!

Strategy Coaching: So Michelle, tell us how long you have been pursuing acting in Los Angeles?

Michelle DeLynn: My family and I moved here from Ohio sixteen years ago, but I have only been ferociously pursing acting for the last five years. Since I was a kid, I always knew that acting was what I wanted to pursue professionally. But, because of a lot of fear, I didn’t commit to it fully until about five years ago.

SC: What was the first “big win” that you had that told you you were in the right profession?

MD: It was booking my supporting role in Flags of Our Fathers. It was that win and being on set with Clint Eastwood. He’s always been a favorite for his reputation as a director and his interest in Michael Chekhov. Being flown to Washington D.C., Chicago and shooting here in LA with “the boss,” his incredible crew and actors such as Ryan Phillipe was inspiring. For them this is their life, film after film and new experiences like these. I realized this is what I wanted for my life too. Never had I felt so much joy!

SC: How did you book Flags of Our Fathers?

MD: I booked that on my own as well. I heard about the project through a friend of a friend who was a part of the project. I made a call to my friend and asked, “Can you help?” (Michelle shares how she did this below.)

SC: When you heard about Flags of Our Fathers, was it something you were passionate about?

MD: Yes, it took place in the 30’s and 40’s, an era that has always spoken to me. It was with Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg who were always on my dream list of directors I wanted to work with, and required travel over three months. It seemed like it would be a dream come true.

SC: So it sounds like, you heard about a project that you thought you were perfect for because the time period was relatable, the content was important to you and the director was ideal. Do you think these factors contributed to your confidence when making the request for your friend to make a call for you, to get the audition?

MD: Oh, yes. When you hear about something that is everything you have ever dreamed of, it doesn’t matter how scared you feel. A coach of mine once said, “if you don’t ask, it’s already a no. So just ask!” I was so passionate about the project. I had researched the story so well, I wasn’t afraid to ask to be a part of the project. I already felt a part of it and was really excited. I read James Bradley’s book, contacted him, he put me in touch with his mother who I’d be playing. The fear goes away when you are passionate about something. By the time I walked into the audition, I was the character and it must have come across to the producers.

SC: So after this big win, how do you continue to get work? Did you get an agent?

MD: Well, I tried. I think, not as powerfully as I could. I didn’t have any support around moving forward. No accountability around my “plan.” The next 3 years after that were a bit dry. Then a year ago, I became a member of Strategy for Actors & Filmmakers and began to learn and use the tools to support my actions.

SC: So, let’s talk about how things changed and how you got your audition and then booking for United States of Tara?

MD: This is fun, because it is all part of the coaching that I received from Strategy Coaching. Getting clear about my goals, organizing my Map of Relationships and learning how to powerfully ask for what I wanted from the people I knew all served to get me the audition. All the support that I get from my accountability partner and the group gave me the confidence to make requests.

A role came up on the breakdowns for U.S. of Tara which I thought was perfect for me. I emailed a friend who works on the show and requested she make a call to casting to get me in. She couldn’t help on the first one but the next time I asked she got me straight to Producer’s. I didn’t get the role. Soon after, I saw another role for Pushing Daisies that was right for me also cast by Cami Patton. I called another writer friend of mine and asked if they could make a call to casting to see if they would see me. They made the call and I got in the audition. Again, didn’t get the role. Soon after that I got a call directly from Cami Patton’s office that I had another audition for U.S. of Tara; a one line co-star role. This was my third audition with this office. As always, I had a call with my accountability partner before the audition and got the support I needed. Again, didn’t get the role. A month or so later got another call from Cami Patton’s office, for a larger role and in the season finale. I decided I was going to go in and just honor the work, not stay attached to the results. Shortly after, I got a call that I was booked! I was ecstatic-- excited also to learn I had been chosen by the director and not because of my friend on the show. Although, I am so grateful for her help and pivotal role in establishing new relationships.

SC: What insights do you have through this experience that you can share with our audience?

MD: Don’t give up! It was the fourth time I went in to the same casting office before I got a role. I had to make at least four different requests to my contacts to get me in the auditions-- but don’t be afraid to ask. Keep in authentic relationship with the people that you meet that can help you in the future. And most importantly, get an accountability partner and put yourself in a class like Strategy for Actors & Filmmakers, where you are actively working on developing your skills of relationship building and getting the support to keep going!

To close, Michelle utilized four key components in her process.

First, she nurtured her map of relationships so that she had someone to call when she saw a role that was right for her.

Second, she boldly made the phone call with a powerful and appropriate request.

Third, she was prepared and did great work.

Fourth, she didn’t let herself get discouraged. She continued to get up to bat even after three auditions did not yield a booking. She made use of a structure for fulfillment, which supported her through a series of rejections so that she could continue to play the game powerfully and book a great role!

---Michelle DeLynn was born in Columbus, Ohio to veterinarian parents, and raised in Canton. An animal lover, she grew up on a thoroughbred horse farm. Currently she is enjoying life in Los Angeles, her love of acting, riding her horse, and traveling around the world. She is fan of Michael Chekhov and Chekhov training as it combines great acting technique and spirituality. Michelle is incredibly grateful for her good fortune and the amazing support of family and friends. "I'm looking forward to doing more and more meaningful films that shoot around the world, especially those that recreate history to educate and uplift.”

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

LUCK: When Preparation Meets Opportunity

So, we’ve all been there. Auditions can come at inopportune times. We have a full day planned with our significant other, we are supposed to go into our food serving shift, or we wake up feeling bloated and unattractive. Without fail, it is this day that we get a call from our agent-“you have an audition today at 3:30pm”. This happened to me last week and the experience brought a lot to light.

Wednesday, I woke up early after having a wonderful meal of Japanese food the night before. Unfortunately, the salt from the soy left me feeling a little bloated and my face a bit puffy. I commented to my boyfriend, “Thank God I don’t have an audition today!” Well, that must have been the trigger. I went to my cell phone and sure enough my agent had called 20 minutes prior with a message that I had an audition later that day. Not only was it an audition, but a really important one, the kind you pray your agent calls you for.

The audition required a lot of preparation. They wanted a cooking demonstration, a fully developed introduction and told me to come prepared for interview questions from the producers.

All sorts of voices filled my head. “There is no way you can prepare in time”, “Surely my agent can reschedule”, “Oh, my face, I’m so puffy!”, “Do I really want to drive to the valley in traffic hours?”; “I probably won’t book it anyway”. Here I was trying to talk myself out of an amazing opportunity! I got my agent on the phone and my stronger self came out. “Yes, can’t wait, I’ll be there at 3:30pm.

I raced home and because I only had 3 hours to prepare, I didn’t have time to second guess myself. I trusted my instincts on what to cook, what to wear and even decided to use my puffy face as good comedic material in the audition.

I got to the audition early and entered the room with a “nothing to lose” attitude. The audition couldn’t have gone better! I was in the flow. After my audition, the Casting Director said she thought I’d be perfect for the job and would be touch. Who knows what will happen, but whatever the outcome, I left feeling fantastic and invigorated.

I knew that the spontaneity of the audition combined with my powerful action of going when I didn’t really want to, were the key ingredients to my success.

Always trust the process and remember; if you are always in a state of “preparation” with your craft, when you meet opportunity, you will find “LUCK!”