The college party scene extras shuffled onto the set, dodging lighting standards and avoiding electrical cables, a twenty year old blonde stood beside me, she was to be my dancing partner for the shoot.
This was my first feature film and I would not be acknowledged in any of the credits. Dancing with my partner among a group of twenty other students, without the aid of music felt awkward and exhilarating. Two rules of life on the set came out that day—‘Don’t look at the camera’ and ‘Big eyes, big ears, and small mouth.’ I violated the first rule once, received a stern encouragement from the PA and then did not fail after that. I did well with the second, but not my partner.
Feeling like a stranger in a strange land can be disconcerting, especially when the strange land includes your chosen or hoped-for profession. How do you find your way beyond the boundaries and challenges that all professions include? How do you become a cultural insider?
1. Adaptation and change is necessary and healthy in any human undertaking. Personal development puts you in a place for productive and satisfying relationships. The beginning step involves intentionally taking the stance of a learner. ‘Big ears’ allow you to listen, not simply for facts’ but for deeper context. Context lies hidden behind filters you may or may not understand. Filters are in communication and can be roadblocks to success or opportunities for growth. Curiosity will get you where you want to go faster than stubborn resistance. Listening with ‘big ears’ and observing with ‘big eyes’ help you take in the bigger picture and discover understanding. This practice demonstrates respect for the process and for all the participants in the project.
2. In an industry where self-aggrandizement appears to be king, humility along with the desire to improve, enables a person to achieve the status of ‘insider.’ Demanding conformity to our own way of viewing the world erects walls of resentment. It prevents positive communication, understanding and congeniality. Walking humbly does not mean walking subserviently or acting as a wallflower. Humility calls us to temporarily set aside what we believe to be the only way to do something and to re-evaluate our culturally derived methods, in order to listen to another person’s point of view or to perform a task differently. New insights and new voices prepare the seedbed for creative innovation.
3. One of the many gifts given to the performing arts by people like Tina Fey and Chris Rock, is their ability to find the humor that comes with everyday life. The ability to laugh, especially at yourself, is the third step toward rewarding relationships. By not taking yourself so seriously and getting over yourself, you allow space in your interactions for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. These three qualities must be carried into all interactions, even with yourself. When we first moved to Belgium, my family and I couldn’t speak any French. Like an Olympic diver, we jumped in head first, immersed ourselves in the culture, laughed along with the Belgians at our hilarious faux pas, and created lasting friendships, friendships that survived the years, failures and challenges along the way. Learning to laugh dulls the arrow of shame, allowing for arms of support instead.
4. Therefore, an essential fourth step is ‘cultural immersion’. Immersing yourself into the new environment as much as possible, will result in a quicker learning curve and will place you into productivity sooner. Like an actor who immerses herself into a role, or the writer who delves deeply into the context of his story, drawing authentic characters from the milieu, an individual who steps out of the safety of the comfortable, finds their art more satisfying and exhilarating. Like a tourist who ventures beyond the confines of the all-inclusive resort, the world beyond our borders offers adventure and fruitfulness.
5. Learn to celebrate your victories and quickly forget your failures. We can learn from our failures, but new pathways to success are formed as we celebrate and reward victories. No one yells at a baby who falls down while trying to learn to walk. Don’t yell at yourself. I did not take personally the admonishment from the PA on my first film set. Getting down on myself or angry at him would do no good and would inhibit the production of the art. Instead, I listened, then gave myself a round of applause when I succeeded for the rest of the shoot. Listen to others when they acknowledge your progress. Hear the applause in their encouragement and praise. Bask for a minute in the sunshine as if you had just won an Oscar. Another project will come along tomorrow, but let the day’s joys seep into your soul.
These first five steps—become a learner, walk with humility, laugh at yourself, choose immersion and celebrate victories—require intentionality and call us to release our grip on the need to control people or situations. You will find yourself increasingly relaxed, flexible and agile when life throws you a blind turn on your journey. Projects get cancelled. The money runs out. People move on. As Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book, ‘Big Magic’:
“You will keep making your work, regardless of the outcome. You will keep sharing your work, regardless of the outcome. You were born to create, regardless of the outcome. You will never lose trust in the creative process, even when you don’t understand the outcome.”
6. The final step for fostering and maintaining rewarding professional relationships, calls each of us to find an insider or mentor who can guide our steps, interpret confusing situations and can act as coach. As a coach she will call a play, like encouraging you to audition for a role or to meet with an accomplished gaffer who’s in town for the week, or to send out your script one more time. A mentor will be an essential confidant who can listen to your frustrations, disappointments and unmet expectations. A trained mentor will help you discover the filters you are blind to, or the filters the community is blind to, of which you are aware. They could be another individual in your profession, a counselor, a consultant, or maybe your brother-in-law. The universe has a way of sending individuals into our pathway to speak truth to us for a season or for a lifetime.
We work in an exciting profession, filled with extraordinary people across the globe. We impoverish ourselves by erecting borders around ourselves and others. Instead, let’s courageously open up to all of the possibilities the world has to offer.
Mark McIntire has written and directed one short film, 'The Josephine Judgement' and enjoyed two productions of his screenplay, 'Bethlecafe'. He currently is writing a television pilot for spec and has a book project on the way. He also works as a public speaker and consultant, who equips individuals and teams to overcome barriers in relationships and to empower them to flourish through effective communication across cultural and lifestyle boundaries. Mark has also worked in the non-profit sector in Europe with immigrants and in the hospitality industry most of his life.
Mark is the father of four and proud grandfather of many. He loves spending time outdoors with his wife, the ocean, and fun with friends. As an avocation, he has directed one short film, worked as an extra and celebrated the Arts whenever possible.
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