(S)elf Help for the Holidays

By Elena Campbell-Martinez

Ahhh, the holidays … the most wonderful time of the year.  Have you emerged yet from your turkey and pie induced food coma?  Or are you instead smoothly segueing from the Thanksgiving Four-Day-Couch-Nap, stumbling through the Pre-Christmas-Fog, straight into Year-End-Hibernation, only to emerge blinking and bloated on the other side of New Year’s Day, vowing to really get serious about your career, your craft, your art with renewed gusto and a long list of resolutions?  Are you joining all those actors who are resting up for a few weeks and simply dreaming of what Santa might bring you … a national commercial? A meaty role in an indie film? A Producers Session for Homeland? A chance to meet Scott David in person?

Let’s face it, kids … most of us are too old to be sitting on some mall Santa’s knee and whispering our hearts’ acting desires into his hairy little ear.  And we should be a little too professional and practical to believe that dreaming of sugarplums alone is going to get us where we want to be – at this time of year or at any other time of year.

So instead, let’s all take a page out of the Elf Guild Handbook and model some of our behavior after these hard-working, dedicated guys who toil all year in obscurity, morning to night, without fanfare or celebrity … just to be sure they’re ready for their one big night of the year.  Santa (or if you like, The Universe) helps those who help themselves.  Sound familiar to anyone?

Here are just a few “(s)elf help” tips to get you through the holidays and in fine form to start 2013 on the right foot.  I thought about suggesting twelve (you know, the days of Christmas), but that seemed like a lot.  After all, we still need to make time for shopping, decorating, wrapping and spending time with the family.  So here are eight (Hanukkah, right?) …  Choose one, four, all eight, or even add your own:

  1. Start a Gratitude Journal.  You can go one of two ways on the office supplies for this one.  If you feel like splurging, buy yourself a beautiful journal, something you’ll enjoy looking at and holding in your hands.  If you need to save your pennies for gifts, go to Staples – they have cute little notebooks that are two for a dollar.  Not only are they cheap, they also fit into your pocket or purse, so you have easy access when a wave of gratitude overwhelms you and needs to be recorded.  (Cool kids, you can feel free to use your iPad or smart phone – I’m just too old school.)  For the first week, every single day, force yourself to write something that you’re thankful for — no matter how small or how big, no matter whether it relates to your acting dreams or not.  After the first week, cut yourself some slack and don’t sweat it daily – every couple of days should work.  Gratitude begets abundance and generosity – in yourself and in those around you.
  2. Send a FEW holiday cards.  If you set the goal of sending a card to every single friend you have, plus every industry person you’ve ever worked for, plus every casting person you would like to meet someday … guess what?  Ain’t gonna happen.  Instead, think of three to seven people who made a positive influence on your life this year – maybe they are in the industry, but they certainly don’t have to be.  Address the envelopes by hand, as well as the short, heartfelt note of gratitude and wishes for a wonderful holiday. The note doesn’t have to be long – shorter is better – but make it as specific as you can.  And do not ASK for anything.
  3. If you have representation, visit them!  Let them know you appreciate all their support and hard work throughout the year.  You don’t need to buy them an expensive gift — pick up a nice plant or some flowers at Trader Joe’s (put these in a nice discount vase from Home Goods).  But do come bearing the gift of a stack of your headshots with up-to-date resumes neatly stapled on the back! (Unless your agent/manager is a cool kid who doesn’t do hard copies anymore).  They will need fresh resumes for pilot season.
  4. Give of your time.  Find out where Toys for Tots has a toy wrapping operation set up, and spend an evening there.  Ask the elderly lady who lives downstairs from you if she wants your help to put up her Christmas lights.
  5. If you’re not leaving town for the holidays, or if you’re taking only a short trip, maximize that competitive advantage!  Lots of folks ARE leaving town, which leaves a smaller pool of auditioners for the jobs that are casting this month.  Peruse the online casting sites every morning (which means before 10 am).  Check your email often in case your agent manages to get you an appointment.  I’ve booked a great indie film and even a couple of national pharmaceutical commercials in December (those advertising agencies need to spend their budgets before the end of the year).
  6. Treat a friend to coffee.  Choose someone whose career, art, work ethic or life philosophy you admire.  Enjoy a leisurely coffee date to learn more about what makes them tick or how they got to where they are.  If something in the conversation clicks for you, don’t be embarrassed to say, “Hey, that’s a great idea – mind if I jot that down?”  Then figure out how to implement that admirable or useful aspect in your own life.
  7. Treat a friend to coffee.  Choose someone you think would benefit from some of your own experiences.  Be generous with your “lessons learned”, your contacts, your resources.  Not only will this coffee date be a hugely valued (and inexpensive) gift to this friend, it will be a wonderful gift to yourself, giving you a chance to review and appreciate the experience you’ve gained and the achievements you’ve attained in the past year or two or three.
  8. Now … make your “Santa List” – be as specific as possible – what do you really want for yourself in 2013?  In your art, your career, your health, your relationships.  And then make sure you’re doing some (s)elf help this month to get you started in that direction.

Listen, I’m sure that real elves work harder and longer in December than they do the rest of the year.  So I’m not suggesting we all strive for Elfian efforts this month –I’m just sayin’.  A good elf doesn’t take the month of December off and leave it all up to Santa.  Let’s be good elves out there.