Sometimes life hands you a
surprise. And sometimes the more you think about that surprise, the more you
realize how fortunate you were to be in that place at that particular time.
Such a thing happened to
us last month, and it was so special, we had to share it. Heres what
Both my daughter AND my
business partners son want to be actors. They are both in high school,
and both already have considerable performing experience. So when their
favorite comic stage actor, Bob Sorenson, was in town from New York to perform
Fully Committed, an amazing one-man show, I fantasized about how
cool it would be to have the kids meet Bob, and to have him share some tricks
of the trade with our budding performers.
So I wrote him a letter. I
introduced myself and the kids, and asked if he would be willing to meet with
us, to talk about acting. To our surprise, he said yes.
What a delightful man he
was - so real and funny and honest, and willing to give the kids all kinds of
pointers. Interestingly, though, most of those pointers werent about
acting, but more about how they think of themselves. It was the stuff of life,
really, and not the stuff of being on the stage.
It was powerful to be
reminded that the lessons of success are pretty much the same whether you are
an actor or a consultant or a NonProfit CEO. And we thought it was important to
share that reminder with our friends who are on a different kind of stage every
You go to an
audition, Bob begins to tell the kids. You walk into the room, and
you find 100 people vying for that part. Fear strikes, and you think to
yourself Oh my God, my chances of getting this role are one in 100! How
will I ever compete with 99 other people?
But if you are the
best you can be - if you have worked hard and know your stuff; if you are
confident in who you are and comfortable with yourself - then youre
already better than 90% of the people in that room. Now youre not
competing with 99 other people - youre competing with 9 other people.
Your odds arent 1 in 100 - they are 1 in 10. Ill take those odds
So just make sure
you are in that top 10%. If you work towards that top 10%, you will immediately
increase the odds of getting that role.
Its so easy to get caught up
in the day-to-day that we usually forget to ask ourselves, What will it
take to be in the top 10% of my field? It may mean reading, constantly
trying to learn, asking questions. It will likely include trying to make not
just ourselves better, but our whole craft better (regardless of what field
were in). Living it, not just doing it. Taking classes, attending
seminars. Learning from those around us, and teaching what we can. If
were in that top 10%, weve already eliminated 90% of the
competition, just by being the best we can be!
What Sets You
Bob asks the kids,
If the script says Im going to kill you!!!! with four
exclamation marks, whats the logical way to play that? The kids
naturally respond with a screaming Im going to kill
Thats what they would expect. And its probably also what
everyone else in the room is going to do. So maybe you should see if
theres another way to play this, to do what they dont
expect. Here - watch, he says, and explains by acting.
What if the
exclamation marks dont mean to scream, but just mean intensity, like
this, he says, and turns to my daughter, sitting by his side. He puts his
hand calmly on her shoulder and brings his face very close to hers, looking
directly into her eyes from just a foot away. Then slowly and firmly, he
articulates each syllable as he quietly tells her with all seriousness,
Im going to kill you.
We all feel a chill - we
believe him! Even if you dont get THIS part, theres a better
chance they will remember you for the next one.
When we audition for
our part with clients, potential employers, funding sources - whomever we are
trying to impress - are we thinking about what will set us apart? Do we do the
same old thing the same way everyone else does? What is it that differentiates
us from the rest? In other words - why should they want to work with you and
not someone else?
What It Really Takes
to Do the Job
Seeing Bob Sorenson in
Fully Committed is a lesson in itself. In an hour and a half, never
leaving the stage and never changing his clothes, Bob plays 37 different
characters in a frenzied script. He is masterful, convincing us that all those
people are, in fact, on the stage.
At lunch, he tells us that
hed seen the play done elsewhere, and the actor had worked so hard that
hed sweated horribly through the whole thing, dripping everywhere, to the
point where it was distracting. The play became about the actor and how
hard he was working, and not about the characters. I knew I needed to be
invisible for all those characters to come out.
So six months prior
to doing the part for
Arizona Theater Company, I
started working out at the gym. I worked on my aerobic endurance and my
strength. I didnt want the physical act of acting to get in the way of
Another example comes up
later in the conversation, when Bob learns that both kids play multiple musical
instruments. Music will help you act, and will especially help you
direct, he tells them. We all look perplexed. If you know how music
works, you know that it is more interesting if it has loud parts and soft
parts, if the rhythm changes or the speed suddenly shifts. And the same is true
for the story on the stage.
Then he asks them,
What about dance - do you also know dance? They both admit they
dont. Dance will make you learn how your body moves and will teach
you grace. It will make you feel comfortable inside your own skin, and on the
stage, theres nothing more important than that.
At first blush, dance and music and working out at the
gym seem to have little to do with being a comic actor who neither sings nor
dances on the stage. But Bob doesnt just bring acting skills to the table
- he brings the combined life experience of all he has learned and done.
And really its no different for any of us. We, too,
bring the experiences from our non-professional life to bear on behalf of those
we are working with and trying to help.
So what can we bring to the table that doesnt
directly affect our knowledge of the issue at hand, but enhances our
performance overall? What do we do to work out to ensure we are in
great shape for our performance? For those of us who do public speaking,
presenting or training, how comfortable are we in our own skin? What outside
interests help us to be well-rounded, bringing perspectives to the table that
those who depend upon us may not have?
The more diverse our life experience - the more we bring
to the table - the better well be at thinking through the problems life
brings our way.
Be Easy to Work
This is common
sense, but youd be surprised how many people dont consider it
relevant, Bob tells the kids. People who are difficult to work with
are usually not worth the effort. I try to be known as easy to work
with. I work hard. I behave professionally. I dont get mad and rant
and rave. I try to be a team player, to be known as a nice guy. When a director
is casting, it helps that they know they can count on me.
You would think this one is so basic we shouldnt
have to be reminded of it. But how many people do we each know who ignore this
basic principle? And if they are ignoring it, is it possible there are times
when we are ignoring it, too, and not even realizing it?
We all like to think were easy to work with, and
that when theres trouble, its the other guys fault. But if we
find ourselves in those types of situations frequently, then maybe its
really not the other guy. Maybe were not as easy to work with as we
Its not just about being the one your coworkers,
family or clients can count on. Its about being happy in that role -
being dependable without feeling Oh sure, when the going gets tough,
its always me who ends up doing everything. The Golden Rule is
truly golden: we must remember to treat others as we would like to be
Finally, Bob addresses
what happens when you dont get the job. Ive never been
rejected, he tells the kids. There are many roles where they chose
someone else, but Id be flattering myself to think that out of the twenty
or forty or a hundred people that went up for the role, that they took the time
to single me out and reject me! How big my ego would have to be to think that
of all those people, they sat back and singled ME out, saying Oh, that
Sorenson - we definitely DONT want HIM!
Its easy to chuckle when we think of rejection in
that way. But I remember the early days of our consulting practice, when every
job we didnt get was a personal rejection that took days to recover
NonProfits do the same with grants. Individuals do the
same with job-hunting, or awards. We forget how rare it is that an individual
or organization isnt chosen because the folks doing the choosing just
dont like him or her.
Remember that if you follow the rest of Bobs rules
- if you are in that top 10%; if you are easy to work with; if youve
differentiated yourself and learned as much as you can to make yourself
well-rounded - then there is a good chance its not that they rejected YOU
but simply chose someone else. And the best way to find out and to learn from
their choice is to ask them why you didnt get the job, the grant, or the
Doesnt Know He Taught Us
As I think about the
things both the kids and we adults learned and were reminded of at lunch that
day, I realize that we learned some things Bob doesnt even know he taught
First, the kids learned a
lot about being humble regardless of how famous (nationally or locally) they
might become. They learned this simply from the fact that Bob Sorenson, a box
office draw for one of the ten best regional theater companies in the country,
took the time to talk with two teenagers, not to just tell them about his life,
but to listen to theirs.
We are all busy - busy doing the
day-to-day work; busy doing volunteer work in addition to our real
jobs; busy with family time. Somehow, though, the most successful people are
the ones who also find time to help someone who is new to the business, or to
mentor a college student looking for guidance, or even a colleague with a
unique problem. As we mature in our professions, what is that worth if we
cant share the lessons weve learned?
Secondly, the kids learned
that you dont really risk anything by asking for what you think may be
impossible. My daughter knew I was going to write to ask Bob to meet with us,
but she nearly died when I told her he had called and was happy to get
together. The kids learned that when it comes to approaching someone we admire
or want to work with, we risk nothing by trying. The worst that can happen is
that theyll say no or, more likely, that they just wont
answer at all.
We all have our wish lists. The foundation we would just
kill to get funding from. The job we would do anything to get. The board member
who would be absolutely perfect. The consulting client we drool
Whats stopping you from sending that article you
wrote to that person or foundation? Or an article you clipped out of the paper,
and thought had a solution or approach they might find interesting? Make the
contact - whats the worst that could happen? And whats the best
that could happen? Isnt it worth it to try?
And finally, there is the
lesson I personally learned at lunch that day. And that is, quite simply, that
we need to stay open to lifes lessons, because we never know where we
will find them.
Life hands us all the
wisdom we need to be better at our work and better at our lives. All we need to
do is to look for those endless possibilities to learn.