Hard Work: Why It’s Such an Important Virtue

Elaboration of Step 5 in “The 12 Things You Must Do to Become a Better Actor”

Develop discipline and a capacity for hard work. 
Continue to train regardless of success.

There are so many books, lists, and quotes telling us the secrets of success, how to empower ourselves and change our mindsets. People are getting rich off peddling their secrets with TED talks, YouTube videos, books, webinars, and top ten lists. We could spend our lives researching, reading these books, attending these webinars, hiring life coaches to help us concentrate better, searching to find our “giant within”, etc. and not have the time to do anything or get anything done. 

Listen, a little inspiration here and there can make a huge difference in our lives. Learning a few techniques to help us focus and increase our output are always welcome. I can point to a couple of books that made a huge difference in my life (Ex: The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Persig.) They planted the seeds for great things to come. However, in the end, I still had to get up in the morning and do something about it. I had to find the right combination of will, thoughts, and the means to accomplish “it”. Knowing something is the right thing to do and actually doing something about it, is the tough part. It often comes down to willpower. There is another tool to augment willpower which I believe is joy. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was find something you love, and you will never work a day in your life. 

There is a link below that addresses how Elon Musk can work 120 hours a week and what the secret is to his stamina. It came down to one main thing: he enjoys himself. He has fun doing what he’s doing and is not afraid to fail. That’s how we can do it. It certainly allowed me to have what limited success I have achieved. For the last 50 years I’ve worked 60-80HR/week and I wouldn’t change a thing. I love what I do.

https://www.inc.com/kelly-main/science-reveals-how-elon-musk-can-work-120-per-week-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-time-management.html

I never was afraid of hard work and didn’t let my ego (well, ok…once in a while) dictate my choices and rarely let fear control them. I worked to serve, not acquire. So at least in my case there wasn’t anything special about success. I was pretty average in just about everything. I barely made it out of high school. When I look back at my career, I realized I was never the smartest, most talented or most dynamic guy in the room. I was, however, one of the hardest workers and the most eager to do and be the best I could be. At first it was to please my parents, then teachers and friends. Over time it was to please my son and wife. Eventually, I found a way to do it in a way that gave me personal joy, as well.

There is one area in which I truly believe I am above average – my capacity for hard work and finding joy in that work. I am relentless in the number of hours I can put into my work. It seemed to fill me with the pleasure of possibility, not the dread of a dead end. Throughout my life, when I found something that I wanted to do, or I believed in, I would “live it and breathe it”. I’ve been doing that all my adult life and now I can say I’m pretty good at something. I can say confidently that I am now above average, I’m above average as a coach and as a teacher. Not by any innate ability, but by the sheer number of hours over the years I put in. Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000 rule did apply to me. I put in the time. Some people have an easy time of it. Some people just have that ‘thing’ that gets them places. They catch the breaks and seemingly everything comes their way. Not me. The 10,000-hour rule is more a metaphor than a fact. Here is a link to a concise list of “To-Do’s for Success”, or simply google search “how to succeed” and you will have lists and opinions for a lifetime. Read the books and listen to the podcasts, but don’t forget to use your own inner sense of self to know what is good for you.
“10 Ultimate Keys to Success in Life – How to Live Your Dreams”

Okay, Lewis…Can we make this relevant to acting?
When I look back at many of the successful actors that have come out of our studio, the things they had in common were the following:
1. Dedication
2. Passion
3. Work Ethic 
4. Tireless and JOYOUS commitment to getting better

I recently invited a 15-year-old actress to join my Thursday night “Invite Only” class. She possesses all these qualities. This is a class of heavy hitters who take no prisoners. It is not a class for the faint of heart but I invited her to join because she reminds me of a long line of young actresses that have graced our studio over the years (such as Sydney Meyer, Keeya King, Sara Waisglass, Georgina Reilly and Nina Dobrev). I am leaving out so many others and I apologize I cannot give a shoutout to everyone. There is a new generation of young, fearless and passionate actors on the rise. I am lucky enough to be present as they grow and begin to thrive.

I was pleased to receive this video message last week from Shamier Anderson and Keanu Reeves (both of whom I have worked with – Shamier for many years on various projects and Keanu on productions of Romeo & Juliet and Hamlet.) This message was attached:

“Lewis – You deserve it! Feel free to post on the LB channels! The world needs to know the incredible work you do. Don’t be bashful.”
– Shamier & Keanu

I wanted to share the above video with you all.

These 2 actors, after a span of 2 decades, met for the first time recently on the set of John Wick 4. They share a deep passion for our craft and boundless joy in working and getting better every day.

This is a delicate moment for me, and I want to be very careful with how I proceed. Regardless of what I say, it can be perceived as claiming credit or milking a random set of chance encounters for my own and my studio’s gains. Perhaps both are true. The forces that brought these two men together is a mystery much bigger than anything I can imagine. I can safely say I did not have much of a hand in it. 

On the surface it has the appearance of me having something to do with it. If we look beneath the surface of it, we see the true connection. These 2 men entered my life as boys. They both demonstrated from the moment I met them that they had this passion and work ethic that was breathtaking in its depth, scope, and relentlessness. They had a fire in their eyes that could not be quenched. 

I remember Shamier often after an audition (if it didn’t go well) would say… “I just need more flight time.” Meaning he just needed more opportunities to fail before he could get better. There are many more stories of his hard work and sacrifice, and of his joy and passion. Suffice it to say, he earned all the success he is experiencing today.

“THERE IS NO SUCCESS LIKE FAILURE AND FAILURE IS NO SUCCESS AT ALL”
Bob Dylan

The first time I met Keanu he travelled to a theatre school in North Toronto from Downtown. He entered the room right in the middle of another young actor’s audition, walked up to the table I was sitting behind. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I need to play Mercutio.” Need! Not want. I believed him. It is a fuller and richer story I will leave for another time. There are so many more stories about our time trying to figure out the Queen Mab speech from Romeo and Juliet, and the hundreds of hours we spent trying to wrestle Hamlet to the ground. The walks and excited conversations through the streets of a barren Winnipeg winter to keep us warm. It was joyous!

There are several cultures and languages (Greek in particular) that the word for work and play is the same. I spent about eight weeks living on a Greek island called Santorini in a little village. No day was complete until you danced. It didn’t matter whether it was the fishermen or those working in the field…. you danced.

Somewhere in time the language of acting training became militarized. Classes became workshops and bootcamps. We had to learn how to “own” and “kill it” in a room. The goal became all about booking. Coaches claimed to have maps to the promised land. Sharing ourselves in an audition (virtual or otherwise) became a quaint notion. Learning lines became about “learning them cold, nailing them, pounding them in” etc. It became acceptable to use such militaristic language to describe the absorption of the human condition and thoughts of the character we are responsible to bring to life. 

Feel free to reference my: A Hobbit or Gollum – Who Do You Want to Be Series
HERE

The military approach to art is not conducive to the ebb and flow of creativity or a conduit to human expression. We are depleting ourselves when we do this. I am not sure what the opposite of an endorphin is (I believe it’s cortisol) but whatever it is, it can drain us of our creative life force. Have you ever seen a depressed person get off a bicycle? People go into a gym often depleted and exit full of life. 

If you’re working on a set of sides and it’s all about memorizing the lines and you induce the trauma of how to book the job. These are the things that can kill an actor’s spirit. They drain an actor’s life force instead of nurturing it. There’s a lot of self-help and self-love stuff going around that talks about staying away from toxic people. However, the most toxic person some people are hanging out with is themselves. Getting over your own toxicity is important. 

Make what you do important or find the importance in what you do.
Sometimes if you change the language around something it can help motivate you to get things done. A to-do list is functional and can be useful. For me, the problem with to-do lists is that they are easily discarded. They can be altered or shuffled on a whim. We think we are accomplishing something when we take 5 pieces of paper and put them on to one or use an app to photograph our scribbles and make them a neat digital list and call ourselves organized. Often, we believe a crisis has befallen us and the list gets discarded altogether, handwritten, digital or otherwise. The trick is to get past crisis thinking and focus on the important. 

If you don’t focus on the important things, the only thing that becomes important is the crisis. Obviously, the unexpected will come up. (Ex: we can’t put “the basement is flooding, call a plumber!” or “Get me to the hospital, I sliced off half my finger” on a to-do list.) Shit happens! However, often we can step back, breathe, and say, “is this really the most important thing I can do this week, day, hour or minute?” This is not the muttering of a 4th year philosophy student but the only thing that can be dealt with is happening “now.” Each “now” will become a future that will continue to be “now.” To take control of your life in the moment it is happening, is to give yourself clarity and the power to decide effectively what to do. Making whatever you do important is what gives your life (at that moment in time) meaning. 

When it is important it is easier to focus, plan and execute with joy and precision. Shit gets done!

In short:
1. Decide what you want.
2. Develop a realistic plan as to how you will achieve it.
3. Find the people and resources that will be needed to bring it to fruition.
4. Proceed with joy and be grateful you are blessed with the freedom to live a creative life.

As a kid, one of my favourite stories was the story of the Mother Hen and her little chicks. She went to all the other barn animals seeking their help. All the other animals didn’t want to help her and her chicks. “Who is going to help me plant the seeds, who is going to help me till the soil, water it, tend to it, and then harvest it.” All the barn animals said, “not me!” Later, the Mother Hen said, “who is going to help me harvest the grain, grind it, and who is going to help me bake the bread?” “No, no, not me, not me” said all the barn animals. When the bread was hot and fresh, and the air was filled with the smell of fresh bread and success, the Mother Hen and her chicks danced around the barn yard and Mother Hen said “So who wants to help me eat the bread?” All the barn animals gathered around and said “Me! Me! Me!” Everybody wants to eat the bread. However, often nobody wants to do the work that it takes to make bread.

Enjoy the journey from planting seeds to eating the bread. Although this is a lovely fable it is also wise to remember:
If you work hard it doesn’t guarantee success but it does increase the odds of success and makes you feel better about yourself. The joy is in the journey.