Why Complaining Gets You Nowhere

STEP 6 – Stop complaining!

Don’t sit around waiting for the phone to ring! Create your own work. Embrace the joy of creation.

I grew up with 2 brothers and a sister. As you can imagine, there was a lot of complaining and blaming going on. If we went running to our father, he would respond with – “complaints 2nd floor.” We lived in a bungalow. When we got older, he loved telling the story of three soldiers who were separated from their unit and were lost in the jungle of enemy territory. One soldier has his eyes peeled for enemy movement. The second is listening intently for rustling leaves. The third soldier is complaining out loud “Why does this always happen to me? Why me? It’s all your fault!!!!” A gunshot rings out and the complaining soldier falls to the jungle floor…dead. Not exactly an Aesop’s Fable, but it did do the trick. We learned at an early age that complaining doesn’t pay. We also had family members who fled pogroms in Russia and Holocaust survivors who brought their own sobering perspective on complaining. There was also that random aunt who had the ability to defy logic and say (when we didn’t like what was put on our plate) “Don’t complain, they are starving in Europe.” 

Look to Yourself
There is a phrase in the Kabballah “Lech Lacha” which means: look to yourself or “go to yourself.” One of its earliest uses was in the Bible (and symbolized the journey towards a promised land) was the story of Abraham who heard a voice that led him on his path or journey to the land of Kannan. It can also be used as a reminder to listen to your inner voice and follow your dreams; to take personal responsibility for your own actions, and be cognizant of the consequences of those actions on others. There are many more historical and religious interpretations of the phrase (which are way beyond my mandate). I won’t go into them here. (Pause). You’re welcome!

In retrospect, perhaps I should have put the capacity for hard work blog after this one because it ties directly to the amount of energy used to complain and how that energy can be used to do things that would increase the odds of making the complaint go away.

The more you complain the less energy you have to do anything about it.

Actors often have a lot of time on their hands and a cornucopia of things to complain about. They spend a lot of time waiting for an audition, waiting in waiting rooms (virtual or live), a call back, a booking or a call time. Even when on set, a chunk of your day is spent waiting. Actors have a lot of time on their hands to conjure up reasons and things to complain about. They are often waiting in the company of another actor. A lot of the time these actors are your friends. So, it is natural for actors to empathize with one another. During these times, actors have a tendency to complain and commiserate with each other. We listen to others’ complaints in the hope that they will listen to our complaints in return. We get ourselves into a bio feedback loop of complaining to one another and spin ourselves into a black hole of misery, inertia and self-doubt.

Complaining is often a way of expressing what is really a deep fear within that feels like you’ll never audition or work again. There is also a tendency to blame the system (industry).
1. They aren’t going to watch my tape anyway
2. They’re going to hire an American
3. They’re not interested in local actors; they only go to the top agents.
4. I’ve got the wrong headshots.
5. I should’ve done it this way! I should’ve studied here…I shouldn’t have studied there. I should have! I should have! I should have!
Stop “Shoulding” on Yourself
There is a saying in cognitive therapy: stop “shoulding” on yourself! (I really like that one). Here are a few more of the most common complaints and some solutions for how to rewire these neurological loops: 

1. I haven’t had an audition in x amount of time
2. I have no one to read with me or help me with my self-tape
3. I never get feedback for my self-tapes from my agent or casting
4. I only get 24-48 hours to do it
5. There’s not enough info on the breakdown
6. There are too many lines / There are not enough lines
Let us agree all the above are true. We still have a choice to surrender or get on with it. There are alternatives instead of complaining. Sit down and do something about it. 

As in previous blogs there are many books and podcasts that can help you work through this habit of complaining and blaming. Most posit the theory that “complaining and blaming” are habits that can be broken and replaced by positive ones using a variety of techniques. Find the ones that work best for you. Here are a few of my own curated from my own experiences and books I have read. 
– The Wisdom of Insecurity by Alan Watts
– 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
– The Power of Habit: by Charles Duhigg 

Why COMPLAINING and BLAMING is not good for your career.
The science:
People who complain on a regular basis often alienate those around them and harm their own mental health. The ability to determine the challenges of a day ahead can improve well-being. Having a game plan for daily challenges can also reduce the amount we complain. 

Complaining damages parts of your brain. I read (parts) of a study that showed complaining shrinks the hippocampus — “an area of the brain that’s critical to problem solving and intelligent thought.” Spending time with negative people turns out to be as bad as hanging out with your own negative thoughts. It is also worth considering that it’s possible that the most toxic person you will ever hang out with is yourself.

BLAMING is “a defense mechanism in which the ego defends itself against unconscious impulses or qualities (both positive and negative) by denying their existence in themselves and attributing them to others.” 

A ‘blamer’ is really just a narcissist, who, in their own mind, can do no wrong. Anything that happens to them, whether their own fault or not, is immediately blamed on others. 

Each time we blame others for our actions, we diminish our power and enhance our sense of being a loser or a victim. When we perceive ourselves as a victim, we (without realizing it) generate feelings of powerlessness and loss of faith—all of which may increase our desire to complain. 

When you complain, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol. … All the extra cortisol released by frequent complaining impairs your immune system and makes you more susceptible to illness. If you get sick, then you really will have something to complain about! 

However, shit happens. Life is often not fair. A run of bad luck or bad timing can put a real hobble in your step and a burning sensation in your gut. Setbacks are inevitable. The breaks sometimes just don’t go your way. How you handle adversity will play a huge factor in your overall success. 

There is a difference between a complaint and a realistic assessment of a situation that requires attention, correction or remedy. So… 

Rather than complain to others, ask them how they are coping or handling the above list. Maybe they have some helpful hints. If they don’t, maybe you can work out solutions together. Consider there are 2 bottles on a table, and you are thirsty…one is marked Cortisol the other one is marked Endorphin. Which one would you choose? 

Complaining Remedies
1. Breathe first. Breathing doesn’t solve problems or make complaining and blaming go away; however, it can create a mental environment that will enable you to deal with your situation(s) and reduce the need for complaining and produce the opportunity for better outcomes. Consider: in this moment what is the single most important thing to do, ask or think.

2. Instead of complaining, share. Everyone loves to complain, but very few are interested in hearing your complaints. You may think they do, but they are just being polite. Look closer and you will see a pained look on their faces and a body slightly turned away getting ready to flee. 

3. Locate the trigger that launches your complaint/blame cycle. 

4. Write it down. What happened or is happening? There may be a story buried in there worth telling. 

5. Take responsibility. Don’t blame. Ask yourself what role you played in your current predicament and what concrete steps you can take to remedy it. 

6. Remember that even if someone else is at fault, you still must choose to do something about it…or not. 

7. Remember there’s always a reason not to do something. There’s always a reason why you might fail. It’s not like you need a lot of excuses or much of an imagination to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t do something. Quite frankly, the odds of failure in that sense of the word are very, very high, but so what? In the end, you can sit and complain, or you get up and do something about it and that’s the bottom line. The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. 

8. Have friends who aren’t actors. 

9. Volunteer at a foodbank.

HOW TO HELP OTHERS (as it pertains to acting)
1. As soon as someone starts to complain, say, “What can I do to help?”
– You can work on a scene with them.
– Write a few lines together. 
– Help them extract the “actionable’s” from their “complaint,” and vice versa.
– Help them find the source of that complaint. 

2. Don’t give them the same stale recycled clichéd advice they or others gave you the week before.

We must all remember that we chose to be actors, directors, creatives, artists etc. We were not kidnapped from our homes in childhood and forced into slave labor or indentured service to an overlord in a foreign country as an artist.

We chose this life because we believed it would be the most fulfilling way to live our lives. An artist doesn’t wait for the phone to ring. An artist creates and makes things. They don’t wait for things to happen. 

Most of the things you want are a means to an end, not the thing itself. Create! Express yourself in music, dance, poetry or in writing, producing or acting. Celebrate and cherish your opportunities and freedom to express yourself.

There is joy in creation!