How Bowling with a Friend Saved My Acting Career
June 17th, 2018

I was a few months away from hitting the road for an eight-month tour when my friend Ryan invited me out for some bowling. Our group varied in experience. Having only bowled a handful of times in my life, I was near the bottom of the rankings. Ryan, unbeknownst to me, had plenty of experience and was happy to give tips.

So what was my most fatal flaw? I wasn’t following through.

I’m gonna be real: following through is something I’ve struggled with outside of my bowling technique as well. It’s pretty embarrassing to admit that, but I’m more interested in excising that blemish than concealing it, and I know I’m not the only one who’s faced that struggle.

Not following through means you’re not committing. It means you’re stopping halfway, and it’s death to your career.

I’ve always known that it affected me in small ways (like my unfinished books and half-written songs), but I was startled to realize that this failure to follow-through had metastasized on a much grander scale, affecting and threatening my entire career as an actor.

That eight-month tour contract came to an end with no work lined up to follow it. But that’s typical, right? The difference is that I’ve spent most of the last eight years working with the same company. That means that for the last eight years, I’ve not practiced the daily hustle of devouring casting notices, submitting for work, developing audition material and…you know…auditioning.

The need to get back on that bicycle after eight years overwhelmed me. Instead of tracking down auditions and reaching out to companies, I thought, “I’ll need to find an apartment first, and then an in-between job to pay for it and my other bills…then, after I’m settled into all of that, I can start looking for acting work.” I realized what was happening: just like my bowling and my songwriting, I wasn’t following through.

Steven Pressfield talks about this avoidance in The War of Art. “We don’t tell ourselves, ‘I’m never going to write my symphony.’ Instead we say, ‘I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.'”

As an artist, you’ve got to watch vigilantly for this avoidance and wipe it out when it’s found. It has the power to turn you from a professional back into an amateur.

Kevin Hart backs this up in his autobiography:

That’s the biggest difference between the amateur and the professional, between the wannabe and the star, between the dabbler and the expert. The unsuccessful get halfway to the finish line, then turn around. The successful get halfway, then keep going. Both run the same distance, but only one makes it to the finish line.

Up to this point, my career’s trajectory had been moving incrementally upward ever since my first professional job in 2010, but that trajectory nearly stalled when my contract ended. Like Kevin said, I was at a halfway point: I could move forward or turn back.

I thought back to Ryan’s bowling tips. If you don’t follow through, you’re likely to go off course and end up in the gutter. Follow through, commit, and you’ll keep a straighter path. You’ll reach your target.

So that’s what I’m doing. I made a promise to myself when I was 16 years old that I was going to make a career of acting, and I’m going to continue following through on that commitment. The teenaged me hustled hard to get here, living in rented rooms, busking for cash in the dead of winter to buy food and waiting in line at food pantries when that wasn’t enough (and it frequently wasn’t enough). At one point, I got permission to leave a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Sorcerer just before intermission to run six blocks away to a brief rehearsal for Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, Part III, then back in time for the second act (I still had my jerkin on under my sweater when I came into rehearsal).

That kid hustled. That kid deserves a grown version of himself who also hustles, who doesn’t turn back and who is as committed—if not more—than he was in the beginning. That kid deserves the future he busted his butt for, and it’s my job to give it to him.

I can’t end this without saying that it’s been a blessing to have had such steady work for the last eight years. Slowing that hustle down did make it easier to focus on developing my work, on replacing bad habits with better ones, and on truly turning from an amateur to a professional. And now it’s time to get back in the fast lane and put those eight years of development to work.

It’s time to hustle.

Back to the story about my afternoon of bowling. I listened carefully to Ryan and tried again. I picked up the ball, eyed my target and decided on a path. I lined up, pulled back, swung and released—this time, I followed through. Right here is where it would be ideal to say that I got a strike and that they all chanted my name as the credits rolled, but we all know that’s not real.

I didn’t get a strike, but I did pick up a spare. Over the course of the game I got closer and closer to hitting my target. Every second that I spent observing the others and attempting myself was an investment in the long-haul goal of being a better bowler. I committed. I didn’t drop the ball early, I didn’t veer off the path and—most importantly—I didn’t end up in the gutter. And I don’t intend to.