Have you ever worked a gig where people who made more money than you or had more prestige than you were less qualified than you? I’m not gonna go into specifics, but there have been a handful of times when I worked a gig where someone else on the same gig was somehow higher up in the pecking order than I was, but had far fewer qualifications than I did and/or was frankly just not as good as I was at the skill that gig required.
I’m purposely being very vague here because I don’t want to make reference to anyone specifically. So, I’m gonna make up an example that isn’t true from my past, but serves as a good parallel to help explain what I’m talking about:
In this fictional anecdote I was cast to perform stand up comedy. The headliner was a former student of mine who had only been doing stand up for two years, while I had been doing it for ten. In fact, he was a student in my stand up class when he started. He’s funny. There’s no denying that, but I’m funnier. I know how to work a crowd better than him. My punchlines are better and my stage presence is stronger. But he’s the headliner which means he gets to do 45 minutes and gets paid more than me. I’m the feature. I only get 20 minutes and don’t get paid half as much.
I want to reiterate that the previous paragraph is fiction. But it’s a great example of the kind of thing I’m talking about where I have felt that I played second fiddle (there’s an expression I don’t think I’ve ever used before this moment) to someone who’s simply not as good at what he/she does as I am.
For the sake of argument, let’s assume that my subjective opinion about me being ‘better’ is accurate. It may not be in the eyes of many others or it may be, but all that matters for the purpose of this writing is to know that I believe wholeheartedly that that’s the case.
My response to my whiny attitude about this situation is: ‘So freaking what?!?’
Who cares if the person making more money isn’t as talented as I am? Why should that matter? ‘Well,’ one might argue, ‘That matters because in a fair and just world those who are more talented reap the rewards.’ But I’m here to say that argument is crap. There are tons of people in many different industries (maybe all other industries) who get paid more and/or have more prestige than others who are more talented. That’s just the way it is. It’s always been this way. Maybe it always will be this way. Get over it.
I can only speak to the entertainment world, but I know of several directors and actors who I believe to be way more talented than half of Hollywood’s A-listers. Why is this the case? Maybe some of them got their through family connections. Maybe they were at the right place at the right time. Maybe they worked harder. Maybe…it doesn’t really matter. Who cares about the reason. Instead care about taking care of yourself. Feeling cheated by the system because someone less talented than yourself happens to be more rich, famous and/or in a better position to do what they want with their craft is a big fat waste of time. It’s sour grapes. And it does no one any good – particularly you.
A few days ago Michael Keaton won a Golden Globe and in his speech he said, “Work hard. Don’t quit. Be appreciative, be thankful, be grateful, be respectful. Also, never whine, never complain. And always, for crying out loud, keep a sense of humor.”
I don’t know any A-list celebrities personally, but I have met and worked with a lot of working actors and even a handful of famous people. And the common thread I see among all of them is that they all seem to be nice, grateful, respectful people who are just trying to make art and find their way through the weird journey that is life. Of course, I’m aware that this description does not apply to 100% of famous or successful actors. But it’s worth noting that the overwhelming majority of the ones I’ve met personally have these things in common.
Life isn’t fair. To an extent the entertainment world can be a meritocracy, but that’s not true in all cases. And it shouldn’t be expected to be true by myself or anyone else. Every gig, every class you take, every audition, every experience is a chance to learn and grow. So, I say shame on me for looking at someone who’s working a gig and thinking, ‘that should be me, because I’m better than them.’ Instead I should be thankful that I got any gig at all. I can certainly think of people more talented than myself who aren’t working at all.
And here’s something I just realized for the first time. There have probably been a number of gigs I’ve been on where someone felt that I wasn’t as good as they were and thereby deserved to make less money or have less of an important role than them. It’s interesting to realize that I’ve likely been on the other side of this thought myself.
The good news I can say is that these thoughts of superiority and unfairness I’m describing now happen much less frequently than they used to. And what’s more is that when they occur I now am almost always able to replace them with humility and gratitude pretty quickly. Rather than whining (even if it’s only in my head and no one else hears it) I can most help myself by having a great work ethic and a great attitude when I’m on any gig. And that combination may lead to people wanting to work with me again.
But even if it doesn’t, I will continue to do it. Why? Because it’s better for me. And I deserve to be a better version of me. I’m pretty great. Bitterness and whining and the outrage that comes from questioning why I don’t have more and others do only serves to hurt myself and possibly those around me if it seeps through my actions (which it probably would).
So, Mr. Keaton, I appreciate your advice. I’m going to take it from now on and remove all that hurtful negativity I once had. Regardless of the talent level of those I work with, I will strive to be grateful, hard working, happy & fun. Sounds like a much better way to spend my time and energy than the other way.