As a psychotherapist and career coach in Los Angeles for over 28 years who specializes in gay men, the founder of GayTherapyLA.com, it’s inevitable that I would work with quite a few creative professionals: actors, television writers, models, singers, designers, and others in the course of a year. This year has been especially active with this, and it’s been rewarding to see the successes my clients have evolved into. I find working with creative professionals rewarding, because they are often intelligent, creative, talented, and brave people, holding their own in very competitive fields.
As accomplished as some of these clients are (or soon will be), they also have their vulnerabilities that they bring to session each week, and it’s a safe place to do that. Certain themes emerge among multiple clients that I’ve been able to observe over the years. From these, I have developed a list of recommendations for enhancing “coping skills” for the life of the creative professional:
Separating Rejection from Personal Self-Worth: I hear about the frustrations. An audition didn’t lead to booking a job. A writing pitch meeting didn’t go well. There was some other frustrating obstacle. But taking a step back from your most recent disappointment is essential. Who you are as a person, spouse/partner, sibling, child, parent, neighbor, etc. remains intact. You, and your work, are separate entities and are individual gifts to the world. In therapy, I help clients maintain their self-esteem while doing battle with whoever your adversary-of-the-day is. I help you build your resilience to the day’s (week’s, year’s) challenges. By learning the skills of Resilience, you can make the (frequent) disappointments and frustrations “roll off your back” like water off a duck. It’s part of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, to re-frame situations from making you feel depressed or de-motivated, to taking a more positive approach that fuels you to keep going.
Using Assertive Communication Skills to Negotiate: In sessions, I frequently role-play difficult conversations my clients are anticipating with various colleagues – a writing partner, an agent/manager, another actor, a director, an executive. There is a six-step method you can learn about Assertive Communication, but most people are not born with it or are particularly adept at it, at first. It takes what therapists call “psychoeducation,” which is education with a psychological component to it. Once you master these skills, it makes all dealings with colleagues easier. It’s mastering the art of negotiation and making agreements without resenting the other person, or them resenting you.
Networking: It’s a cliché in Hollywood – but it’s true – that it’s “not what you know, but who you know.” Networking is as critical a skill as talent is. The best work you do is significantly undermined if no one sees it. In sessions, we evaluate your current networking skills, and plan a strategy for gradually enhancing them in order to achieve the effect you desire (which is usually doing better work, getting more gigs, and doing it all with less hassle). As a creative professional, you ARE your own small business, and your product is the brainchild of your creative mind. But like other small business owners, success often depends on having a sound self-marketing plan, carried out realistically and consistently. Most creative professionals aren’t naturally good at this, which is where the value of coaching comes in. To be a successful creative professional, you must attend to what I call the “Two C’s”, balancing the Creative with the Commercial. For gay male creative professionals, networking is “built in” as part of the gay community. There is the concept of the “Lavender Mafia”, that rightly or wrongly, gay men either stick together in a sense of community, or they compete with one another. Either way, the extra layer of being part of the same sub-population is there. Use it to your advantage.
Tapping your Creative Energies and Self-Validating: Despite all the (let’s face it) crap that creative professionals go through in a tough business, I always maintain an admittedly somewhat romanticized view of the arts. I stand by that, because to see the joy of an actor or writer expressing himself artistically, and to see that joy be shared with theoretically millions of people in the Viewing Public, is rewarding. To that end, it’s important to create an atmosphere for yourself that is relaxing, nurturing, and conducive to tapping your creative energies and letting ideas — like character, story, setting, dialogue – take flight, “downloading” inspiration from the Great Creative Space from which all wonderful artistic inspiration comes, filtered through our minds and hearts, and expressed out through our voices and bodies. Identifying in counseling/coaching sessions how, and when, you are at your best creatively can be an exercise that we use to identify, strengthen, and even defend your best skills as an artist.
Seeing What’s Being Done and What’s Not: For writers, networks and production companies keep screaming for original material, even if they tend to actually purchase projects that appear familiar to us. Being able to see what’s “out there”, in terms of what’s being sold/produced/aired, and what isn’t – where the gaps are, that could be filled with your original concepts/material – is an important professional skill to keep in your dossier as a writer, and in your repertoire of characters as an actor. Even noticing the different “looks” of models is important, to see where trends are headed. It’s about developing an awareness of what’s out there, what inspires you, and what leads to creative inspiration for you that might be the next hit everyone’s talking about.
Having Patience and the Zen Attitude of Letting Go: I’ve observed that many of my creative professional clients have an almost obsessive-compulsive pattern of their thinking and behavior. Current projects or short-term goals have a tendency to consume the consciousness, sometimes to unhealthy levels. It’s an important skill to have some patience – with yourself, your writing partner, your colleagues, your friends, etc., – and to adopt a certain Zen attitude of letting go a little. This is probably when you do your best work, get out of your own way, and the problems/blocks in your projects get resolved. Learn the emotional control (affect regulation) skills in therapy to be able to take a break, step back, and let the solutions flow from a deeper place within you. The use of Mindfulness can help with this. I think the biggest challenge most of my creative professional clients have is getting out of their own way, and managing their own (persistent) anxiety or self-doubt. “The Business” is not interested in your anxiety; they are interested in how your creative inspiration can make them (and you) money.
Getting Help from Partners and Friends: Another life skill for the Mentally Healthy Creative Professional is knowing when to get help from others. There are many sources: a writing partner, a scene partner, an acting coach, a vocal coach, a stylist, a partner/spouse, a sibling – even a therapist/coach. But since freelance creative professionals can actually spend a lot of time alone during the week, reaching out to trusted others can be essential to keeping your sanity when you’re feeling pressure about a project – as long as you can trust that person to maintain the essential confidentiality of your intellectual property.
Empowering Yourself in Ways Outside of Work: The skill of empowering yourself outside of work is essential. Sure; your identity as a creative professional is perhaps the most significant role in your life, and for good reason – millions of potential viewers of your work are counting on you to make a good project. But that role, however important, is not the only important role you have in your life. You could be a spouse or partner to someone. You could be a parent – to a child, or even a cherished pet. You could hold a position of leadership or volunteerism in your community. You are someone’s child, sibling, niece/nephew, neighbor, and friend. When you get stressed, remember that you are more than the current project you are working on, or trying to work on. You are a human being. That is what you were before your career, and that is what you will be long after. Keep the perspective that keeps you mentally and physically healthy.
Self-Care with Diet, Exercise, Stress Management, and Sleep: While your job depends on meeting the challenges in terms of your creativity, skill, and discipline to meet deadlines, your effectiveness as a creative professional will be impaired if you do not practice the care and feeding that healthy creative people require. Paying attention to your diet, having an exercise regimen that you enjoy (key word), having a strategy for managing stress, and getting enough high-quality sleep are all factors that help keep your audiences laughing, crying, or screaming due to your work – and keep audience patronage up. There aren’t any studies, but I bet there is a correlation to be found between creative professionals who take good care of themselves, the quality of their work, and the ultimate success of your projects.
Medical and Dental Care During Down Times: I work with one gay male television writer who manages a couple of chronic health conditions. He uses any hiatus week or hiatus season, in part, to schedule various medical appointments, dental exams, even elective (cosmetic) procedures, all to “do maintenance” on himself when he’s not nose-to-the-grindstone on his show. Knowing how to take care yourself during those times when you actually have time for “self-maintenance” is another important skill.
Experiences to Enrich your Life Beyond Work and Provide Creative Inspiration: Finally, it’s important that you give yourself enough official “down time” to support your “un-official” work time, in the sense that you are seeing the world and living life in a way that feeds your unconscious mind, where your creativity comes from. Taking a walk, doing some traveling, putting yourself in new/unique situations, being adventurous, even having morning coffee with today’s news can all feed your soul in a way that creates spontaneous inspiration for a new project – sometimes, gleefully, when you least expect it. Approaching the world with a sense of awe, wonder, curiosity, amusement, and even questioning can all help you “plug into” the Great Creative Space and breathe life into new projects.
The life skills needed to be the Mentally Healthy Creative Professional have a lot in common with the skills needed to be mentally healthy in any vocation, but for entertainment professionals, the stakes are higher – the demands of creativity, collaboration, and deadlines are daunting – more so than for the average person’s work week – but the rewards are higher, too. Reaping the rewards, while also keeping your own sanity, is a win-win situation for all.
For help in enhancing all of these life skills – and strengthening whichever one is the weakest link in the life chain for you – consider counseling or coaching sessions. Work can be one-time, short-term, or ongoing, and is customized to focus on the skills you most want to enhance.
Ken Howard, LCSW, is a gay and HIV-positive (30 years) licensed psychotherapist (LCSW) and life/career coach who has specialized in working with gay men, as individuals and couples, for over 28 years. He helps many gay men (and others) resolve the issues that undermine your quality of life, and helps you to thrive.
For help improving your personal or professional life, whatever your current challenges are, consider sessions with Ken for counseling, coaching, or therapy sessions, at his office in Los Angeles/West Hollywood (near Beverly Center mall), or via phone, or via webcam, anywhere in the world. Call 310-339-5778 or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com for more information.
Ken is also available for expert witness work on legal proceedings involving gay issues, all LGBT issues, HIV issues, and issues concerning psychiatric illness or disability, as well as organizational consulting for non-profit organizations, corporations, college campuses, and conferences.
To get your copy of his self-help book, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!,visit www.Amazon.com , or wwwLuLu.com. It’s your “portable therapist” for the challenges you face today in your mental health, health, career, finances, family, spirituality, and community.