If At First You Don't Succeed...

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If you got here because of the fabulous Lesly Kahn--welcome, fellow Kahnstituents!! :) You might also want to check out my Taking Fountain Map of Los Angeles (if you're a soon-to-be or recent transplant), my post on beta-blockers (which pretty much changed my career as much as Lesly did), and also go here to sign up for my newsletter (I'll let you know when I post new stuff!). Also, I'd love to have you join the Taking Fountain Facebook group--think of it as the Yellow Room, but on the internets. XO

While I was attending UCLA, I got a part-time job at Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions (and worked there full-time after I graduated). They offer prep courses for standardized admission exams like the SAT or the MCAT. I was never a teacher or tutor--I worked at the front desk and then segued into marketing and administrative assistant-ing.

We offered free practice tests as a marketing tool, and multiple practice tests were a highlight of the courses. We encouraged taking lots of them and--most importantly--not getting discouraged by the results.

The company mantra was "every mistake you make now is a mistake you won't make on Test Day."

I parroted this phrase constantly for about three years. It wasn't until after I left the company that I realized what brilliant life advice this is.

As an actor, your whole job is to try to get a job, even knowing you'll fail 90% of the time. It's brutal and can make you feel like a mouse on a wheel of spiraling depression. But after every audition that didn't result in a booking, I tried to figure out the lesson. Was I unprepared in some way? Did I wear the wrong thing? Misinterpret the character description? Maybe my "room" (the interactions with casting/producers/director/etc during the audition) was off, or maybe I was just putting off a weird energy. I'd try to figure out who booked it and see if I could discern why they "went a different way." And it really helped. Over time, I got much better at auditioning.

After awhile, I realized I was actually really lucky to have so many "practice tests" in my chosen profession. I got to look back at my failures and learn from them with the comfort of knowing that more chances were on their way.

Some of my other friends weren't so lucky. When you're not an actor, you have way fewer chances to "audition." Every job interview matters. Every grad school application will determine your whole future. It was causing a lot of angst and stress and pessimism.

But the truth is, no matter who you are or what your profession is, there's always another Test Day. Maybe you can't see it coming right now, but it is. If you bomb on this particular Test Day, chances are you won't bomb in that particular way in the future. And honestly, you can't avoid Test Days. They're always coming, in one way or another.

So the only way to deal with an endless stream of tests that you may well fail is to embrace the opportunities. Prepare as best you can, then just take the test. You'll either succeed, or learn something you can apply to the next test. The very worst thing you can do is try to avoid the test because you're afraid you'll fail--you'll never get anywhere that way.

And when you think about it, who cares if you fail? Sure, it stings a little, but you're the one who determines how much that sting will deter you from what you want. If you're worried that other people will see you fail, then you're putting your life in their hands. So you need to decide that you are heroically alright with other people watching and judging as you struggle through failure. My acting teacher (the inimitable Lesly Kahn) calls it "daring to suck."

This obviously applies to actors, but I think it also applies to everyone else. Get out there. Try and fail and try again. Don't let anyone tell you there's shame in failing. Because every mistake you make now...is one you won't make on Test Day.

Go get it, tigers.