Actor brain.

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Check out this article/cool experiment.   Performing while your brain is being scanned.    Magic really is happening.

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The Slow Boil

Glenn Close is a beast.  She devours scenes.  She eats dialogue for breakfast.   She leaves lesser actors in the dust.  She owns the work.   Whether she is playing the good guy or the bad guy, I am always rooting for her.   I love her.

Possibly my favorite of her performances was as Marquise Isabelle de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons.  I loved it so much, that the first monologue I learned at age 16 was her character’s calm description of creating herself in a culture that ‘only wanted me to sit still and do what I was told’.   Yes, this was ridiculous – as it was a entirely inappropriate monologue for my age….but it was so insanely delicious watching her on screen that I HAD to know the material.   Had to hear those words trip off my tongue.  If you haven’t seen the film – check it out.  You find costume drama’s boring? Give it a chance.  You will be delighted with how sexy, vicious, and riveting the story is.   It’s an intoxicating mixture of chess, porn and warfare.

I was feeling a bit dusty this week – frustrated with progress that feels nominal and effort that feels Herculean.   I was reminded that Glenn didn’t book her first on-screen role until she was 35.  In Hollywood that’s like saying she was 700…and had leprosy. It’s impossible.   But she did it.

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That really IS the question! Are you going to make it happen, be who you want to be, or not?   Time IS of the essence, but I breath a sign of relief that it isn’t as dire as we are told.   Hollywood makes you believe that if you haven’t headlined a film by the time you hit 22 (especially as a woman), you probably missed your chance. It’s nice to be reminded there are exceptions to the rule.   That passion, perseverance and skill can trump the status quo, skew the bell curve and beat the odds.

From the outside it feels like success comes roaring all at once…when usually it has been simmering for years.  While the media focuses on the kid who booked a huge role on their first audition and immediately launched into a full throttle career-  the greater truth is the ‘15 year overnight success’.   Job by Job, gig by gig, building a career over time.  Until that one special job arrives and your career goes from ‘Who’s that?’ to ‘That’s who!’ .

So, I still allow myself to want it all.  To believe in the possibility I can still have it.   I hope you give yourself that gift too – whatever your dream, your passion, your goal.  Fifteen year overnight success sounds great to me!

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I heard a quote once about Zach Galifianakis– it said, something to the effect of  “we are lucky he wasn’t his most successful when he was young, because his talent needed to ferment, to marinate and we are all the better for it”.   I get that.  I hope that is me. I’ve always been an ‘old soul’ and I know that has come across in my work.   I look younger than I am.   But I’ve always had a quality of maturity that is older than I am.  It’s a strange mix.  Perfect for some meaty roles- but not the generic young woman that is so often the role being cast.  I’m now reaching the point where it is all coalescing together.   A yummy soup of womanhood that I hope I can capitalize on.

I’ve always said I would rather be starting my career, have it continuing on the rise, than to realize the best is behind me.   That it would be more interesting to have a career full of dynamic women’s roles, rather than the empty roles of vapid college co-eds or muted girlfriends.   So I will keep pushing forward.

I ran into Kathryn Joosten several times over the years.  The final time was about two weeks before she passed away.    I didn’t know her well, but she was just as sweet, lovely and grounded as you expected her to be. I am inspired by her story of following her passion and living her dream.  I hope you are too.

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Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.  And Dreams aren’t just for the bright-eyed cherubs amongst us.   Life is short – you owe it to yourself to chase after what you most want.

No excuses:

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Sidekick Envy

Thinking today about fantastic duos of the past.  What happened to the teams of stars who would co-mingle throughout their careers?  Dance partners, comedic twosomes, romantic counterparts falling in love (on screen) again and again.   When did that go out of favor?

While at moments it may have been exasperating to be dependent on the strengths and weaknesses of someone else, I bet it was also comforting going through the nonsensical rise and fall of fame with a partner.  Sharing the experience with someone who truly gets what you are going through.

It’s not something you can completely explain to someone who isn’t along for the ride.  It’s far too Seussian, fall-down-the-rabbit-hole, Narnian-otherworldly to fully convey.  I’m envious of those partnerships from the golden era who could lean on each other to fend off the surprising loneliness, exhaustion or chaos the limelight can bring.   Or to push each other to shine even in the most challenging days in your search for the spotlight.

I’m not blind to the jealousy, infighting, or drama that must have been there too…but you look at gorgeous old photos and can’t help but think having a shoulder to lean on (or arms to dip you) looks divine.

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Sometimes auditions suck a bag of dicks.

Apologies for the vulgarity…but it’s true.

You sometimes sit in your car afterwards…shell-shocked, trying to understand what just happened. I don’t know a single actor without audition horror stories.   Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment – but I find it hilarious to look back at some of these sticky situations.   When you decide to be an actor, you really have no idea what you are getting into.   You picture the work…not the process of getting there.

Some days being an actor, even an actor between jobs, rocks.  Some auditions are gifts.   You are on THE LOT, you have reserved parking (these small things can feel like lotto winnings when they are rare).  It feels glamorous and ‘old-Hollywood’.  You feel part of something important when the project is one you WANT to be part of, with people you are excited to work with. The character speaks to you and you KNOW you can not only do the job beautifully, but you can bring fire to the role that no one else can. You can bring the character to life, and surprise even the writer and creator with your connection, insight and delivery of the material.   You feel like a warrior who is conquering.   When you nail an audition it is magic, – like real magic where you transport someone to another place and time and can bring them to tears, turn them on, scare them, take their breath away, get them to laugh or to REALLY SEE YOU like they hadn’t before you created that magic.  It is incredibly fulfilling, validating and POWERFUL.   You feel invincible – because, when you truly connect, you can not make a wrong choice.  Everything you do sizzles with heaping spoonfuls of YES(!) and they can’t get enough.

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….but many auditions are an exercise in humiliation.

They say actors go on more job interviews in a week, than most people do in a lifetime.   With the stakes being this high and the odds being against you, the pressure is on.  The wins can be epic…and the failures can be spectacular.

Add this to the fact that auditions are freakin’ weird – and you have a recipe for disaster.

Auditioning and acting are two very different skills.   In an audition, you are reading with someone who is usually not an actor and is just sitting in a chair next to the camera, feeding you all of the other characters lines, often monotone, and completely unengaged with you.   There is no interaction between the actor and reader, no props, sets, costumes or anything to ‘fill’ the moment.  Just your read.   For chatty dramatic scenes, or witty comedic banter this is cool… for complicated action scenes, or really any scene that involves any action – this can be absurd. Picture saying your lines while simultaneously pretending to be skydiving, or being killed, or worse – having sex, and you start to picture the cringe worthy event that is an audition. Not to mention you are trying to do the best you can with this crazy situation while your ‘audience’ (casting director, writer, producers, director etc) may be eating lunch or texting or looking through a stack of headshots  (“No keep going”, they’ll say.   “I can see everything you are doing”   What? No you can’t. Not properly.)

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Side note: (I am amused and horrified that they have started including footage of auditions as part of DVD commentary…as mentioned above, sometimes it is magic, but sometimes even for A-listers who were brilliant in the role, the auditions just feel sad and humiliating as they stand there pretending to fend off an invisible attacker using the sides as an imaginary knife.  WHY are they showing the world this crazy part of the process that doesn’t make anyone look good??)

Sometimes auditions are the 7th circle of Hell.

(Most) actors aren’t mimes, so the potential ridiculousness of this advanced level of charades can’t be underestimated.

Picture for instance, you must convince us you are driving a car through a fiery inferno and shooting a gun, after being stabbed in the neck by the alien in the passenger seat,   and simultaneously disarming a bomb in the glove box-  all while delivering a dramatic I’m sorry/forgive me monologue in a South African accent over the phone to your dying wife that should leave us in tears. Don’t forget that the stakes are enormous, not only is making your mortgage on the line – but this is one of those roles in a major project that could take you to the ‘next level’.  And ACTION!   That audition may leave someone in tears, but between you and casting, it’s probably not casting.    It’s you in your car afterwards as you think ‘what the eff am I doing with my life’.

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Auditions are spinning the roulette wheel.   You never know what you are gonna get.  And whatever that is, you show up and do the best you can with what you are given.  After 15 years working, I still have auditions arrive and think ‘what am I supposed to do with this material’?  How can I pull this off without looking like a complete asshat?

I have endless examples of audition material that is heinous and embarrassing…. But instead I’ll focus on the situation itself.  Regardless of the material, auditions can be insane.  Here is a sampling of crazy things that have happened when I was auditioning….and btw, these are not tiny projects…this is the real deal stuff.

Being in the waiting room, thinking you are on a final call back for a project – but overhearing the casting director in the next room, on the phone discussing how they already hired someone for this job, but called you back in because they want to put you on tape, to show the actress they did hire, what they would like her to do.    Yes, this happened.

Being asked to audition in a famous producers living room because they didn’t want to come into the office.   Getting there and having to do a dance routine (expected, as this was the role of a dancer) but almost being attacked by the large pet Doberman Pinscher  who interpreted my high kicks as threatening to his owner.    Yes, this happened too.

Being asked if I could be taller, have bigger boobs, if I could pass for Eskimo, Iranian, 15, 46,  if I could bring additional funds to the project, if I could get some of my famous friends interested,  – or this one – if I wanted to be set up on a date with their brother.  Umm, what?

Having the reader suddenly try to inappropriately touch me or kiss me in the scene.  #ewww  Not threatening, just not acceptable!

Having the reader who was suffering from an obvious hangover, stand up, walk across the room and throw up, in the middle of my read.   Yes, for real.

Having the casting director lose it during my audition – just start sobbing, and that turning into me counseling them on the divorce they were in the middle of.

Having the sprinklers in the building go off .   Yep.

Having my car stolen from the studio valet.  (Returned about 30 minutes later when they realized I was looking for it…it was ‘borrowed’ to go pick up lunch.  What?  Yes.)

Having the casting directors dog throw up.   I tried not to take that personally.

Having the reader make it all about them – trying to book a job they aren’t even in the running for.  This backfired on them, but was awkward for all of us.

Or this one…I recently auditioned for a project where they were casting two characters in the session – the character I was going in for…and ‘Missy’ a transsexual.  I have to admit, I was intimidated by how stunning most of these ‘Missy’s’ were in the waiting room.    So, I walk into the  office for the reading and should I be offended or complimented by the fact that the CD started reading me for the Missy role?   I chose to  feel quite fly.

There was a show (no longer on the air) that had a bit of a love affair with me.   They brought me in 17, yes you read that correctly – seventeen– times in 2 years  (15 times straight to producers) and never hired me. Things like that blow my mind. So close, yet so far.

Or this gem:  A friends of mine was testing for a huge new series and was thrown out of the building at the final callback for network because the company president was offended, and found it disrespectful that he was wearing flip flops instead of ‘real shoes’ to audition for his project.  (the flip flops were appropriate to the beach-bum character, and worn at each previous audition, btw)

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Sometimes the frustration comes after the fact-

I had a producer come up to me at an event a few years after I had auditioned for his series.   He was excited to come up and re-introduce himself and tell me the ‘funniest story’ about how  “He loved me at my audition and wanted to cast me as a lead role in his series, but they lost my photo and couldn’t remember my last name and eventually gave the part to another girl.   But it wasn’t that big of a deal, the series only lasted a year.  Isn’t that hilarious!”      No, that’s not even a little bit funny.  You and I have totally different definitions of what qualifies as amusing.  Would you excuse me a minute while I go cry in the corner?  Thanks.   Even if he was exaggerating…that story sucked.

Being replaced at the last second after being hired, when they found a bigger name to take the role.    Ouch.

You never know what is behind the door.    It may be your dreams coming true.     Or it might be fodder to entertain your friends over dinner.     The absurdity blends into one giant kaleidoscope of mayhem that you have to wear like a badge of pride to avoid being sucked into a downward spiral.  Luckily, the moments you covet, the ones that really stick to your ribs, are the ones where the magic happens.   Where you hold the audience in the palm of your hand and bend them to your will.

Fresh faces – actors just off the bus, with no expectations, (and no resume) book more than their fair share of work. I imagine casting is often attracted to the girl who is just happy to be there and doesn’t care what she is asked to do.  She’s game for whatever and doesn’t know any better.    It gets more frustrating as you get older – you have less patience with the gamble of what is on the other side of the casting door.  You feel you’ve paid your dues and have less tolerance for the goofy experiences you feel should be far behind you at this point in your career….and I’m sure that can occasionally feel off putting to those in charge.

I was chatting with some girlfriends the other night – swapping war stories – and we all agreed we had a bit of a chip on our shoulders that had built up over the years from dealing with so many strange and disheartening experiences.

We came up with a new motto:    We are cashing in our chips!    

Leaving our chip(munk)s behind: Image

Starting fresh.   With renewed optimism and eager to play.  Just don’t ask us to mime.

Want more audition horror stories?  Check out this great show:   http://www.worstauditioneverblog.com/

Or the fantastic documentary Showing Up  at  http://www.showingupmovie.com/

Bonus thought:   *Chipmunk on your shoulder is much cuter than a chip. Image

Adventures in Cleavage

I walked onto a set about a year ago and was quickly whisked off to wardrobe to be fitted for a dress for the scene I was about to shoot.   As I undressed, the wardrobe stylist looked me up and down and said (in a sorority girl delivery) “awwww, your breasts are so cute “.

Umm, what?!

Did I hear that correctly? Surely not.  Cute?  Cute?!  Of all the adjectives I would like to hear used to describe my breasts, cute is probably not in the ballpark of what you want to go with, if you are trying to buddy up to me.     Not to mention, I was there to be sexy – and damnit, I was sexy, not cute!

For the record, my breasts may be small – but they are mighty.  I’m very happy with them.  I grew up as a dancer, and I have always loved a ballet dancers sleek, streamlined figure. I find nothing as sexy as the sensuality, grace and strength dancers have.  I feel sexy, powerful and fierce when I am in fighting form.  I happen to love my body.  That doesn’t mean I don’t see a million flaws that I am constantly battling, but I know when I am focused and working out and treating myself well, I am grateful and happy with what I was given….including my delicious ‘A’ cups.   And even after moving to Hollywood where the impression is that you need “Double D’s” to get attention, I still feel the same way. It never crossed my mind to wish for a bigger rack.  I’m sure I’ve lost out on some roles, but not roles that truly appeal to me.

None the less, breasts do play a big role in my work life.   I was recently discussing with friends, the on-screen adventures my breasts have had through various characters and wardrobe.  While I haven’t done nudity, I’m endlessly fascinated by the illusions that we can create for film and television.  How we design characters to appeal to an audience or to tell their story through their look.

Enter Livia stage left:  Image

Holy Boobs Batman!  I was floored, truly flabbergasted looking in the mirror at my Xena wardrobe fitting. The wardrobe department were miracle workers and savvy architects! I had these massive breasts out of nowhere.  I found them to be ridiculous and also loved flaunting this powerful new tool I didn’t normally have. [ I also clearly remember the awkward phone call with my Dad who asked if I had surgery after watching my first episode.   Doh!  ]

When I mentioned my amazement at my décolletage to Lucy Lawless, she joked that the actresses on the show have generally the same length hair, same skin tone and same breast size…because upon arrival, the magic machine that was the vanities department on Xena transformed you with hair extensions, body make up (we were all various non-human shades of  “Barbie!”) and spectacular bras and padding to make us as visually appealing as we were skilled with our weapons (which was also a cool illusion).

Foolishly, I made the rookie mistake of reading online feedback about my debut on the series. This was my first experience with online criticism and the venom that online anonymity can encourage. It was a lesson immediately learned: Its none of my business what you think of me.  I have to put my best (breasts?) out there and let it go.  The opinions of others can’t determine your satisfaction with your work (or with your appearance).

This aside is applicable to my cup size because I had a mini-meltdown upon returning to New Zealand and getting a new set of wardrobe – without the massive padding.  Had my characters new found religious fervor somehow deflated her bosom? Not sure.  Normally I would not have batted an eye and just rolled with it….but after my recent reading of message boards and reviews, all I could think of was how many people would potentially be discussing and critiquing my body, my private space – and I was (to my horror!) suddenly in full blown tears while standing in the wardrobe room being pinned into my costume.  I had no personal interest in having big tata’s….but I didn’t want the sudden absence of them to create the opportunity for a renewed focus on my body by thousands of very vocal people online.   I just felt too vulnerable.  The wardrobe department and I talked about continuity and for better or for worse, as you can tell from the pictures, the rack was back!

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I have since grown a thicker skin (as is obvious from this boob blog). You MUST have a sense of humor as an actor.  You are a tool, a prop.  (As is your cleavage.)   The fun and occasional frustration of that fact, comes from your appearance and how it is used.   It makes each audition and each job a bit more of an adventure and is sometimes nerve-wracking or frightening when you are forced to use a flaw you would rather hide. I’m lucky, in that I’m a bit of a chameleon on screen, playing a wide range of looks from buttoned up and demure to wild and crazy. I love that I can represent so many types of women and turn femininity on its head by tweaking the presentation.  It always amuses me that Hollywood seems to want to categorize you when we all know the work itself is about creating illusions – and that very few women fall into 1 stereotype.

Career wise, my chi-chi’s have now gone on to have a diverse career in their own right:

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In real life I  never wear a padded bra…i hate it. It feels foreign, uncomfortable and not like me.

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….but I am endlessly fascinated by the illusion one can create with wardrobe in every day life too.  Two photo examples below – these were taken less than 45 minutes apart at the same photo shoot.  And bras weren’t even involved. #Wow.

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Oh, and I’m fully clothed in this shot.  Jeans, sneakers and a strapless shirt.  Only my shoulders are bare….but that’s the beauty of illusion.

I heard a semi-celebrity spout on TV the other day that she couldn’t understand why anyone would remove their implants. She couldn’t imagine the prudish hell that must be living with small breasts.    I laughed out loud at this.  Trying to compartmentalize sex appeal or womanhood down to one body part is, to be blunt- idiotic. I can certainly ‘bring it’ as much as any augmented blonde.  The beautiful thing about women is how different and dynamic they are…and that applies to their minds, personalities, and bodies as well. Fake breasts are not my thing.  Voluntary surgery freaks me out and feels like a slippery slope.  But I firmly believe that everyone should do what is best for them.   I have friends with implants, who love them.  I also have friends who regretted getting them. I’m lucky to have an amazing group of women friends who span a tremendously diverse array of shapes, sizes, types, etc.   What I love most about them is they each feel 100% authentic. They have worked to be completely, fully themselves. The amusing irony of life is it sometimes takes enhancements to reach that – and we all have different forms of enhancement – if not breasts, maybe its tattoos or piercing or even a haircut or the clothes you wear…. We get to create ourselves in this life – each of us is our own make up artist, wardrobe stylist, writer, producer and director. We all star in and create our own story.

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The lesson:  Love what you are given.  Celebrate it.  Work with what you’ve got (you’d be surprised what all you can do!). Or If you are certain making a bigger change will make you feel that much better – go for it….but make sure that change is not masking something else but helping you create fully who you truly are.  Nothing is sexier than a woman who loves herself completely – and no amount of exterior ‘enhancements’ can change the truth of that.   There is nothing sexier than true confidence.  Nothing more attractive than real happiness.  And that comes from inside – not out.

P.S.  I like your t*ts in that top.     😉

Being a Hepburn in a Hilton World

This is the title of a book I haven’t read, but fully assume I would love….because I instantly adore the title.    It resonates with me completely.

I love being an actress….but I sometimes hesitate to say I’m an actress.   It often opens up a somewhat awkward situation.   If the person I’m talking to doesn’t already know my work then I am usually asked to run down a list of some of my most popular projects and they may not have seen any of them, or worse don’t remember me… and it just sort of bites – and is awkward and anticlimactic for all involved.  Many people are instantly charmed by the idea of meeting someone ‘famous’ (to whatever degree) but that can quickly turn to disappointment if you haven’t worked on their favorite show or are unwilling to spill any gossip.   But the bigger reason I often refrain from chatting up my profession is that if people aren’t already familiar with your work they think either ‘oh, she’s a wannabe actress’ – Cue the old joke:

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or many people hear the word  actress and  they picture this:

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or this:

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or (insert tabloid cover of some wannabe starlets life mid-meltdown, here: _______________).

And its true those “actresses” exist…..but I’m happy to report that I don’t really know any of these women… and it makes my skin crawl to think of being potentially perceived that way.  That is not who I am drawn to or who I draw to me.  And doesn’t represent my LA experience at all.  Though I know those ‘actresses’ exists – probably in the tens of thousands in LA, truthfully, I have almost no experience with these women. I hate being lumped into that category…and until you ‘make it big’ there is always a segment of the population that may choose to see you this way.

Who I do know…. are fiercely talented, creative, inspiring women that bring it!  Some are famous, some have been famous, some are on the upswing and some coming back down, some just digging in their heels, trying to get established….but they are all driven, determined and focused on the prize…which is the work.    They force me to get up and be creative and get stuff done…because that’s what they are doing.

They aren’t slyly marketing a sex tape or dating some disaster in the calculated risk that the benefits would out-weigh the horror of such a decision.   No, they are writing films, creating shows, putting on plays, directing their own projects, and thinking outside of the box.  They are doing what has to be done to continue to pursue their art and passion.  They are COORDINATING with each other instead of attempting to step on each other.

And I Love that.  Love with a capitol L and in bold and underlined.  I don’t want to ‘win’ in this career by being good at something where most people are lazy or boring or predictable.  No.  I want to excel in a field where the cream is rising to the top and we are all putting out our best – pushing each other to be more innovative, passionate, focused and brazen in our willingness to do it ourselves if the opportunities aren’t being given to us.  To be more than we even thought possible.  Each day, to be better and stronger and braver than we were the day before.

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When I think of an actress, I think of this:

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or this:

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or  (insert Oscar winning, humanitarian, philanthropic, witty creative genius here_______________)   and it makes me dizzy with the esteemed company I keep within my chosen field.

I strive to be a Hepburn  (or a Garbo, Baker, Lupino, Kelly, Hayworth, Horne, Maclaine, Davis, Loy, Colbert, Leigh, Taylor, Pickford, Dandridge, etc…you get my drift)….. constantly aiming for that level of grace and class, talent and PRESENCE.

They say luck is opportunity meeting preparedness.   Without a doubt the ladies in my circle are prepared…here’s hoping many delicious opportunities to shine are just around the corner for all of us.

Auditions. A.K.A: Delicious Torture

So I’ll post some juicy stories on past auditions in a bit – but for now just wanted to write some general thoughts about the process.

Auditions are evil.  And amazing.  And frustrating, scary, thrilling etc. They are a bit like gambling, or playing the lottery as they are 5 minutes that can change your life.  They are also terribly pedestrian. You walk into a room. You say some stuff.  You walk out.   But what you say and how you say it – both on script and in general – can completely change your future. There is a lot riding on what happens in that 5 minutes.

Every time I book a job, I am astounded by how easy it is.  Wait, that 5 minutes was it? That was all it took? And every time I don’t book a job that I wanted, I endlessly runimate on why not. What could I have done differently? What did I do wrong – or not as right as someone else?  It’s the same 5 minutes.  Even though those 5 minutes are ‘all about you’…the  reason you do or do not book a job is often not about you at all. There are so many things that go into the equation – that you have no control over. So you have to walk in, kill it…and then let it go.  That is hard to do.  You do your damndest not to get your hopes up – but you can’t help it. You do your damndest to not feel like dirt when you are convinced it went poorly…but you can’t help it.
So…its about jedi mind tricking yourself. You must invest enough in the material to give 100% to the moment…but find a way to ‘not care’ enough to let go of it entirely the moment you leave the room. This is something I’m still trying to master.