If you aim to be here for life, enjoy just doing it; collaborating with other creative people. That allows you to achieve more than the sum of the parts and it is a better formula for the long haul

Harriet Walter

Whether we are employed or not, there is always a lurking temptation for the actor to start seeing their work as nothing more than a way to pay the bills. This can lead to the dangerous territory of cynicism, bitterness and creative burnout (see section called Your Mental Health). Having reviewed the scientific happiness literature (yes, it does exist) and interviewed psychiatrists and psychologists, the resulting comment was uniform and adamant:

“You’re more than welcome to make fame and fortune your ultimate goal, but we won’t expect you to stick around for too long.”

Mental health professionals and scientific research were of one voice on this: fame and money are ephemeral and have no net contribution to happiness beyond the threshold of basic financial security. Now we’re all about financial security and mutual respect within the industry! But if you want to chase glamour, glitz and Gucci over a cliff, it’s a long way down and the bottom isn’t sounding too appealing…

Actors all: the fulfilment is in the work!

Intrinsically, we all know it. We remember those flashes of pure, unadulterated, creative joy that left indelible glows of happiness upon our memories: that staged play reading with those nutty mates in that crappy decaying warehouse, the joy you felt when you knew you’d truly nailed that scene, the wonder you felt when you witnessed something truly magical on a screen or a stage. Listen to the great man behind Bell Shakespeare, John Bell, on this wonderful ‘intrinsic’knowledge:

The experience is such that on a purely visceral level you know it’s worthwhile- you know it’s worth doing. You might not get that experience all that often, but when you do, it makes such an impact that you want to recreate that as often as possible for other people.  

John Bell

It is not the money nor the fame, but THE WORK that will permit you to create, to challenge, to change yourself, to alter people’s perceptions of the world and to explore the anxieties, the contradictions and paradoxes of humanity. As one of my interviewees said to me:

 “There is always an irreplaceably unique quality to

 the happiness you get through creative achievement.”

You must love the work for its own sake! Not because it feeds some desperate narcissistic need, or because it’s what mummy always wanted you to do. It cannot be for any other reason but for the deep wonder of human connection and the pure joy of storytelling that acting provides.

If none of these high and lofty concepts are doing anything for you, I’d suggest going back to Breaking the Bubble Wrap and rereading ‘The Poet’s Letter To Rilke’ at the beginning of Section 2. Go ahead and ask yourself truthfully: ‘Must I do this?’.


  • Have humility. Engage in the art not because you want to be in it, but because you value it.

Always maintain engagement with the arts and be a supporter.As a creative entity, you are a part of the artistic community and deserve to interact with it. Sometimes, this will mean biting your tongue and resisting the urge to whinge and bitch about a show just because you reckon ‘I could have done that far better’. Watch it and enjoy the art for the art’s own sake. The art you see still has value, regardless of your level of personal involvement. Everybody involved in the project will have thrown their heart and soul into it to make things the best they possibly could. Remember, nobody deliberately creates something to be a disappointment. And don’t forget that by supporting independent film and theatre you are forging relationships with those makers who may indeed one day cast you.

  • When looking for other ways to pay the bills, aim for a job that involves communicating or connecting with people.

It could be anything from teaching to tour-guiding. Never forgo a search for a job that involves any modicum of script memorisation, storytelling or quality human interaction. These are all fantastically complementary skills to your true career and will allow you to use any ‘downtime’ as a time of constant nourishment for these key abilities.