I Need Rest
My life came to an abrupt halt recently.
I mean like an all-stop, sudden, hard, hit-a-wall, sixty-to-zero in 5 seconds flat kind of halt.
It left me feeling very lost, confused, and a little scared.
Here’s what happened:
This isn’t the first time I’ve lived in Los Angeles. I first moved here back in 2005. It was always my dream to work in the entertainment industry. When I was a very little kid, I told my parents that I wanted to “make movies” when I grew up. But, as you know, Los Angeles is expensive and “breaking in” to the business is hard. In 2005 I moved to LA as an aspiring writer, but held different random jobs to pay the bills. And then… after a while… I got burnt out on the city and discouraged from too little progress on my dreams, and eventually left Los Angeles.
After a little rest, recharge, some random jobs, and re-discovering my passion and big dream, eventually I returned to Los Angeles to try again.
Only to move away, again.
Only to move back, yet again.
Each time I did, my stay in Los Angeles got shorter and shorter. I was burning out faster and faster. I was overwhelmed with money stress. I often had cheap apartments in bad areas of town with noisy streets outside my window that prevented me from getting a good night’s sleep most nights. I sat in endless rush hour traffic to go to a job that my heart just wasn’t in, in order to survive, hoping and thinking that “in my free time” I’d work towards my real dreams. Except I was so tired, worn out, and soul-drained from that job, that by the time I got home, most days I just wanted to crash and go to sleep.
In 2017, after repeating this pattern several times, I decided to move back to Los Angeles yet again. This time, things were different. For one, I was already a successful book author, and was making enough royalties from that to at least cover my rent. I also felt inspired to “do more acting,” and knew that even if I just did a bunch of background acting (being an “extra” on TV shows and movies), and kept my expenses low overall, I could survive in LA on that — and this time, I’d actually be working in the entertainment industry, doing what I loved, rather than some off-purpose, mal-aligned, soul-draining job. Plus, I had already written and directed a few short films of my own, outside of Los Angeles. Even won some awards for my work. I had a much stronger foundation this time, moving back to LA.
But I also knew it was important to actually do what I came here to do. In the past, I let myself get caught up just working random jobs — merely “living” here — without actually doing much of what my heart had called me here to do in the first place. So I made a private commitment to myself. If I was moving back to LA — again — I would make sure I was actively following my dreams and working in the entertainment industry in any way I could. Los Angeles isn’t the kind of place I’d want to live normally (I prefer much more nature, open space, less noise or pollution, certainly lower costs of living, etc). I’m here for a reason. I’m here to follow — and do — my dreams. Or else I don’t need to be here.
And you know what?
That’s actually what I did.
My first month here, I was getting headshots, submitting for acting jobs, signing up for acting classes, networking with other filmmakers… An old friend (from one of my previous moves to LA) heard I was back in town and referred me to a temp job as a production assistant on a new ABC TV pilot.
I was hustling. I was moving. FULL SPEED AHEAD!
And I never stopped.
I was go-go-go every day. Every minute. Every second. Even if I wasn’t actually “working” on set, my mind was still in “work” mode. Every TV show or movie I watched, I was analyzing actor performances, director choices, and editing cuts. I was reading books, watching YouTube videos, and reading website articles all about making films or working in the industry. And you know what? It paid off. In my first 9 months of being here, I booked 17 different speaking acting roles. Not background work. Actual, principal acting. I also directed a high quality short film — that other people voluntarily gave me money for, to help me produce it. I even was able to join SAG-AFTRA, the TV/film actor’s union — something that often takes other actors many years to accomplish. Some of it was luck. Most of it was hard, consistent work. All of it was constant focus.
2018 was much the same, although I was starting to feel a little… fatigued.
The mind and body can only take so much effort, energy, focus, and hard work without any rest.
And yes, there were times I wasn’t physically moving; I got a decent night’s sleep, I had days “off” — but my mind never turned off. I never “let go” and just relaxed. I never stopping thinking about, vision boarding, planning, learning, strategizing, workshopping, researching, etc… My mind was always “on.” My heart was always pushing-pushing-pushing.
Until… around January this year, all of the sudden…
Suddenly, I didn’t have the energy, heart, or will to do “anything.” I still wanted to — I just couldn’t push my mind, heart, or body any further.
I needed rest.
An audition would still come up, and I’d still give it my best — but I knew I wasn’t the same. I wasn’t at my best. Before, I had emotional reserves. And when I auditioned, I could draw from those reserves and give an authentic, emotionally-driven performance. Now… I’m running on empty. There’s a teeny tiny bit of gas left in the tank. I suck up what I can and channel it toward my work… but it’s not my best, and I can feel that.
I started to meditate every day. I spent more time in nature. I let myself rest a little.
I tuned into my heart.
My heart, my compass, my internal guidance system. The very thing that led me back to LA in the first place. The very thing that told me to “do more acting” and to write and direct films… The thing that, as a young child, said loud and clearly, “I want to make movies.”
“What now, heart?” I asked it.
“Rest,” it replied. “You need rest.”
I was beyond exhausted. I was beyond fatigued. I was spent. Empty. … The spirit was willing, but I had nothing left in me to give.
But my mind kept pushing me forward anyway.
I was afraid to stop. Afraid to rest.
For one, I didn’t want to slip back into my previous pattern of “just living” in LA, without doing what I came here to do. But also part of it was a fear — that if I wasn’t constantly moving forward, that I wouldn’t make it. That to be “good enough,” I had to always be working, always be going, always be in motion.
Life doesn’t work that way. Nothing in nature is constantly growing without periods of rest and stillness. Nothing in nature is go-go-go all the time.
I am a part of nature. I am a physical being. I have mental, emotional, physical limits.
We all do.
And I had pushed myself beyond mine.
I kept pushing myself hard, even well after I knew I was exhausted and just need a little rest period. I wanted to believe I had infinite, endless energy and willpower. I wanted to be unstoppable. So I kept pushing myself. I knew I needed rest. I felt it. My whole mind and body felt it. But I kept going anyway, kept pushing forward.
And then my heart started to say something new.
“I don’t want to do this anymore. I want to quit acting.”
Keep in mind, a couple months earlier, that same heart was telling me to phase out of background acting, in order to grow, to focus on only doing speaking parts from then on. I was ready. I had the skills, the training, the experience, the resume, the demo reel… now even an agent! It was time to grow. Expand. Evolve. After joining the union, I did a lot of background acting, because it was easy money. And for a while, it was great and heart-guided. But after a while, I wasn’t growing anymore, and my heart very clearly — getting louder and louder, the more I stalled and delayed — told me it was time to grow again, and make room for co-star and supporting speaking roles.
But now it suddenly said, “that’s it, no more, I want to quit”?!?!
That’s when I realized… I was ignoring my heart’s actual guidance, which said to rest for now. My guidance was clearly saying “take a break,” not “stop forever.” But I wasn’t taking a break. My mind and fears were in control, still pushing my forward. Partially out of habit. Partially out of fear that I’d go bankrupt or “never make it” if I stopped at all. So I kept pushing myself, beyond my breaking point, until suddenly, beyond my control, my heart and body now forced me to stop.
They forced me to rest.
I wanted to keep going — I just lacked any energy, strength, or ability to do it.
It felt like I suddenly slammed into a wall — hard — and everything in me had suddenly and completely shut down.
My internal compass that initially started me on this path, was now demanding I stopped almost entirely. (Amazingly, I was still able to do a few small, easy, low-demanding things that still brought in a little money to support me short-term, that were so simple and easy that they didn’t need to draw from my reserves. But it felt like such a backward move to me. But it was necessary for survival, while still enabling me to rest.)
And now, for weeks, I found myself spending large chunks of the day in bed. Sometimes I went into the mountains, the nearest “nature” I could find, which also proved to be renewing. Sometimes I fell asleep in my car, while parking in the woods.
Getting my mind to unwind and stop thinking has been difficult. Actually, it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Both my parents are workaholics. I’m sure I picked up some habits from them. But Los Angeles especially has a “constant hustle” culture. Everybody’s always “working” on something. It’s part of the game. Nobody in the industry takes you seriously unless you’re currently working on one project, and already attached to or developing the next one.
Slowing down and allowing myself to rest has been extremely difficult, and a slow process in itself.
It’s mid March, and I’m just now starting to actually rest. I’ve been fighting it — fighting myself — this whole time. I was still trying to write new scripts. Still co-producing projects with others. Still auditioning. Still analyzing and breaking down every TV show or movie I watched.
But I’m finally starting to get it.
I tried an experiment yesterday.
I intentionally planned to stay in bed all day, and treat it as a “sleep day,” and intentionally, purposely not think about or do anything work-related. I could sleep. I could play games. I could watch TV — as an audience. To enjoy it. Period. That was it. I ate some yummy food, let my mind switch off, and allowed myself to just be.
And you know what? Just half way through the day, I was already feeling both inspiration and energy toward a new book idea I want to write. Toward the end of the day, I started feeling like, “yes, I think I actually still do want to keep acting…”
Of course, I resisted the urge to open my laptop and start writing. I resisted the impulse to go online and start submitting for acting roles.
It was an intentional day of rest.
I wasn’t “allowed” to work at all yesterday.
Truth be told, this is a 3-day experiment. Yesterday was Friday and I didn’t have any work booked that day, so it was a good time to start. It was easy to add a Saturday and Sunday. I really, really, deeply felt I needed rest. “I just want to sleep for 3 days straight,” I felt and heard myself say earlier this week. So that’s how and why I picked this intentional, 3-day “no work, just rest” experiment.
And look — after just one day of rest, I’m already writing a 2,000+ word blog post. I didn’t have the energy for that before.
I wanted to write. I just didn’t have the mental or emotional resources to actually do more than a short paragraph or two.
Clearly, that’s not the case now. Words are flowing. A message is being shared. I hope to God this is helping somebody else out there.
So much of our culture is about work-work-work. Our self-worth has somehow become based on how busy and/or exhausted you make yourself.
Stop. Rest. Take a break.
The work will still be there for you after you’re done resting.
Everything in nature needs a break, needs a rest, needs a pause.
When was the last time you gave yourself one?
As for me… I’m going to stop here, and go back to resting. ?
Well David, well said and well written. My heart went out to you and wished you to rest and re-energize. I personally believe that you have a great future ahead of you in the acting business. Maybe it’s time to focus on your connections and start using them to gather more, perhaps on a higher level in the industry. It’s all very well working hard but I do believe there is always room to work smarter. Better connections mean better paid roles and therefore less stress, allowing you more downtime. With what little money you can scrape together start by frequenting popular places of the stars, a coffee or beer is affordable. There are always agents, directors, and many other types of industry people frequenting these places and like you, looking for opportunities. You are really nice looking and have a great character plus you are friendly and can converse well, there is absolutely nothing stopping you from taking this path. Good hunting.