Want a thriving screen career? It’ll take courage
Emmy and AACTA Award-winning producer turned screen sector executive coach Ellenor Cox highlights why courage is often a key trait of those thriving in these challenging times.
I’ve noticed of late that the one comment in common from my coaching clients is that they feel that ‘times are tough right now’.
This sentiment appears irrespective of their level of seniority and success in the industry, and the empirical indicators are certainly there to back this up.
The current climate sees the dominance of streaming services, cuts to our national broadcasters and funding agencies, declining budgets for commissions and a tepid Australian box office. This is compounded by the fact that there seems to be more practitioners in our industry than ever before.
So with increased competition and a smaller sand pit to play in, what does it take to not just survive but even to thrive in these conditions?
Part of the answer is sagely put by Minouche Shafik, currently the director of London School of Economics, when she says: “In the past, jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in the future they’ll be about the heart.”
For screen content professionals, I believe our ‘heart’ drives our creativity and fuels our passion for telling stories and creating emotional connections for our audiences.
This is not the safe world of spreadsheets, balance, or strict routines and procedures, but rather a brave world filled with subjectivity, imagination and inspiration.
It’s not a place for the faint-hearted. Those who thrive here are those who’ve gained mastery over self-awareness, honed their emotional resilience and willingly leaned into embracing vulnerability.
These aptitudes are often labelled as ‘soft skills’ and yet they seem to be the exact opposite of that in terms of their attainment!
In order to engage fully in this environment we need to have the courage to show up when we can’t predict or control the outcome.
The word courage actually comes from the Latin word ‘cor’ which means ‘heart’ and the original definition was to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. In other words, these were people with the courage to accept their imperfections, and who could let go of the idea of who they thought they should be in order to tell the authentic truth, and be seen for who they were really were.
Fortunately courage is not a personality trait but a skill that can be learnt.
And it’s the crucial skill to embrace during these challenging times for our industry.
After generations of the concept of courage being linked to traits such as valour, fearlessness and power-based authority, there seems to be a renaissance of courage’s original Latin roots.
The work of Dr Brene Brown is seen as being particularly influential here. Brown argues that the emotions that one experiences during courageous moments are exactly the same as those that define a vulnerable moment i.e. feelings of uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure.
Vulnerability in the past has been given a bad rap and has been perceived as a weakness. Yet think about how you’ve felt submitting a first draft script or funding application, sending a rough cut to your commissioning editor, watching an audience settle in for your opening night screening – these are the moments when we feel our most exposed, most vulnerable and also our most courageous.
Rather than leaving our scripts languishing in bottom drawers and viewing our film concepts as nothing more than just fantasies, we’re choosing the more courageous path of embracing our vulnerability, knowing that failure, disappointment and setback are all possible and probable travelling companions.
Practising courage and embracing vulnerability involve us letting go of what other people think about us and learning to trust that, whatever the situation will be, we have the ability to handle the worse possible outcome. It’s a case of mentally challenging ourselves to ‘get over’ ourselves in order to ‘get out of the way’ of ourselves when we find ourselves in a difficult situation.
From what I’ve noticed, those who seem most resilient to the challenging conditions in our industry have a key trait in common and a few practises that they’ve cultivated into daily habits.
Again, to paraphrase the work of Dr Brene Brown, the most resilient among us seem to engage with their lives in a ‘wholehearted’ manner and from a place of worthiness or a sense that they are enough. Just like the Latin roots of the word ‘courage’.
They wake up in the morning with the attitude: ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone today. I am enough.’ And they go to bed thinking, ‘Yes I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging’.
These simple mantras are vital and healing balms for an industry where setbacks, knock backs, rejection letters, stalled projects and stagnant careers are commonplace.
The resilient also practise acts of self-compassion and self-care on a daily basis, be it their exercise routine or a commitment to their creativity. And importantly they seek out connection with others, with their tribe; their co-workers, their friends and those who they can be open and vulnerable with.
Our human neurobiology is that we’re hard wired for connection. And it’s through connection to others, practicing compassion with ourselves and embracing the courage to be vulnerable that we get to live a whole hearted and full life.
Ellenor Cox Coaching & Consultancy. www.ellenorcox.com
This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #192 Dec-Jan.