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What constitutes success to you? What is “making it in the biz” exactly? Is it becoming a household name? Is it having over a million followers on your social media platform? Is it booking a starring role on a sitcom, an episodic, a film, or a national commercial?

10 years, or 10,000 hours of work on your craft, equals success, according to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. That’s roughly 20 hours a week or a part-time job. Yep, that would be awesome if I had been that disciplined 20 years ago. But, as a wife, a mom of young toddlers, and a creative procrastinator, that seemed a daunting task. 

Yet, that is what so many industry experts say is reality: 10 years, 10,000 hours. But  I watched people I knew go to Hollywood to “make it,” and 10 years later, nothing. Nada. No outstanding claim to fame. Then, it was my turn to give it a whirl. But we left after 8 years, so I guess it doesn’t count.  

While the myth is still out there, and many believe it, here’s the reality: when you add up the number of “starring roles” and divide it by the number of actors and actresses that flock to L.A. and N.Y. every year, it’s like trying to put a whale inside a tuna can. It just doesn’t fit. There isn’t enough room. 

The answer to this problem, one the industry gives you, is twofold: “It’s who you know” and “If you’re not working, you should be training.” 

Usually, the first important connection you have within the industry is your agent. In either commercial or theatrical, typically, you’re doing well to get one to three auditions a month. And that depends on how excited your agent is about you and how new you are to the agency—kind of a damper to your 10,000-hour quota. 

Train, train, train. That’s the mantra. A lot of the acting classes I attended over the years in both Phoenix and L.A. were incredible at teaching acting. But it was the same thing every week. We rehearsed and took direction, and that was the end of it. You could bank on thirty minutes a week to act in a class of 10 people. 

The one exception was a class I attended in Hollywood. They did one thing right: they took actors seriously by requiring us to commit to getting together and rehearsing at minimum once a week for a few hours with our fellow actors. It took a lot of effort to organize a meeting place, drive out of our way, and show up prepared to work with our comrades and not critique or coach each other. But it was so worth it! We were working outside class as if we were being paid to act. And…that was the end of that. Did it make us better actors? Heck, yeah! But most of us still weren’t working consistently. 

If you are an actor who’s received a good deal of coaching for an extended time, you want to act. So why aren’t acting classes helping you reach that goal? It takes a lot of effort and time, for one. It’s easier to coach and wait for you to show up with a new scene the following week. And don’t even get me started on the competition within the classes. With that one exception, actors aren’t calling up their classmates to get together and work on projects. 

This brings us back to the question: how do you reach 10,000 hours of work in 10 years to reach success? 

I love to learn. The world of acting is a non-stop learning process from role to role. New challenges present themselves with every scene, every audition, every project. And it’s a gift to have someone to work with and give you insight. But what are you training for? To be excellent at your craft, for starters. 

I believe in hard work, discipline, and stick-to-itiveness. I believe in the long game and not giving up. I also believe in setting goals that are important to you. And I no longer believe in fame.  
Does it take 10 years to break into the business? If you’re talking about the Hollywood studio system, the answer for most people is likely no. In reality, it probably takes a lot longer and may never actually materialize, but it depends on your goals.  

If you’re talking about your local market, your chances of booking roles more regularly after proper training are probably around 2-3 years.  

If your goals and definition of success is to put all of that training into more frequent projects of your taste and get more screen time, then working with others who have the same mindset has the potential to catapult your “breaking in” almost immediately. 

The question is: can we actors get our silly butts together to rehearse and work and record ourselves? Can we stop looking at the tuna can and commit to each other? Can we shed the excuses: schedules are demanding, my free time is squeezed, blah, blah, blah. I know how you feel. I’ve said it all, too.  

But, perhaps if we spend less time thinking about how we will climb to the top and more time getting to know our creative classmates and their goals, we can help each other create another definition of success, and the “breaking in” will take care of itself. And those hours will multiply without our even noticing. 

Carissa Dalton

Author Carissa Dalton

Carissa Dalton is a professional actor, writer, director, teacher and coach. As an actor, she has over twenty years of commercial, television, film and stage experience. She has appeared in projects for Volkswagen, Teleflora, Amtrak, Mitsubishi, Sony TV, National Geographic and more. As a writer, actor, and director, she co-wrote, starred-in and directed the feature film, All The Dragons. She has also directed thirty short films. As a teacher and coach, Carissa has worked with actors and directors, helping them elevate their skills through the CFTN Film Lab—a collaborative class of actors, writers, and directors working to create film organically—of which she is the co-founder and co-director. Carissa is also a well-trained vocalist and dancer, as well as an experienced improv theater performer.

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