Once I have my breakthrough, then I’ll spend more time with my family. Once I have my breakthrough, then I’ll take ballet classes. Once I have my breakthrough, then I will start traveling again. Once I have my breakthrough, then I’ll be happy.
It’s a philosophy many ambitious aspiring anythings (including myself) subscribe to. Especially in LaLaLand. Because once you have that breakthrough, you’ll have money. And job security. And a feeling of accomplishment that eliminates jealousy and brings on a constant state of contentedness. Right?
Obviously I can’t speak from experience since I haven’t had my own personal breakthrough but I’ve seen and heard things. And I’d like to think I can empathize pretty well. I am a writer after all. So sure, while professional success does usually come with more money and a higher degree of being able to do what you love, here’s why breakthroughs aren’t all they’re cracked up to be…
You Get Used To Money
Every once in a while the knowledge I gained while getting my BSc in Psychology appears to have some usefulness in life. Example: there was once a study about the link between the size of pay checks and happiness. Someone who earns 100K a year must be happier than someone who earns 30K right? Not according to science. They found that once you’re able to pay for the necessities of life, making more money doesn’t make you happier. It makes sense; people get used to having a certain amount of money, and then start wishing for more.
What does make you happier in a work related context? Upping the quality of the daily grind at work: enjoying what you do, feeling useful, having autonomy, having nice colleagues etc.
You’ll Compare Upwards
Imagine finally scoring that series regular on a TV show. The first year you’re on Cloud 9, the second year it’s a job, the third just another old routine. You’re filming in Chicago while some series film in Hawaii. You’re on the CW while some actors are on an HBO show. Your show’s ratings keep you on TV, but other shows win Emmy’s.
Or imagine finally breaking through in movies, regularly booking parts – even leads. But Emma Stone booked that amazing role you also auditioned for and really wanted. And all the famous actors you now call friends seem to have their own franchise, while you only ever do indies. Some of your peers are getting Oscar nominations, while your movie only made it to Sundance. You got Oscar nominated, but Jennifer Lawrence had 3 nominations plus a win at the your age.
People always compare upwards. Even those within the 1% of steadily working, wealthy actors. Because they’re surrounded by other working actors. And unless you’re J-Law, I imagine you’ll still be frustrated, devastated and sad at times. It’s only human.
It Don’t Buy You Love
There you are, the moment you always dreamed of: accepting the Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role in a beautiful Elie Saab gown. Here’s Nicole Kidman talking about her first Oscar win: “Winning an Oscar caused an epiphany. I was sitting in the Beverly Hills Hotel holding this gold statue and it was all extraordinary and I was the loneliest I’d ever been. To be completely honest, I was running from my life at that time. I wasn’t able to handle the reality of my life and as an actor you have this wonderful thing where you can go and get lost in somebody else’s life and become somebody else for a period of time, and when I look back on it, I really see that.”
I myself have been guilty of this, too. As an artist there’s always something to do to push your career further. And when you’re lonely, or stressed, or sad, or frustrated, work is a great distraction. And probably the most socially accepted addiction there is. Working from 7AM to 4AM? Good work ethic! Not making evening plans because you need to work? Productive! But trust me, your body will not put up with that forever. Nor will your friends, or romantic liaisons.
And thus your Oscar win ends up a hollow victory. Because where’s the magic if there’s nobody to share it with? No lover in whose arms to jump, no family to hug, no friends to get drunk with?
Your Issues Only Become Bigger
Another little pearl of wisdom from my University days: research has shown that when people are doing a task while being watched, they do poorer than when not being watched if they’re not feeling 100% confident. When people are confident though, they tend to do much better when being watched. Conclusion: high pressure environmenta exacerbate emotions and insecurities.
It’s not a stretch to say that the lives of celebrities are high pressure. They’re intense and extreme, and I think that’s part of the reason why so many celebrities’ issues blow up once they break through. That dissatisfaction with your body? It becomes a full brown eating disorder. That nagging distrust of people’s intentions in the back of your mind? You’ll become a social recluse. That slight overconfidence? It grows into a Kanye-esque egomania.
What I’m trying to say is that breakthroughs don’t solve issues. They don’t stop you from being human, comparing upwards and wishing for more. They don’t make people love you, or make you more able to receive love. They don’t bring happiness.
I once had a friend whose friend became a famous teenage heartthrob after starring in a hit movie. He’s still a leading man today. But he was at his most miserable the years after his breakthrough. Can you imagine the heartbreak once you find out that everything you ever hoped and worked for turns out to be an illusion?
Perhaps Jim Carrey said it best: “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
So focus on doing things that make you happy – wether that is doing something creative, social, athletic or intellectual. Focus on building a group of people around you that support you and love you for who you are. Devote time to them just as you do your career. Focus on being grateful for what you have, regardless of what others may have.
Focus on making yourself a happy person, and the rest will fall into place.