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I’m a Baha’i performer, an actress in Hollywood, and if you’re familiar with the term “starving artist,” well, you know a little about my life already.
Coming out of college I definitely had a romantic vision of living the “artistic” life as an actor in Hollywood. Yes, the clichés are true; I did wait tables…and work at costume shop, and cater, and do data-entry from a laptop at home into the wee hours of the night. And yes, I did eat tuna out of a can and discover a multitude of recipes for eggs with my new found knowledge of how cheap they were.
I even wrote a conflicted little poem: I hate eggs. Eggs are cheap. I love eggs.
In my attempt to be free of material possessions I was actually being run by them, or lack of them. I managed to pay my share for the bedroom I rented from a friend, and I somehow got myself into a really good acting school. I got creative with how to keep myself culturally enriched by volunteering as an usher for radio-play recordings and going to museums on the free days. I even managed to stay in shape rotating through various yoga studios, taking advantage of their free trial classes.
I have to say — the starving-artist lifestyle takes substantial time and energy. I worked really hard to do the things I had to do in order to feel balanced within my life’s resource-restricted parameters. I felt a little like Adam Sandler, collecting all those pudding coupons in Punch-Drunk Love so he could fly to Hawaii. Living this way as an actor, I began to feel unfocused – like I was pursuing a demanding, professional but non-existent career. On top of that, I couldn’t financially contribute to society in the ways I had hoped.
I always envisioned that I would be a person generous with my money, giving to local and international Baha’i Funds, contributing as an alumnus to fundraising at my college alma mater and donating to local charities that support health, education, or the arts. I learned that starving artist = none of the above.
But then a couple of years into my journey as a struggling actor I had a wonderful conversation with a director-friend that changed the way I thought about the art and the abundance of my chosen profession. He shared with me these passages from Baha’u’llah’s book The Hidden Words:
O My Servant! The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God….
O My Servants! Ye are the trees of My garden; ye must give forth goodly and wondrous fruits, that ye yourselves and others may profit therefrom. Thus it is incumbent on every one to engage in crafts and professions, for therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of understanding! For results depend upon means…. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, pp. 50-51.
Suddenly I understood I had been afraid of succeeding in my work, whether as an actor or in my day-jobs, for fear of becoming attached to any material possessions that resulted from success. Now, I came to the realization that these words from the Baha’i holy writings assured me that making a livelihood by my calling is a wonderful thing!
When I reflect on these Hidden Words, I know that the time and effort I put into my craft is time well spent. Also, I’m reminded of another Baha’i principle — that work done in the spirit of service to humanity is worship.
Since I had these realizations, I’m becoming a better and even more successful actor. Now, before I go into auditions, I frequently say a prayer, asking for guidance that the dialogue flows through me, that I can be a vessel for this project free of my mind’s construct of what this scene should look like. Of course I prepare diligently and mindfully to understand the material — but ultimately I aim to let go of my expectations, simply serve a higher purpose and do my best to live the scene in the moment.
This realization helps me at my day job, too. I relish being of service to my boss every afternoon when I come in, so she can pick up her children from school and be with her family.
I get excited knowing that every day I’m still exploring Baha’u’llah’s words, “For therein lies the secret of wealth, O men of understanding.” Today, I think of wealth as not just money, but as an abundance of resources that include skills and attitudes that help me enjoy every moment of life to its fullest.
The arts I now try to master include the art of living. That means sharing my creative pursuits in a spirit of service.