Lanford Wilson’s “Redwood Curtain” provided me with one of those moments that made me think about something differently than I’d thought about it before. I love those moments. Even when they make my stomach churn. A young piano prodigy is concerned about the expectations being placed on her to be a great success and when she shares her concerns with her aunt, her aunt, without hesitation replies, “It’s very easy to be a success in this world. All you have to do is change your goals.” Boy did that resonate with me. It was like a lightning bolt cracked open my skull and filled my brain with common sense.
It’s like guys who think of getting laid as a numbers game. They recognize it’s about the yes. They don’t concern themselves with who that yes comes from. The yes is all that matters. Who cares if it’s the one you want. It’s about succeeding in getting laid. That’s the only point. So if success is the point, it shouldn’t matter what specifically you achieve success doing. It’s when we need it to be one thing and only one thing that professional success becomes a problem. Same thing with relationships. If I choose to believe that my life will be either endless ecstasy or misery because of one specific person being my partner…um…ay yi yi. But my goodness it can be hard being practical when dealing with matters of the heart.
This is in no way to suggest that setting your sites on one thing or one person won’t result in you getting it. The world is filled with people who have had the great fortune of getting their specific dream career and person. But statistically…it’s not the worst idea to allow a degree of flexibility. Because the flip side of those successful few are suicidal/homicidal people whose dreams weren’t realized. Whose goals required, at the very least, re-evaluation.
It reminds me of a conversation I had with an iconic Tennis player. I asked him when he’d discovered his passion for the game and he said that that’s not how it had worked for him. He said that growing up he’d loved, played, and excelled at all sports, but that he was clearly best at tennis. So even though he preferred baseball, tennis was the professional sport he pursued.
Two friends, both actresses, recently became acting teachers. Something they spent years refusing to imagine themselves doing. Understandable given that to be an actor and make that choice screams “failure.” I made the same choice. Another old friend reluctantly made it too after I literally shoved her through the doors of the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in NYC and forced her to apply. Yes she’d worked successfully with the likes of Elia Kazan and Tennessee Williams. Yes she was one of the youngest actresses ever to be made a member of the legendary Actors Studio. Yes she’d worked on and off Broadway impressing a shitload of people along the way. But she was pushing high end coffee makers at Macy’s and I’m sorry…why not make use of all that talent and experience and share it with others? Helping them the way Lee Strasberg helped her? The way brilliant actor/teachers like Uta Hagen and Sanford Meisner and Bobby Lewis and Stella Adler and Stanislavski and a multitude of others have helped and continue to help others? She quickly became one of the most popular teachers at Strasberg with waiting lists to get into her classes and now coaches some of the top stars in the business. All because she made the hard choice to change her goal. She’s no less a great actress. She simply allowed herself to stop limiting herself. And flourished.
At any given moment I’ve believed that I would only ever love doing x or being with y. Thankfully I was wrong in both cases. But the big surprise is that I love what I replaced x and y with significantly more.
Funny how we get so weird about things like that. The idea that we consciously choose to believe that our happiness is contingent on one thing. Our sense of self worth. Our value as a human being. Choosing to be miserable instead of allowing the possibility of finding satisfaction and true contentment doing something else. Being with someone else.
I took Aunt Geneva’s advice and changed my goals and found success and happiness. Professionally and more importantly personally. My hope for everyone in this world is that their dreams come true. I also hope that if need be…people find it within themselves to allow dreams they never had to come true.
“Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.” – Rumi