13 Aug 3 Ways My MFA Makes Me a Better Team Member
Lights, camera, action!
As an actor, these are words that I am very familiar with. “Capsule”, “CRM”, and “cold calls,” however, are words that scared me a few months ago.
I recently graduated from Columbia University with my MFA in acting. Right before graduation, I secured an agent and manager, as well as a full time job as Director of Sales for Swift Kick.
My parents were shocked that I managed to pull off all the things I wanted before graduation. A job and a way to advance my acting career through representation. My father, an accountant, was the most confused. “Sales?!” My father exclaimed, “But Sam you can’t even count up to 21 when we play black jack and you make me do the math for you. How are you going to sell and negotiate?”
My dad has a point, math is NOT my strong suit, but having an MFA advances me in the work place in so many more ways that don’t include long division.
Just because my degree is in acting that does not mean I can not handle a job in just about any field. So when you come across an applicant who did not major in exactly what you are hiring, you have two options:
- throw out their application because why would an actor be able to handle sales??
- Consider someone new who will only benefit the company in the long run.
Why, you ask?
As an actor I am trained to be vulnerable and to share that vulnerability with my scene partners, collaborators and audience members. Every rehearsal starts with a check in. Actors and other artists (director, producer, etc.) all talk about whatever they need to in order to be fully present for the rehearsal. It is a safe space to share things that are bothering you, exciting you, or distracting you from the work. Sharing emotions and things that scare you is something an actor does every day. I mean, come on, we cry in front of people for a living.
How does this help at Swift Kick? Well, every work day we start with a 10:10 meeting in which we check in with what we are doing. We work in a space that is safe and values open communication. I always feel comfortable looking at one of my co-workers and saying, “Hey, I’m not feeling great today, but I am here with you and will try to stay present.”
Sharing your state and being vulnerable with how you are feeling does not make you weak in the work place. It makes you stronger.
Helpful tip: if you are not a vulnerable, open person, do not push yourself to be. You may work with someone who is very different then you and you don’t feel safe sharing something. Keep a journal near you at work to write down your thoughts throughout the day to keep you vulnerable and engaged in what is going on.
2. A strong work ethic
Actors are some of the hardest working people on the face of planet earth. When I was growing up, people always told me, “acting is easy and anyone can do it.” But it is not easy at all. First off, try memorizing and understanding an entire 4-page Shakespeare monologue for an audition that you found out you had THE NIGHT BEFORE. You are not allowed to look at the monologue if you forget a word during the audition. Then tell me acting is easy!
As actors we have so much homework to do. For any given play or part, there is reading, looking up past productions, words you don’t understand, photos of people who have done the role before, information on the company, playwright and director. Because auditions and bookings happen so fast actors are schedule wizards. Pro tip: my schedule is color coded and I use the Commit30 planner.
How does this help me at Swift Kick? I keep an organized schedule at work and get through to-do lists very quickly. Although I am not memorizing Shakespeare for sales, I am memorizing sales flow pipelines and procedures so that I do not have to ask my boss every time an email comes through. I also have homework to do including research on schools and programs, attending conferences, and organizing spread sheets and brainstorm tasks. The key to it all is organization and a rigorous work ethic.
3. Sympathy and Empathy
Sympathy and empathy are combined for number 3. As an actor, I have to be sympathetic to those around me. I may not work the same way someone else does in rehearsal. Being sympathetic to their style and then learning to adapt and compromise makes me a team player both on stage and in the work room.
On stage empathy is easy: we empathize with our character’s struggle and personalize it so much that sometimes it feels like we are going through the same struggle as our characters. We can empathize with other collaborators in the room on what they are thinking, feeling and where they are coming from.
How does this help me at Swift Kick? In sales, I use my empathy when communicating with others. You would be surprised how many people open up to a stranger over email or the phone. Being empathetic to someone else’s situation and really putting yourself in their shoes is what makes actors so great in the work place. We all come from such drastically different backgrounds. Although our experiences are different, being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes really opens your eyes, mind and heart to making connections both on stage and in an office.
And the Academy Award goes to….
You… if you hire an MFA for your open positions. No, we did not major in math at Harvard, but we are vulnerable, organized and hardworking, and can use sympathy and empathy in your office room to build an amazing company culture.
So go out there and hire someone with an MFA, just be careful not to list it as a casting notice…we do get confused. 🙂