The Comparison Game: The Actor's Nightmare

Learn all about the toxicity of comparing yourself as an actor, and measuring your career to others.

By: Jun. 20, 2024
The Comparison Game: The Actor's Nightmare
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Spencer Glass, career coach for actors and actor himself, discusses the toxicity of comparing yourself as an actor, and measuring your career to others. Check back monthly for more actor wisdom from Spencer


Put a finger down if you still haven’t gotten over the fact that someone else in high school got the role you wanted in the school play/musical, and even though it doesn’t haunt you in your day to day, you still firmly believe it should have been yours and feel some kind of injustice about it (DEEP BREATH). Mine was Cinderella's Prince in Into The Woods. Honestly, the actor who got it was fantastic, but Rapunzel's Prince only had one song and a reprise, and Cinderella's Prince had two songs and a reprise…it hurt. Let’s keep playing this game for another moment.

Put a finger down if you’ve seen an actor's First Day Of School post with a script or marquee, and your stomach dropped, your heart hurt a little, and somehow you decided in under three seconds that their success was your failure? Put a finger down if you scroll TikTok and have watched A Day in the Life of another actor who is taking you through their auditions, self tapes, classes, and callback stories, and you instantly think about your career, creating a narrative that you’re doing poorly?

Game over, and I think you get the picture. The ability we have as actors to trash our talent because of somebody else’s career is alarming. The comparison game in the arts can be venomous, and convince you that you’re the problem, you’re not working hard enough, you're not competitive enough for this industry, and you’re never going to work again. And the funny thing is, you taunt yourself based on an experience that has nothing to do with you,

As a career coach for actors, part of helping artists build their career is intense mindset work. This isn’t a business that’s 100% about talent, and I’ve found that the sharper and calmer your energy is as an actor, the greater the work is. “It’s your journey and no one else’s” is a phrase you might hear a lot as an actor. I wish we replaced this quote with “Spend your energy being captivated by your undeniable talent and potential for an abundant career, instead of being captivated by someone else's story.” Easier said than done, but I’m curious if we’re actually practicing this as actors (I know I struggle with that mentality sometimes)? Something that helps is reflecting on these difficult conversations, instead of drowning in them.

Ask yourself the following: 1. Ultimately, what would this success, which has nothing to do with my path, do for me? 2. Do I actually want this job, or am I looking for visibility, and therefore need to create a plan to be in spaces that really matter to me? 3. Am I giving social media too much of my energy, and am I forgetting that it’s a highlight reel and not the full picture? 4. Remind yourself that is one singular accomplishment, and factually doesn’t deter me from the career that I desire. Giving yourself a second to sit with the comparison game, instead of playing it, makes a difference.

However, the comparison game rarely ends with other people around you receiving offers and callbacks; it can also be played at your auditions, and that's something I won’t allow for you.

It’s not that we’re in a Glee episode with our ear to the audition door, measuring how talented the person before us is. And if you do that…please immediately stop. We moreso find ourselves timing others' auditions. Even as we sit there quietly with our headphones focusing on our sides, there’s a part of us that wants to understand how much time the team is spending with other auditioning actors. I often hear from actors “nothing’s going to come of this job, I was in and out of the room”.

Before you even walk into your audition, the comparison game has the potential to leave you focusing on somebody else's experience, instead of the opportunity to show off your stardom. I don’t mean to sound aggressive, but how the team chooses to conduct auditions is none of your business, and the more you play detective, and compare and compare and compare, the less you’re running your business as an actor. You’re an entrepreneur building and nurturing your career, not a tracker for others. Next time this happens and you find yourself centering your audition around somebody else's, I recommend you zoom out and remind yourself you’re not privy to any information about the casting process. The amount of minutes an actor is in the room can’t be explained, as much as you’re insisting you can read the tea leaves.

Remember that a team might be able to get all the information they need from you in seconds. Remember that a team might spend more time with an actor because they need deeper insight. Remember that you have no clue, and that’s actually a relief. Let creative teams do their job, and allow yourself to present a unique version of the role that you feel could be the answer. 

The temptation to review someone else's career and annihilate your trajectory is REAL. The comparison game leads to a distorted perception of success, and breeds a society of competition rather than collaboration. Some of the best advice I ever received was that “your success is my success”. When other folks are doing things that you yourself would also love to be part of, the art of embracing their achievement can inspire you to reach your highest power and greatness. Don’t be mad at me for saying this, but it is a choice to be frustrated at others’ endeavors.

I personally have found that when I get stuck in the cycle of negativity in the business, I begin to resent myself and other actors for jobs that aren’t even right for me, and sometimes don’t even feel exciting. We’re better than this, and we wouldn’t have joined this industry if we didn’t think we’d add value (and oh my goodness, are you valuable). Let me affirm you -  taking action to overcome the comparison game doesn’t happen overnight.

I mentioned earlier the memory of not being cast in your teen years, because the fear of not being seen and getting your shot dates back years and years, and tends to stick with us far longer than we could ever anticipate. We’re somewhat accustomed in show business to let the outcome of an audition, or someone else's career move, determine what our journey looks like. Break the toxic cycle, because it’s too hard of an industry for you to not 100% stand by your work. We shouldn’t be mad at ourselves when we fall into this pit, but we should encourage ourselves to be productive and climb out of it. You belong in this industry. 


The Comparison Game: The Actor's Nightmare
Photo Credit: Katherine McManus Photography

Spencer Glass is a career coach for actors, and an actor himself, who has been seen off broadway at New York City Center, across the US on Broadway National Tours, and regionally at theatres around the country. You can book a career session with Spencer at www.Spencerglass.com, and follow for free tips and advice on his TikTok page, @Spencer.Glass, as well as his instagram, @Hispencerglass. His business, Spencer Glass Coaching, has clients working on broadway, national tours, tv & film etc. He has reached artists globally, and when he isn’t on stage/set, he’s guiding others and helping to create sharp and specified roadmaps for his clients’ career. Spencer is a multi-hyphenate who had two shows with BroadwayWorld (It’s The Day Of The Show Y’all & Ten Minute Tidbits), and has interviewed and performed with actors like Sheryl Lee Ralph, Eva NoblezadaDerek KlenaLaura Bell BundyGrey Henson, among others. 




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