This month we have a guest blog from longtime client Michelle Cuneo. She knew that mentorship would be a good thing, but had a hard time actually getting into action on getting a mentor!
So, with the idea that she would write about it and help others, she took it on, and, wow, did having a mentor rock her world. Read about it below and then go get one yourself! Let me know how it goes in the comment section below!
Love and Success,
My Coffee with Catherine
by Michelle Cuneo
Learning about mentors…
Why get a mentor? ‘Cause mentors rock! The most effective mentors are those who help you see what you didn’t know you didn’t know. Yes, you read that correctly. We don’t know what we don’t know. Getting to the next step in your career seems easy once you’re there, but what about trying to get there!? We have no idea what the right action is or if it will work.
My career coach Shawn Tolleson, does a mentor workshop in Jump Start™ and in her Audio Course How To Open Doors. I took the class a few times and thought, What a great idea! I had heard the success stories, even helped my accountability partner, now husband, land a great mentor. Getting from great idea to actually reaching out to be rejected–or worse, having someone say, “yes I’ll mentor you!”–was keeping me from fully taking all the steps necessary to intentionally and fully make this happen.
I was so glad I had someone to coach me through the process. Shawn has a whole workshop dedicated to ways to reach out, how to write the most effective request letter and the rules of the game, such as paying for coffee/lunch, protecting their time and never ever asking anything from your mentor besides advice.
With Shawn’s tools and coaching, I felt ready to reach out to my potential mentor: Catherine Dent.
I had met Catherine Dent (series regular on FX’s The Shield, currently with a nice arc on The Mentalist, plus 50-odd other great film and TV credits!) at an event. Immediately, I recognized her career path as one I would like to emulate, so I felt like she could be the perfect mentor. I reached out right away, but meekly; it took two more years to make it happen. In that two years, I felt I did everything I could to further my own career and realized, if I was going to reach goals, I was going to need to talk to someone with a different vantage point on my career, someone who could remember what it was like to be where I was and then share the steps she took to get to where she is now. I needed a mentor. I turned to Shawn again for coaching and to forward my letter on to Catherine. I then followed up.
I felt intuitively that Catherine would be a great a mentor, but what would she mentor me in? I needed to get clearer about what my long and short-term goals were. What did I most want? I ultimately want to be a series regular on a Showtime or HBO series. THAT’S WHY MY INTUITION WAS POINTING ME TOWARD CATHERINE DENT: with her experience as a series regular on a hit cable show, she’d be perfect!
Now that I knew my long-term goal, what was my short-term goal? It seems like the journey for many actors is booking costars, guest stars, recurring roles, and then the coveted series regular roles. I had booked a juicy costar on the Season One finale of United States of Tara, but I hadn’t had a co-star audition since then. Choosing a short-term goal of three co-star auditions and one booking over the course of three months felt good because it was in line with my big goal, and it met Shawn’s criteria for goals: not impossible, not predictable, but the sweet spot in the middle, a breakthrough.
Preparing for our meetings:
I developed a very clear, three-month plan to reach my goal of getting three co-star auditions and one booking. I asked Catherine to meet me three times over those three months, 30 minutes per meeting. I prepared questions and refined them to make sure I was getting the most I could from our meetings. I also employed Shawn’s suggestion about meeting structure to help focus our time together. Her suggestion was to make the 1st meeting about the mentor, the 2nd about me and the 3rd for whatever is left unanswered.
So this is my journey and the changes my mentor inspired me to make…
For our first meeting, we met at a cool coffee shop in Silver Lake. I was a little nervous; it felt more like an interview. I had my list of questions focused on her, her life, career, steps up the ladder and even family life. Catherine was open and honest and inspiring. She said, “an unwritten goal is just a wish.” She spoke of “No regrets.” and waking up in the morning to know “I have possibilities in my life.” But she also spoke to the possibility of never working again. Sound horrible? It actually felt very freeing. It’s a possibility. There are lots of possibilities, and just speaking to the fear seemed to dissipate its power.
I loved how she spoke about the work, about being fully committed, commanding the room and showing them, “this is how I would like to do the role.” With my being focused on an eventual series regular, I really wanted to know what that felt like. Catherine said, “Yes, it is game changer. You feel very special, very lucky, but it IS NOT LIFE CHANGING. No job is life changing.” This was important for me to hear because I’ve gone into every audition hoping it would CHANGE MY LIFE! Again, freeing–auditions don’t “change your life” and I could just let that go.
I learned how important it is to work with a team. She acknowledged that it takes a big chunk of your income but that you need to “have as many people as possible waving your flag.”
She also encouraged me to take advantage of every opportunity. She told a story about Paul Newman on the set of Nobody’s Fool inviting her over to the house for a BBQ. An afternoon with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward! She didn’t go and wishes that she had, but the lesson has been take all open doors, walk through even if you’re terrified. “Yeah,” I said, “But you must be really confident…all the series…all these jobs”. “No, everybody’s terrified,” she said. Could this be true!? We talked about confidence and how the greatest minds of the world struggle with this. “You’ve got to walk through fire, you’re more alert and aware then.”
I left our first meeting really starting to understand how valuable a mentor can be. Catherine was amazing. Having her as a mentor was not only inspiring, it made me feel I was on the right track but with a new perspective. She was someone I could relate to, which made me feel like a series regular role on HBO or Showtime was attainable!
Our second meeting was more relaxed and casual. By this time, my husband and I had been wanting to start a family, and Catherine gave me great personal advice and good books to read. I hadn’t expected this in a career mentor.
Following Shawn’s structure, our second meeting was more focused on me, and how Catherine would advise my moving forward. I asked if she could look at my materials to see where she thought I could use some work. She was really impressed and thought everything was there and looked good. She said, “We just need to crack this code” to get auditions and therefore opportunities to do what I love. This made it feel like an adventure. She was so encouraging, telling me there were tons of roles per week on TV for Moms and Teachers that I would be perfect for. YES, I can do this!
She reiterated that it’s ALL ABOUT THE WORK. BE PREPARED. BE REALLY GOOD. And then something happened for me that was one of those light-bulb moments. We’ve all heard from acting teachers and coaches that we need to be present in the audition room, and to fully commit. We’re told to do the role how you see it, how you would do it. But at one point, Catherine talked about letting go in the room, be in the emotional state at the beginning but don’t do anything you’ve planned to do just because you planned to do it. She said, “Just connect to the reader and let happen whatever is going to happen. Do the work and let it go.” I suddenly heard that in a way I had never heard it before. She told me that, if you’re supposed to sob on a line, and it’s not there? LAUGH. Do whatever is real in the moment, wholly connected to the other person. Create the space for ANTYTHING to happen. There was something so different about hearing this from an actor’s mouth and the most inspiring part of my journey with my mentor.
It was also one of the most important things for me to hear because, like many of us, I was brought up to be a good girl and do everything “right.” Despite my efforts to get my auditions right, I ended up frustrated. Catherine described what an artist is not: “You can’t care how they want it–otherwise, you’re just a puppet.” So now I strive to just connect and be present. Not even concerned with booking the job but being free and bold enough to DO whatever comes up, giving myself more and more permission each time to trust my instincts and the “crazy” ideas that come to me in the moment.
So there we were trying to “crack the code”–looking at the vast number of co-stars each week and figuring out how to get me seen for them. As I mentioned earlier, Shawn had stressed with us in class that a mentor meeting is for advice only. If you go in wanting anything else, it ruins the relationship because you’re no longer operating from a place of integrity. I’ve found that when you approach someone not needing anything, there is freedom. I was really conscious of this, so it blew me away when, after our second meeting, Catherine offered to help me connect with a manager! This manager is now submitting me, and I’m so grateful. This was a gap I had in my master plan, a gap that my mentor saw and helped me to fill in.
When it was time for our third and final meeting I was so happy to have a manager submitting me and thrilled with all I was learning, but still struggling to get auditions for the good stuff.
The week before, however, I realized I had resistance to being in front of casting directors because I saw them as gatekeepers trying to keep me out. I felt great on set, but in auditions I felt a lot of resistance. I worked with Shawn on revoking these old beliefs and, shortly thereafter, I was having lunch with a CD friend and then auditioning for his film! Amazing that, when you can heal something, space is opens up.
It was so great to be able to have one more meeting with Catherine, so I could get her take on this, too. She encouraged me to know that CDs are my advocates; there’s nothing I need to prove to them. They need me and need me to be good. I make them look good.
In a new place
So here we are now, I’m taking these inspiring ideas from a working actor to every audition. I have learned so much, I am being submitted, have a whole new way of relating to CDs, and I can call Catherine Dent my friend. I had a pin in me for a Guest Star on a Showtime show, I’ve booked some nice Mom and teacher roles, and my husband and I just welcomed a newborn baby girl at the end of last year.
I still have the goals of increasing my auditions and bookings. But because of my three-month mentorship with Catherine, I feel closer to reaching my goals. I’m clearer about my next steps, more confident, and I have two more people rooting for me: Catherine, a true believer and someone to go to for advice, and my new manager. It’s invaluable to have someone with more experience and the kind of success you aspire to have take you under their wing and look at your career from their vantage point.
I encourage you to go get your own mentor!