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Stop Being an Extra in Other People's Movies

Photo courtesy of Cayusa

This is the fantastic subtitle of a book called “Dare to be Yourself” by Alan Cohen.

Just think about it for a moment: Stop being an extra….in other people’s movies! Think about it a bit more. I'm learning what it means for me….. but what does it mean for you?

Enough about you, more about me.

Not long ago, if you wanted to be a journalist, as I did for example, your options were pretty limited almost exclusively in mainstream media: local newspapers and radio.  A minuscule number of journalists would land a job on one of the nationals or in telly.

It took me ages to get paid work at the BBC, and even long after I got a contract, it was still mostly about fitting into the bigger picture of what the organisation expected from you, much the same as any other job with a conventionally structured company.  Later, when I became an independent journalist and producer, I still had to work hard to get ideas and projects approved by "mainstream" broadcasters.  There were few other possibilities for getting your stories out to a wide audience.

Course, these difficulties weren't limited to working in the media, it was similar for many careers and business settings where just a few organisations held the power.

Here's the good news, in case you hadn't heard

A revolution's started, and its picking up momentum. Thanks to global digital technology and the potential for everyone to connect with everyone else. We can now decide what "movie" we want to be in, and create it for ourselves.

Yes, even if we've a full-time job and a role to play in someone else's epic, we can still make our own "movie" at the weekend, or after work, or before breakfast.

For almost anything we want to do, we can connect with others, find ideas, partners, nuts and bolts, bits of kit, customers, a few quid, and start making it happen.  We no longer need the approval of a few privileged people, organisations, or gate keepers.  Now, we can create our own tribe!

We can find and work with talented people, tell the story how we believe it should be told, and do things much more in keeping with our own values and goals.  We can find people who care about similar things and make stuff for them too.

Maybe we're being an "extra in other people's movies" outside our work too. Why?

Sometimes, we've no choice. Sometimes things are tough for all kinds of reasons outside our control.

But other times the choice is entirely ours.

Some ideas that can help us "dare to be ourselves"

  1. Know the difference between what we can change and what we can't.  Take time to figure it out and be honest about what you find. 
  2. Accept that sometimes we are all "extras in someone else's movie" and that at this time, it might be exactly the right place to be.  Just get on with it and help people make good stuff happen. 
  3. Really, no one is ever an "extra".  If there's a job to be done and it matters, our role is important, big or small.  And if the job doesn't matter, stop doing it! 
  4. If there's good reason to believe your ideas are valuable to people, others will also begin to see that value if you have a good attitude, and they'll want to join you in making it happen. 
  5. If you feel you are in a mess, a difficult situation, think how long it took for things to get that way.  Current circumstances are often a product of lots of little wrong decisions or actions adding up.  To reverse the process, and escape those difficulties, perhaps we need to start different, small actions, that will add up to creating a better scenario.  Or maybe we do need to take one big step that totally changes the whole thing.  It takes careful thought to decide what's best. 
  6. Put things into proper perspective.  Maybe we could focus on the good that comes from our current "extra in other people's movies" status; learning, inside information, contacts, how not to do something, the list goes on! 
  7. We can still be true to ourselves and be genuine, even if current circumstance mean we have little option to express every facet of our wonderful personalities.  Remember, many people on our planet will never get the opportunity to realise even a tiny aspect of their potential.  So many of us here are very fortunate indeed.

I'd love to know if you find these points helpful, and if you have particular things that help you get closer to doing the things that matter most, despite limitations.  Hope to see you in the comments.

Your comments:

Barry Lewis says:
10/01/2010 18:53:38

Great article this - in fact good website on the whole to be honest, lots of good content and useful info. But I can particularly relate to this one. Barry (myvirginkitchen.com)
vj says:
08/01/2010 16:54:05

Hi Ian, thanks for the info, nice read. I’ve got few days free before going to uni, so able to catch-up your blog. yeah, it feels good doing little things, i.e. reading a book, catching-up best friends, listening to nice music or playing squash game, or going gym (I played in the snow this morning with friends) feeling like a free bird. left home in India, feeling homesick & returned to Manchester yesterday only or so. It's freezing outside here, but snow is just beautiful with elegant sunshine). I'm gradually analysing the social media, trying to find the right balance. Fortunately, my professors, family are enlightened souls with a highly conservative, discipline at home, so is the case with some of my uni friends. That's why I fail to understand American sense of humour as to do with my American friend fail to know what's like in other world, especially when some small-minded university friends are taxing, upsetting, even if one tend to take no notice of. As for opining, being genuine to the people we care for, well even in the face of public, there is a potential drawback of what we say could be open to various misinterpretations. But one has no option but to express it honestly, because the other does care a lot, sometimes even pushy, demanding, well which I only see in a good sense. And choosing public domain it mostly, while having great fun, creates unnecessary constrain on that wonderful friendship, still one has to go on, if sensitive enough. Have a good weekend, Cheers.


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  • Ian AspinLocation: Lancaster Lake District, UK
  • Bio: I’m passionate about my work:TV journalist, producer, presenter, business ideas person. I care about: family, friends, helping people, finding meaning, running