If you’re a fan of NBC’s hit comedy series The Office (2005-2013), then you’re no doubt familiar with Pam Beesley, the adorable, quiet, but wise and observant receptionist of the bumbling, dysfunctional Dunder-Mufflin paper company. Jenna Fischer played Pam, and The Office was her big break. She was a series regular along with Steve Carell, Rainn Wilson, John Krasinski, and other members of a superb ensemble cast.
A couple of years ago, I stumbled upon an advice piece that Fischer wrote for Actors Info Booth, a career site for aspiring performers. It struck me as being one of the best career advice articles I’ve ever read, a rare blend of humility, encouragement, and honesty, written by someone who hadn’t forgotten what it is like to struggle toward success. I thought about sharing it with readers then, but I didn’t know quite what to do with it. Well, I went back and re-read it the other day, and I realized that it needs no framing as a piece that will benefit and encourage just about anyone who is trying to make it in a given profession or vocation. Here are a few excerpts:
Here is how I got “discovered”. I had been living in LA for about 2 years. A friend wrote a TV script and wanted to do a live stage version as a way of attracting TV producers. He asked me to play a small role. It meant lots of rehearsal for very little stage time and no pay.
…A month later, I was doing a very strange play – a musical adaptation of the movie Nosferatu – at a small theater in Los Angeles. …One night an agent came to see the play and left his card at the box office asking to meet me. He became my first agent.
Now, that sounds easy right? Well, that was all after 2 years of working as a temp, doing every acting gig I could find – usually for no pay, borrowing money to buy a new engine for my car and wearing a pair of shoes with a hole in them because I couldn’t afford anything else.
…Every year I did a little more than the year before. My first 5 years I probably earned between $100 – $2,000 a year from acting. Year 6 brought me some of my biggest success and I only made $8,000 from acting. But, I put a lot more money into my career than that.
…It will be hard to explain your first milestones to friends and family back home. They are waiting to see you on TV or on the big screen. It is hard to explain how a 2nd callback for a job you didn’t land was the highlight of your month and a very valid reason to celebrate.
…This Spring marked my 12 year anniversary in Los Angeles. I didn’t land the part of Pam on The Office until year 8. I’m hardly an overnight success.
Fischer adds that Carell, Wilson, and others of The Office cast also were not instant sensations. I wonder if those struggles contributed to their ability to deliver dead-on comedy reflecting the absurdities of all too many work environments.
In any event, I think many of you will enjoy Ms. Fischer’s full advice article.