There are no small roles, only small actors.
– Constantin Stanislawski
In our house, every Saturday night is family movie night. Yesterday, we watched the 2002 version of Spider-Man, starring Tobey Maguire and Kirstin Dunst, introducing the kids to one of my favorite superhero movies. I had totally forgotten that he was in the movie, but about half-an-hour in, as Peter Parker used his new powers to beat up some high school bullies, there he was, in the corner of the screen just behind Mary Jane Watson: the World’s Greatest Extra, Jesse Heiman.
Jesse Heiman has made minuscule appearances in dozens of movies and television shows. He’s been called the “most ubiquitous actor in Hollywood.” Most of his “roles” aren’t even roles, having neither lines or names. He’s essentially playing human scenery. His are small roles, notably only for the sheer number of them. Still, he must enjoy this path he’s chosen, since he’s been following it for more than a decade.
Are there really no small roles? Anyone could do what Heiman did in Spider-Man. If we’re judging the importance of a role – whether in a movie or in life – purely on the amount of attention it receives, or the amount of influence it wields, then we must distinguish between large roles and small ones. Continue reading Could You Be the World’s Greatest Extra?
Discontentment is a feeling that I struggle with on a regular basis. It’s a common vice for Americans to be discontent with the things that they have – wanting a bigger house, a better car, a more important job – but my discontentment takes on a very specific character: the nagging worry that I’m not doing enough, not performing well enough, not working hard enough. This discontent makes it hard for me to feel a sense of accomplishment in my work or family life. Weekends and holidays, instead of being times to relax and have fun with my family, are spent worrying when I’ll have enough time to work on side projects (like this blog).
The other day, my wife challenged me on this. “Just relax,” she said. “It’s okay to have downtime.” She’s right, of course, but it’s still difficult for me to accept that truth.
Can others relate to this nagging feeling of discontment? As I reflected on this struggle, I realized that my discontent was both a blessing and a curse: it motivated me to keep trying new things (sometimes entire new careers), but it also often kept me from enjoying the fruit of these new experience. The constant worry that I ought to be doing something more important also prevents me from focusing on the moment in front of me.
Evaluate the roots of your discontentment
If you, like me, experience this sense of discontentment, where does it come from? It likely has a mixture of both positive and negative origins. Simply because it’s an uncomfortable feeling doesn’t mean that it’s not an appropriate feeling. Yet, by its very nature, discontentment often springs from motives that are less than pure. Continue reading Dealing with Discontentment
This past week, my company held its annual performance evaluations. Our company has a pretty simple process – a short form completed by both the employee and the supervisor, then discussed in a one-hour meeting. The evaluations were partly about past performance, but largely dealt with our goals for the coming year and any obstacles to our performance. Our corporate culture revolves around weekly and monthly meetings that are focused on our tasks, so someone who was outright failing to live up to his obligations would know well before the annual evaluation. I found these evaluations to be a good time to talk about bigger picture issues, including longer term career goals.
I’ve been in organizations with more formal evaluations and some with much less or nonexistent evaluations, with both longer and shorter leashes. When I was delivering pizzas, your “performance evaluation” happened every single night. Poor performing drivers were weeded out quickly; if your work took a sharp dip south (as happened to one driver I knew), it didn’t matter what your annual record might be – you’d be on your way out.
In most corporate environments, though, my performance evalutions have revolved around annual goals tied to my job description. They’ve usually include a rubric of corporate values or performance measurements – teamwork, leadership, effectiveness – with some sort of scoring scale. Usually, these goals have related directly to my daily work, except in one unfortunate case when not only did my annual goals have very little to do with my actual work, but they were changed every few months by my supervisor, making it impossible to know whether I was really performing up to expectations.
Celebrating Achievements, Receiving Feedback
I find performance evaluations to be incredibly stressful. At the end of a typical day, I’m much more likely to worry about all that I haven’t gotten done than to celebrate the things that I have gotten done. When I started my current job, my wife bought me an accomplishments journal that I could use to keep track of what I’ve done. I don’t update as much as I’d like – due to forgetfulness and neglect, rather than a lack of activity – but I can use my daily journal as a reminder of how I’ve spent my time. Continue reading Evaluating Your Performance