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Break or Embrace Your Own Stereotype by Declaring Your Values

By Doug Shapiro

It’s the start of the New Year, and if we’re going to accelerate in our careers in 2015, we need to tackle some touchy issues head-on. I’m going to be talking about breaking or embracing stereotypes in our careers. It’s coming from a place of love so, before I dive in, I’m asking your permission to say things incorrectly in the pursuit of better understanding.

Recently, one of my favorite podcasts Stuff Mom Never Told You, has been addressing the issues of “Exotic Beauty,” “Women of a Certain Age,” and “Spicy Latinas.” Why does Lupita Nyongo have to be described as an “exotic” beauty as if there’s some “other” type of beauty? Why are Latina women compared to food—spicy, juicy? Why are most women’s careers declared over by age 35 and why does the public go into a feeding frenzy whether they dare to get a wrinkle or dare to cosmetically alter it?

For every group with which you identify, there’s a media-fueled stereotype to name it and use it as a convenient shorthand for storytelling.

This has consequences for all of us as artists, and whoa, boy, can it be incredibly frustrating. Female authors who can’t get a book jacket design without bubbly letters and floral designs. A network assuming it’s a good idea to bring in Al Roker to interview Flava Flav (the most uncomfortable interview I’ve ever seen). Middle Eastern actors who can only get seen for terrorist roles.

Yes, this is unfair.

Yes, we want to work.

Yes, we want to keep our personal integrity.

What do we do?

We embrace some realities. Then we start with our values.

When I’m coaching my Accelerated Artist clients, one of the first exercises I do is to present them with a list of guiding values: fame, integrity, religion, family, justice, comedy, influence, and so many more. They choose five. And then they narrow them down to two.

Why is this important?

Because naming your values serves as a gauge for your career choices.

I once worked with an actor named Michael Vasquez (actually, I’ve changed his name because I didn’t ask if I can use it. See—values!) Michael felt he was not being called in for roles he knew he could play because his last name was ethnic, even though his features were not “typical” of his ethnicity (remember when I asked permission to say things incorrectly?). Michael chose to change his Equity name from Michael Vazquez to Jay Michaels. He’s been working like gangbusters ever since in a large variety of roles.

I face a similar issue. My last name is Shapiro. Perhaps I would be called in for a wider variety of roles if I changed my name. Well, for one thing, if you look at me, you can practically hear the klezmer music in the background. The real reason I don’t change my name is because one of my guiding values is love. I love and miss my dad, who passed away nine years ago and carrying on his name is vitally important to me. Since I don’t have children, the way I choose to love my dad is to honor his name. So, I remain Doug Shapiro. And, frankly, I LOVE playing Jewish men in their 40’s. Let me bounce around every role in Laughter on the 23rd Floor for the rest of my life and I’ll be a happy man.

What it comes down to is this:

There is no set way to deal with stereotypes, there is only the way YOU choose to deal with it; embrace it, try to change it, ignore it, boycott it.

· Declare your values.
· Stick with them.
· Know you have the power of saying YES or NO. (See Accelerated Artist Coach Chris McGahan’s excellent article series on Yes’s and No’s)
· Be open to the joy of living your truth and the inevitable judgment of others.

Are your guiding values fame and influence? Great. Embrace the Spicy Latina Vixen, the Flamboyant Gay Friend, the Airheaded Sexy Blonde, the “Urban” Black Man, the Italian Mobster. Work like crazy. Learn to work the press like your own marionette with well-placed controversy. Start your own production company, perfume and clothing line. Some will criticize you for “selling out.” Accept that and enjoy the ride. You may just become famous enough to walk into any role you want.

Are your guiding values political challenges and personal truth? Great. Buck the system. Start a theater company. Make a Web Series. Put pen or brush to paper right now. Create and fund your own work that showcases the vast range of possibilities within the Asian male experience, the Mormon experience, the Transgender experience, the Mixed Race experience, the Septuagenarian experience, the Appalachian experience. Some will criticize you for being too “in-your-face” and say you’re not an adult if you’re not earning a certain income. Accept that and enjoy the ride. You may just gain enough of a following that you change industry perception forever.

Are your guiding values family and financial stability? Great. Serve your craft at a family entertainment venue like Busch Gardens or Disney. Families have been saving up for five years or more to have this one perfect week and you have the honor and privilege to usher them through that escape into a world of joy, fantasy, and top-notch storytelling. And, you can provide for your own family with a great paycheck. Some will criticize you for a lack of artistic integrity. Accept that and enjoy the ride. You may just fulfill a dying kid’s wish to have tea with Elsa in a beautiful palace.

Others will have their own agenda of how you are supposed to show up in the world as an artist through their own defined prism of “success.”

You, Accelerated Artist, will know you are a success when you look back on the career choices you’ve made in life and see that you were true to your values.

Special thanks to Amanda Stephen, Alexandra de Suze and Gianna Cioffi for their insights in writing this article.


* Not sure how to define your long-term vision or name a brand that encompasses both your look and your and values? Sign up HERE  for a free 20 minute coaching consultation and we’ll talk it out!


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