Here is what I’ve learned from being in this business for 18 years, first as an actor in LA and New York, and now as an on set acting coach and director. Print it out. Post it. Throw it out. I don't care.
1. Don't be a dick. Seriously. Life's too short. Reputation is everything in this business. Don't burn bridges, don't be an asshole to your agent, don't complain about your early call time, and don't be rude to the PA on set. That agent’s assistant you threw a fit to because she gave you the wrong address? She is now a producer at Sony. That manager you dropped and sued for royalties? They are now a big time showrunner. Trust me. You will meet all of these people again down the road, and they will remember! So be nice, show up on time, say thank you, and don't suck.
2. Create your own work. Otherwise you will make yourself miserable sitting around wondering why your freelancing agent isn't getting you in for one line on "Blue Bloods." Learn to crowdfund, learn how to use a DSLR camera, learn how to edit. Keep yourself creatively fulfilled. Stop sitting around bitching about other people's careers, and start doing something yourself. Now more than every it's easier to create your own work, to be a more well rounded actor, to learn all parts of the business. If you aren't doing anything to keep yourself inspired, you are wasting your life and career away. Take control and create a project for yourself. Submit it to festivals.
3. Have a life outside of the business. I mean, have other hobbies that make you happy. Sign up for Survival Camp, take a road trip by yourself, read non-fiction, feed your mind and soul so that every audition doesn't become "do or die."
4. Confidence gets you very far. Learn how to give 0 fucks. If you don’t know how, read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$ck.” Put it under your pillow. Stop giving everyone else so much power, and learn how to have unshakeable confidence. People will pay attention, will hire you, and will want to work with you. Just don't be a dick about it (see #1).
5. Know your type and own it. You don't have to be the best actor. Stop trying to be Al Pacino or Meryl Streep. You will be cast in roles that are close to who you are. So learn who you are, know what you look like, be okay with not being the best, and get really really good at selling that. You will work more and make more money. You don't have to be "famous," just be consistent.
6. Family is more important. Do you know how many trips I've cut short so that I could come back for an audition? Don't. There will always be more auditions, and more opportunities. Family, relationships, and friends are everything. They need to be nurtured, prioritized, and paid attention to. They will be there when you are miserable, questioning your life and career choices, and will talk you off the ledge when you are thinking about quitting and moving to Uruguay. Book out, go on vacation, and don't feel bad about it. You aren't missing anything.
7. Don't worry what other actors are doing. Stop comparing your career to others. It's a waste of time. Everything ebbs and flows, and some people will have their moment before you. Let them, be happy for them. Everyone has their own path.
8. Surround yourself with the right people. Spend time with people who inspire you, who push you to be better, and who are successful. Watch them, learn from them, and take notes.
9. Nobody knows anything. Everyone is an idiot, and everything is subjective. Stop worrying about what other people think, and don't let yourself settle for boring or mediocre. Pave your own path, take risks, be unapologetic, fearless, exciting and unpredictable in your work, and let everyone fall in line behind you. There are no golden rules in this business, (except #1).
10. You don’t need to pay to create “relationships.” Earn them by doing good work. If you are a good actor and are putting good work into the universe, it will get seen. There is no quick fix. That's not how the business works.
11. You will get dropped or fired. It happens. Your manager or agent will let you go because you aren't booking enough. Your pilot will get picked up but you will get fired from it, or you may even get fired after the table read. It sucks balls, and you will cry for a few days, but every time this has happened to someone I know, they have gone on to bigger and better things. Life goes on. Get over it.
12. Just hit your mark, say your lines, and don't suck. On set there simply isn't time to discuss motivation, your character's backstory/movement journal/past abuse. You have been hired to serve the story, to support the other characters. Just do your job. It's not about you.
13. Don't be broke. It makes you look desperate, and people read that a mile away. Find a side job that you can tolerate, and get your finances in order, because you may book six guest star jobs in a year, or you may not book an acting job for four years. Keep yourself stable, sane, so you can walk into an audition or on set and not "need it." When you are deserpate for work, there is a thing called panic in your eyes that nobody thinks is cute.
14. Let yourself make mistakes. Nobody is perfect. There is absolutely no guide book on succeeding in this business. You will go down the wrong roads, get sucky headshots, work with the wrong people, bomb auditions, forget your lines on set, piss off a manager or two. I'm here to tell you your career will be fine, and nobody is thinking about it as much as you are. Give yourself a break, bounce back, and let it go.
15. Deal with your demons. Half of this business is dealing with your downtime, when you have no work, no auditions, and are making yourself crazy. Learn how to deal with this time, to keep your sanity, to stay level and focused so that you are prepared and ready when that next opportunity comes along. Take a class, pick up a new hobby, dive into your writing. You might surprise yourself and find something else that piques your interest.
16. Spend time in a casting room, an editing room, and on set. There is so much mystery in this business, and so much second guessing, waiting, and trying to comprehend the madness. Actors should be readers, sit down with an editor and watch them work, and spend as much time on set as possible. Learn everything.
17. Getting an agent/manager won't change your life. Stop obsessing about getting one, and paying thousands to do it. Especially if you are not ready. The right agent will come when your work speaks for itself. You will go through several agents in your career. They have access to the big jobs, but it's a whole other battle for them to get you in the room. It will sometimes leave you frustrated, insane, and you will think about firing them on a daily basis. Let it go.
18. Quitting is okay. You don't have to be an actor forever. You may end up being a writer, a producer, a coach (!), or even in an entirely different career path. Life is too short. If you are miserable like 90% of the time, terrified every time you get an audition, and hate your life every day, then walk away. You aren't a failure, you aren't a bad person. You are simply looking out for yourself.