Getting fired: the next right thing

We were standing in a gloomy hallway in midtown, a dozen or so actors
waiting to audition for a network promo. J was leaning against the
wall, knitting with bluish gray yarn that went nicely with her gray
hair.

“You remind me of Madame LaFarge in ‘Tale of Two Cities,'” I said to her. “Sitting by the guillotine, watching heads roll…”

She said, “I think it was Madame DeFarge.”

She was right, and it wasn’t long after that – speaking of heads
rolling – that I realized I’d been fired.

I asked, M, the first actor I met and a friend and mentor, which agent
had sent her to the audition. This is small talk among actors, a
harmless topic in a business that is extremely competitive, limited in
opportunities and rife with insecurity.
XYZ, she said.

 I asked G, a handsome, soft-spoken guy with whom I often compete for parts, who sent him: XYZ.
I asked D, with whom I appeared in a commercial on CNN last year: XYZ.

For the 20 months I’ve been in the business, XYZ has been one of my
agents, too. In fact, XYZ was my first agent and got me my first job, a
one-day modeling job as a BellSouth executive.

But the last job I did for XYZ was last fall. The only contact I’d had
with XYZ since was when the agent – I’ll call her Susan – called me in
early May and raged at me for taking an audition with another agent. I
have – or had – three agents in Atlanta, a measure not so much of my
ability, but rather of the marketability of my “look” as a graying baby
boomer.

“We’ve had this conversation before,” Susan had said. “I told you we
wanted preference. I discovered you. I got you started in this
business. You owe it to me to give us preference.”

First, Susan didn’t discover me. A director invited me to a party and
asked M to introduce me to Susan. In effect, I was handed to Susan.
Two, we did have that conversation before, and it was unpleasant.

“Preference” means that if another agent calls wanting to send me to an
audition, I would have to call XYZ and see if they were also working
that job. If they were, I had to go with XYZ, even though they hadn’t
called me. If not, I could then call the first agent back and go
through her agency. (I’m masking identities, because I’m not looking to
show anybody up. The issue is what matters, not the agency or the agent.)

My feeling was first-come, first-served. But I agreed during that first
conversation because I was new to the business and thought that’s how
it was done. And for some, it is done that way.

But in May I told her no preference. One, I didn’t think it was
fair. And, two, “You’re not getting me any work. This is the first time
I’ve heard from XYZ this year. I need money. I need work.”

“Well, you need to be more involved in your career,” she said. “You should be be calling us.”

To a certain extent, this is true. But even a year ago, I realized I
didn’t care for the way Susan did business. She was selfish, petulant,
and abrasive. She blamed others, never took responsibility, never
admitted she might be wrong. And one of the keys to creating the kind
of life I want  is being around positive, upbeat people.

During that May conversation, Susan said angrily, “Come get your
stuff,” meaning my comp card and headshots. I stayed calm, said I was
sorry she felt that way and would like to work it out if we could. But the
end of the conversation was inconclusive.

And afterwards, I kept running into people at auditions and jobs
who were sent by XYZ, but it was my other agents who sent me. Clearly,
I’d been dropped. And when I spoke with another agent in the office,
she confirmed it.

Here’s what I find fascinating: at CNN.com, I knew there was
something
I was supposed to be doing, some purpose that would go unfulfilled as
long as I stayed there. And when I didn’t leave on my own, “fate”
stepped in and I got laid off.

Now it has happened again, and on the face of it things don’t look
good. My income is down this year. I need all the work I can get. But
ending the relationship with XYZ feels right. It’s consistent with how
I want to live and the people I want around me.

I should probably be nervous, because I don’t know what’s going to
happen or
where the money’s going to come from. But I’m calm. I figure that if I
keep doing what Anne Lamott calls “the next right thing,” I’ll be all right.

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