Starving Artist No More Blog

017: What You Can Control

entrepreneurship goal-setting mindset Feb 21, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
017: What You Can Control

 What can you control in your business? You may hear me ask that question and have an instant, knee-jerk reaction. “I’m a solopreneur. I do everything in my creative business. I control it all!” Or maybe you have some people working with you, but you’re still the driving force behind your business, so your reaction is more along the lines of, “I may not have my hands in every single project at every moment of every day, but that doesn’t mean I’m not in charge. I control everything!” Not so fast. There’s actually a lot you can’t control in your business. You can't control whether or not you actually win an audition, but you can control if you submit an audition that is your best work. You can't control whether a certain casting director or personnel manager hires you, but you can control when/how you reach out to them so that you're top of mind as they're hiring. You can't control whether you get reviewed by an industry publication, but you can control whether you've reached out to the editorial department and submitted your best recent projects for consideration for a review. There’s a lot you can’t control within your creative business, so let’s make sure that you’re focusing on the things you can control.


Hello, thriving artist, and welcome to episode 17 of the Starving Artist No More podcast. My name is Jennifer Jill Araya, and I am an audiobook narrator, actor, musician, and business coach working with creatives just like you. I’m so excited you’re here with me today. We’re going to be talking about taking power within your creative work and how to map out a strategy for your business. We’re going to be talking about your mindset around your artistic work and how to do that work with joy and energy. It’s going to be a great discussion!

Before we dive in though, I do want to let you know that in just over a month from when this episode is first airing, on March 26, 2023, I’m hosting a live, in-person workshop in New York City. This workshop, which I’m co-hosting with the fabulous acting coach Marni Penning, is titled “Starving and Panicked No More: Business Strategy & Text Breakdown for the Thriving Actor,” and that title really sums up what this event is all about: how to build a thriving, growing business as an actor, and how actors can use text breakdown techniques to enrich and expand their performances. If you are an actor, this workshop is for you. Just visit the “Events” page of my website,, to learn more. There’s an early bird discount through Feb. 28, so if you’re interested in attending the workshop, don’t wait to sign up!

And, if you’re listening to this episode way after it comes out and March 26, 2023 has long since come and gone, feel free to check out that Events page on my website anyway. That page is always kept up-to-date with any upcoming workshops and seminars I have scheduled, so who knows, maybe you’ll find something there that is a must-attend event for you!

Alright, now that I’ve let you know about the workshop, which I am so looking forward to, it’s time to get to the main topic of today’s podcast: what you can control in your business.

When I’m working with creative entrepreneurs, I find that they almost always land on one of two extremes. There aren’t many people who fall in the middle! You have the creative entrepreneurs who are convinced that they control EVERY. LAST. THING. in their business, who scoff when I say that there are things within their business that are beyond their power to influence or change. These entrepreneurs are empowered people because they know that the ability to make change is within their grasp. But they can often take it too far, letting the successes or failures in their business define them both as artists and as people, and let me tell you, if your identity is tied to your creative work in such a close way, the inevitable ups and downs of a creative life can be really hard to handle. Being that defined by your work can break you.

And then you have the other extreme: the artist business owners who don’t think that they have any control at all, that if they succeed, it’s entirely due to luck or being in the right place at the right time or pure happenstance. This second group of entrepreneurs has a healthy separation from their external success. They know that they are artists, even if others’ validation of their artistic identity is slow in coming. But this perspective can lead to a bit too much passivity. These artist business owners will sit by the phone waiting for their agent or the personnel manager or the casting director to call them. They won’t go out and create new opportunities for themselves, and they won’t spend time on marketing and networking. They believe that those kinds of activities are beneath them, or they are convinced that those types of activities don’t work. After all, in their minds, whether or not they get hired is entirely out of their control, so there’s no reason to be pro-active about these kinds of things. The jobs will come when they come.

Both of these perspectives have their advantages, but both of them also have drawbacks and pitfalls. As with most things in life, the key to finding peace and growth is to exist somewhere in the middle, in an area of moderation. Don’t get sucked into thinking you control everything in your business, because you don’t. But likewise, don’t succumb to the despair that you can’t control anything, because that is just as untrue. You can control some things, and you don’t control others. The key is to focus on what you can control – be proactive and strategic and decisive in those areas. And everything else? Everything that’s outside of what you can control? Let all the rest go.

So how can you tell the difference? How do you determine whether something falls into the category of things you can control, or whether it falls into the category of things outside of your responsibility? Let’s think back to the hypothetical situations I mentioned at the very beginning of this episode and use those as examples. Once you start thinking about it, I think you’ll understand the difference between the two.

Let’s say you’re an actor or musician, and you’re participating in an upcoming audition. Whether or not you win that audition is something that is completely out of your control. You don’t really have any way of knowing for sure exactly what the casting director or hiring manager is looking for to fill that role or that position. Perhaps they’re looking for someone with a specific body type so that you’ll blend in a specific way with the other actors already cast in the production. Maybe the music director is listening for a particular tone quality or type of phrasing, and maybe that matches how you perform, but maybe it doesn’t. Whether or not you actually win is a decision made by the person making that hiring decision. It is not a decision made by you. You do not control it.

However, what you can control is whether or not the audition you submit is the very best example of your work that you can possibly produce. You can make sure that you’re in the right frame of mind before the audition to allow you to do your best. You can make sure you’ve practiced sufficiently ahead of time so that you know your audition passage inside and out. You can do research ahead of time into what qualities the organization typically looks for in the people they hire so that you can work to match that ideal as much as possible. Let’s say I’m taking an orchestral audition, and when doing research ahead of the audition, I learn that the music director of that orchestra has a specific metronome marking that he always uses for a specific movement of one of Beethoven’s symphonies. Well, when it comes time for me to play my excerpt from that movement, I’m going to make sure I’m exactly matching the conductor’s preferred metronome marking!

Here’s another example, and this one is actually pulled from my own experience. Ahead of an audition for a musical many years ago, I learned that the music director of the show I was auditioning for held the very strong opinion that music written by a specific, very popular musical theatre composer was way overdone, and the music director had told several people I know that he was sick of hearing this composer’s music in auditions. So you can bet that I made sure that none of my audition pieces for that audition were pieces by this composer!

In this situation, I couldn’t control whether or not I was actually selected for the role. But I could control my performance, my preparation, and the selection of my audition pieces. I didn’t win that particular job. They chose someone else for the role. But I walked away from the audition truly, deeply satisfied. I knew I had done everything in my power to show the very best of myself and my abilities at that audition. In terms of what I could control, I’d done everything exactly the way I wanted to, and that was a win in my book. (And, in a fun little postscript to this story, I must have made a good impression because, the next time I auditioned for this music director a few months later, for a different role in a different show, I did get it!)

In any audition situation, you can’t control the state of mind of those evaluating your performance. You can’t control the performance of those taking the audition with you. You cannot control whether you will most closely match the ideal for this role or position that those doing the hiring have in their head. But you can control your own preparation. You can control whether or not you’ve done research ahead of time to get a sense for what ideal they’re searching for. You can control your own practice and focus. You can control you, and when you take responsibility for your own preparation and practice, you will have the immense satisfaction of knowing you performed to the best of your abilities, regardless of whether or not you actually get the job.

Similarly, you can't control whether a certain casting director or personnel manager hires you. Maybe you think you’d be perfect for the role, but you’re just not what that casting director has in mind. But you can control how often and in what way you reach out to those casting contacts so that you're top of mind as they're hiring. I can’t tell you how many audiobooks I’ve narrated where I reached out to the casting director just a day or two before they sent me the offer. By reaching out and sending a brief update to the casting director, I put myself top of mind for that person, and when a book that was right for me came across their desk a few days later, that casting director remembered my name from our recent interaction and sent the book my way. Now, you have to be careful that you don’t reach out too often, or you’ll end up being overly persistent or annoying, or both. There’s definitely a fine balance to strike. But when you have established a process for yourself around your marketing reach-outs, like I talked about in the last episode, then you’ll have a schedule for which hiring contacts you reach out to and when, and that will take away all the anxiety of being bothersome. You’ll know that you’re reaching out to the people who hire you on a regular basis at an appropriate timeframe, and you’ll be able to send those reach-out messages with confidence and comfort.

When it comes to reviews, you can't control whether you get reviewed, whether that review is in your local newspaper or whether it’s in an industry publication. Those decisions about what to review and when, what to publish or not publish, are entirely outside of your control. But you can control whether you've reached out to the editorial department at the publication where you want a review and have submitted your best recent projects for review consideration. Whether or not those reviews make it to publication is beyond your control, but you can control whether or not projects are brought to the attention of the review editors.

When it comes to your work and your business, the things that you can’t control are nearly endless. You can’t control other people. You can’t control mother nature raining out a big outdoor event you planned. You can’t always control the unintended and unforeseen consequences of your own actions. But don’t let those not-in-your-control elements get you down or convince you to give up. You have mastery over so much more. You are in control of your mindset and your preparation. You control what you wear and how you present yourself, and so you can control what first impression you leave behind with those you meet. You are in charge of what you say and what you do, how you react to the situation you’re in. You are in charge of your attention, what you focus on and how your thoughts respond to the circumstances you’re in. You are in charge of you, and no one can take that power away from you.

Knowing what you control and don’t control in a given area of your business is incredibly important when it comes to developing strategies for growth and thriving in your business. Remember that musical theater music director I mentioned earlier that didn’t like the music of a specific composer? In that situation, I recognized that I didn’t control the music director’s preferences, but I did control the musical selections I brought to the audition. My strategy in terms of what audition excerpts I chose to perform changed as a result of knowing what I did control and what I didn’t in that situation.

Anytime you have a goal within your business, focus your strategy for achieving that goal on the things you can control. I can’t control when I get reviews in AudioFile magazine, so if I have a goal of getting a certain number of reviews in a given calendar year, I’m bound to be disappointed. That’s not a goal I have any power to influence! But I can control how often I reach out and what projects I submit to the editor. What I can control – reaching out appropriately and effectively to submit my projects for review – will likely result in more reviews over the course of the year, but I’m not going to focus on that number. I’m going to pay attention to what I can control, center my strategy around that, and let everything else go. If I get reviews as a result of those reach outs, that’s great! That is, after all, why I’m doing them. But I’m not focused on that. I’m focused on doing my part to the best of my ability, making sure I’m doing what I need to do. The rest will follow (or not) as is controlled by someone else.

And that’s where the real magic of focusing on what you can control comes from. If I’m focused on what I can control, and only what I can control, I’m not worried about things that I can’t. Worrying about situations outside of your realm of influence is a recipe for fear and anxiety and stress. The decisions and actions of other people are not mine to make or take. Anytime you try to take charge of other people and their actions, it’s going to end badly.

By contrast, if you are intentional to only expend your mental energy and focus on the things that you control, you can let go of the fear, let go of the anxiety, let go of the stress. If you determine that a specific aspect of your situation is within your realm of control, that means you can do something about it. All that remains is deciding on a strategy to overcome the problem and then enacting that strategy. Nothing else – not all of the things controlled by other people – matters anymore. It’s just you taking care of yourself and your art by taking charge of your business. Putting your focus only on what you can control is a powerful technique to improve your mindset around your work. When you know that the elements in your business are ones that you have ultimate responsibility and power over, you can work on those areas with joy and excitement, knowing that the actions you take truly have the power to make a difference.

And when those inevitable problems arise in areas that are out of your control, you’re able to recognize, “hey, this is a difficulty that I didn’t have any part in creating. Someone else’s decision is impacting me and my work negatively. Maybe I need to figure out a way to work through this problem, since I am responsible for my business, but it’s not my fault that this happened, and it doesn’t reflect at all on me or my identity as an artist.”

Think back to those extremes I mentioned at the very beginning of this episode. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you control everything. When ups and downs happen in your work, those ups and downs aren’t necessarily a reflection at all on your identity as an artist and creative. Sure, maybe there are things you can do to ease the turmoil, but ups and downs are a fact of life in any small business, particularly in any creative small business.

Conversely, avoid the trap of thinking you don’t control anything. So much of your life as an artist is absolutely within your power! You are the number 1 driver of change and growth in your business. You are your business’s most important asset. Of course you have control and responsibility and power within your business. If you’re in a rough spot in your artistic journey right now, you can do something to change it and improve your situation. If you’re in a fabulous spot in your artistic journey right now, you can do things that will allow you to stay in that fabulous spot and continue growing from there. You are not helpless in your business. You are not dependent on other people to give you work. As an artist business owner, you are powerful. Own that power, and use it to cultivate your artist growth. Own your identity as a thriving artist.

You as an artist are neither all-powerful nor powerless. Take responsibility over the things that are within your realm of influence. Own what you control. And the rest? The things that are outside that realm of influence? Let them go. If you find yourself in a situation where you’re trying to control other people – always a losing proposition – take a step back. Identify the areas within your situation that you can control,  and recognize the ones that you can’t. Pour your energy and resources into the areas where you can make a difference, and let everything else go. Your mindset will be more focused and positive for it, and your business will grow and thrive as a result.

Thank you so much for being with me today for this episode of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I hope this episode helped you understand the difference between things you can control and things you can’t in your artistic work. If you’ve got a situation in your business right now that’s puzzling you, where you aren’t sure what you do or don’t control, shoot me a message via the contact page on my website, I always love to hear from my podcast listeners, and I’m happy to help you think through your situation so that you can identify the areas where you have control and where your actions can make a difference. As always, I would be so incredibly grateful if you’d leave me a rating or review using your podcast service of choice. Ratings and reviews on Apple Podcasts are particularly helpful to me, and to new listeners searching for a podcast to help them grow in their creative entrepreneurship skills. And, of course, sharing is caring. If you have a friend or colleague who you think would benefit from listening to this episode, or any episode, please pass this along to them.

Thanks again for your time today. You have so much power over your business. Now go take charge of that power, and use it to grow and thrive in your creative work. I can’t wait to see what you create!


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