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What My Twelve-Year Career as an Actor Taught me About Competing Against Others

When I was a kid, I wanted to become an actor. Everyone told me it was packed with competition, but I didn’t care and took action.

I looked every day for auditions, registered at the community acting school of my city, and did some impro.

My efforts paid off.

I got a minor role in a big French movie when I was 20 years old. Along with me were twenty-two other aspiring actors.

At the end of the shooting, it seemed like everyone was going to become the next Tom Hanks.

It was in March 2015.

More than six years later, I checked who had made it out of the twenty-three actors that we were.

This case study enabled me to draw some lessons regarding competition – real competition.

What I found out is that few people are as serious as they pretend they are.

As a result, real competition is not nearly as big as you think it is.

A Lot of Candidates Does Not Mean a Lot of Contenders

I started paying attention to competition in 2012 when I applied to get into the conservatorium (university for acting). I was 18. I went to the audition and started chatting with people. We were maybe 100, each trying to get one of the twenty spots available.

I partnered with a random guy to do the exam. In all fairness, he wasn’t really good. He didn’t get in, and me neither.

A few years later, I met him at the avant-premiere of a movie I had played into.

He had quit acting.

This story goes for almost all actors I have met at some point in my twelve-year career .  Even the ones that had agents and got big roles as kids!

When it got too tough, or when success became rare, they just quit and went to do other stuff.

There was this girl that had graduated from an excellent acting school in Belgium. She went on to become a casting director.

Then there was this guy that had graduated from another acting school. He went on to become a photographer.

Another one became a radio show host. And another one sells guitar in a second-hand shop.

My own cousin, whose dream was to become famous and that had gotten a minor role in a big movie, quit acting when she didn’t get into the best acting school in Belgium — where there are only 5 spots for 300 contenders.

Serious People Are Rare

My cousin wasn’t the only one that was trying to get into that school — I did too. When I went to the open days out of curiosity, I had the chance to meet the competition.

What I saw surprised me.

You know how they always tell you that acting is “full of competitors” and nearly impossible to get into?

It’s BS.

None of the people I talked to that day knew what they were getting themselves into.

Very few had ever acted before. One or two had barely passed an audition. And when you asked them why they wanted to act, the answer you got was “to make money” or “to become famous”.

A tiny percentage only were driven and dedicated to making it. They were the ones ready to eat potatoes for twenty years to get their shot in a movie. They were the ones that had prior experience and a concrete plan. They were the ones that had applied to multiple schools in case that one didn’t hire them.

They were the ones I was really up against. And they only made up for a tiny percentage of all competitors.

Real Competition = The Number of People That Want It as Bad as You Do

When you get into a highly competitive field and you are not naturally better than average, your only chance to succeed is to work harder and smarter than others.

I’m a firm believer — for having experienced it — that if you focus on ONE THING and make it the sole purpose of your life, your chances of failure are extremely low.

The reason why is that it’s very unlikely your competition works as hard you do.

Out of the 300 aspiring comedians that try to get into one of these 5 available spots at the acting school, how many do you think really want it?

How many will apply next year if they fail? And then the year after?

How many will pursue acting regardless of the fact they get into a school or not?

A very, very tiny percentage.

The percentage you need to be part of.

The percentage that perseveres no matter what.

The percentage that ultimately succeeds.

So, How Many People Are You Really Competing Against?

It’s time we answer the question we asked at the beginning.

How many of my twenty-two aspiring actor friends actually made it six years later after we shot the movie? How many of them are still trying? How many of them were serious?


Out of all of us, one guy actually made it.

Funny enough, he was the one that had the least experience six years ago. No one cared about him on set, and no one bet he’d be successful later on.

If we make a rule out of this case study, it means that the serious people you really are competing against makeup for 4,3% of all contenders (1/23).

Practically, this means that if you plan on getting into a program where 1000 people are applying, the real competition isn’t one thousand. If you’re dead serious about getting in, you’re competing “only” against forty-three people.

The forty-three people that are as serious about getting in as you are.

The Bottom Line

While I took acting as a case study to express this principle, my experience taught me this rule applies to anything a tiny bit competitive (and the higher the achievement you aim at, the less competition you have).

If you dedicate your life to one specific goal, the real competition you’re up against shrinks to barely 3–4% of all the actual applicants.

That’s the percentage of people that are as serious as you are about succeeding.

Want to build a business? Your family and friends will likely tell you it’s financial suicide. The truth is that entrepreneurs that focus 100% on their business succeed after trying 3,8 times on average.

Want to get an internship at the European Union? You’d be surprised about the number of people that applied randomly and weren’t real contenders (as I was).

Want to get into the best university in Belgium? Do a couple of volunteering activities, learn the basics of a second foreign language, and you’re in.

Competition isn’t what it looks like. Competition merely depends on how hard you want it.

When you make ONE THING the main goal of your life, you shrink competition to such an extent that failing becomes difficult, and success becomes hard to avoid.

Victory, as such, is much closer and easier to reach than you think it is.

You just have to work harder.

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