April 9th, 2011

Maslow's Moment: Patience in the shadows might keep you out of jail

You’ve come a long way, baby. The other day, I was most surprised when my daughter was watching “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” starring Lindsay Lohan, from way back in 2004 when her star was on the rise, long before her DUI convictions and spectacular fall from grace. But it was not Lindsay that struck me, it was her nondescript best friend, a rather plain-looking blond girl who was clearly standing in Lindsay’s long shadow.

Lindsay's shadow

I knew I had seen that face somewhere. It was driving me nuts.

Thanks to the bounties of the Internet, in the form of IMDB web site, it took me all of 30 seconds to place her: Alison Pill. I had seen her most recently in the second season of the magnificent In Treatment as well as the glorious TV mini-series adaptation of the best-selling novel The Pillars of the Earth.

And my jaw dropped.

Alison’s come a long way from playing Lindsay’s sidekick.

Hanging out with Ian and Gabriel. If you haven’t watched In Treatment, it is very much an actor’s series. There are no car chase scenes, no special effects, no doctors running around yelling “stat”, no computer special effects. There is only a therapist, played by Gabriel Byrne, and a patient, in a room, locked in verbal combat. Sounds boring? It is anything but. The show is carried “the old fashioned way”: story, dialogue and…well…acting. Every day of the week the therapist sees a new patient, with Friday being reserved for the therapist’s own therapy. The likes of Blair Underwood, Dianne Wiest and John Mahoney (yeah, Frasier’s dad) have all played roles in this series. And wouldn’t you know it, so does our Alison Pill, all grown up and showing her acting chops as she plays a young woman who deals with her cancer diagnosis in her therapy sessions.

She is nothing short of wonderful.

Alison also caught my eye in “The Pillars of the Earth”, with her portrayal of the beautiful Maud, the dead king’s daughter, whose contest with her uncle Stephen for England’s throne serves as backdrop for the mini-series. Her performance shows that she belongs in the company of such great thespians as the magnificent Ian McShane and the-best-Mr.-Darcy-ever Matthew Macfadyen, who star in the mini-series.

The rise… Alison’s career trajectory is in stark contrast to Lindsay’s since they worked together in 2004. Fresh from her role as Anna in “Freaky Friday”, a film which grossed $160 million and 88% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, Lindsay did “Confessions” with our Alison. In the same year, she also starred in “Mean Girls”, released the album “Speak”, which peaked at number 4 on the Billboard 200 and, at 17, become the youngest-ever host of the 2004 MTV Music awards. This girl’s star was clearly on the rise.1

…and fall. Sadly however, in 2005, things started to go downhill: her second album didn’t do so well, there were problems on the set of “Herbie Fully Loaded” and her parents separated. But it was in 2006-07 that the unraveling started, and just didn’t stop. Peppered in between a couple of movies that did “okay” were three stints in rehab, two DUI arrests, a felony charge of cocaine possession, 84 minutes in jail, and a three-year probation sentence. In 2010, after some TV appearances and attempts to break into the fashion industry, a failed DUI progress appearance in violation of her probation earned her a 90-day jail sentence (of which she served 14) and more rehab, followed by another failed drug test which garnered her more jail time and still more rehab. Sadly, it’s not finished: earlier this year, a charge of felony grand theft for a stolen necklace has been added to her résumé, for which she will stand trial later this month.2, 3, 4

Having seen “Freaky Friday” about 200,000 times (it is my oldest daughter’s favourite movie), I never cease to be saddened to see someone who showed such great potential so early in life fall so spectacularly low.

Look what patience, practice and focus did

Patience will get you a chance to hang out with Gabriel and Ian. The reason Alison’s story resonates so much with me is that it’s sometimes easy for us to envy the Lindsay Lohans: those people whose star rises early and high, who seem destined for greatness, while we “plain Janes” stay in their shadow, watching from afar. You know the “Lindsay Lohan” types in our world: the 39-year-old President who is younger than your youngest brother, your ex-classmate who is CEO of a Fortune 500 company, your friend who gets promoted to VP Operations; all this while you’re just proud to have finished that “small” $1M project on-time, on-budget and with a happy customer. If you are feeling that way, take a page from Alison’s book, as I have. She went from playing Lindsay’s sidekick to honing her acting skills alongside the likes of Gabriel Byrnes and Ian McShane. How much do you think she learned from just being in the same room as such greatness, while Lindsay partied and went to jail?

The lesson here is simple: be patient while you stand in the shadows of others. Rather than playing the celebrity, practice your craft, hone your skills and get better at whatever it is that you do. Attend seminars, read books and blogs, learn something new, meet new and interesting people, get out of your comfort zone. Focus on what you need to get better.

Patience, practice and focus. These are the ingredients that you need to work your way up to the Fifth, not celebrity. Self-actualization is not about others knowing you: it’s about knowing yourself. Ironically enough, as you focus on your own potential, you might just find yourself in the same room as a Gabriel or an Ian…and who knows where that might possibly lead?

Who knows where will you end up? I have no doubt that Alison Pill is going places. Where she will end up, I have no idea. But there is one place I am absolutely certain she won’t end up.


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