I learn a lot about life during my commutes. Within the many hours I spent on the I-405 this year, I listened through actor Martin Short’s memoir, I Must Say: My Life as a Humble Comedy Legend. In his delightful, rambling autobiography, he discusses his struggles with career anxiety and even moments when he thought about leaving “the biz” completely. In one of the chapters, he presented his method for dealing with the “prolonged periods of unemployment” that are “part of an actor’s lot.”
We artists, particularly performers, tend to place the burden of our happiness and well being on our careers. This area of our lives is often fickle, an emotional roller coaster, and entirely out of our control. Focusing purely on this “category” of life will not lead to balance or wholeness.
Recognizing this, Mr. Short developed “a rigorous self-evaluation system” called the Nine Categories. In I Must Say, he calls it his “benign, orderly way of taking personal inventory.” By measuring each area of his life and giving them all equal importance, he could hopefully use “logic to overcome emotion.” He describes the overall status of his life as a GPA comprised of nine courses, saying “I might be getting a D in career…but if I got a good marks in some of the other subjects, I could bring my average up.”
Adapted from I Must Say and a convocation speech Mr. Short presented at McMaster University, I give you, the Nine Categories:
1) CATEGORY ONE: YOURSELF! How are you doing? How are you feeling? How's your heart? How's the plumbing? How can you improve and protect your mental and physical well-being. Simply the day-to-day maintenance of oneself. Because let's face it, you can be on top of the world, but if that rash refuses to clear up, you're not going to be in a great mood. Simple as that.
2) CATEGORY TWO: WIFE AND CHILDREN - How is your wife? How are your children? Or if that hasn't been your choice, how are your cats?
3) CATEGORY THREE: Your original family, your brothers, your sisters, your mom and dad. As an actor, I'll sometimes actually include in that list, people who have played my parents in movies. Sometimes I'll just phone up Brian Dennehy and say "Hi dad." And before he hangs up, I get a warm feeling all over.
4) CATEGORY FOUR: FRIENDS - Are you attentive and caring enough to your friends? Let's put it this way. If you're Matt Damon, have you phoned Ben Affleck today?
5) CATEGORY FIVE: CREATIVITY - Always a fascinating one, especially when you feel that you're a big faker and have none.
6) CATEGORY SIX: MONEY - It's nice to have some money. As the comedian Joe E. Lewis once said, "I've been rich and I've been poor. And rich is better than poor." It seems to make great sense.
7) CATEGORY SEVEN: CAREER - Or as it says on my answering service: "I'll take it."
8) CATEGORY EIGHT: DISCIPLINE - This is a category that former U.S. President Bill Clinton has occasionally had problems with.
9) CATEGORY NINE: LIFESTYLE - "Are you actually having fun in your life?" You don't have to ask me. I'm here aren't I?
As we approach December 31st, you may be asking yourself: What happened to last year’s New Year’s resolutions? Barring difficult life obstacles, I would wager last year’s goals got swallowed up in obsessing too much in one category. Did your love life take over your year? Or your audition schedule?
Don’t be afraid to let different seasons of your life be focused on different things. If a couple of performing jobs don’t pan out, think of the open space in your schedule as a gift. Is this your chance to rake in a lot of money at your side hustle? Or focus on your writing project? Or get your butt to dance class every day? Or take that extra trip home to see your family?
Also, how many hours of your last year were unaccounted for? Could you have finished a book instead of accidentally browsing Facebook for hours? (Guilty). Could you have called your mom instead of binge watching that mediocre miniseries or texting that random guy that you don’t even like that much? (Guilty, ugh, guilty).
Analyze your life using this Nine Category System, and look for ways to take back control of your time. Live your life with intention.
Quotations are pulled from the following source:
Short, Martin, and David Kamp. I must say: my life as a humble comedy legend. New York: Harper, 2014. Print.
The preceding list of the Nine Categories, as well as the rest of Martin Short’s convocation address at McMaster University can be found here: http://dailynews.mcmaster.ca/article/posted-on-may-31-martin-shorts-convocation-address/)