What was the most thrilling role you ever played?
Well, how often does that experience come to mind as you ask yourself what you’re doing with your life? It’s easy to get obsessed with the business side of the art, since that’s what allows you to keep on acting. Chasing after fame and fortune can be quite pragmatic, but it can also be vainglorious. Generally it’s the people who cherish their experiences on stage and/or in front of the camera who have good outcomes, whether those look “successful” or not. Those who are hypnotized by the grandiose rewards of success (perhaps especially in acting) tend to berate themselves for not having it yet; when and if they do achieve it, they tend to be the people who go nuts (they “decompensate”), doing cocaine in hotel rooms, alone, or with hangers-on. Those who remember the art and their experience of it—both the acting and the camaraderie of being in a troupe or a cast—tend to cope better with lack of outward success (since the aspect that really matters to them is the one they already do have), and, if things go well, they can tolerate success without losing hold of themselves.
Another way to put this--directed more at the spiritual right hemisphere of the brain than the logical left--is that an art form is safe to practice when the artist stays close to the spirit that sponsors it. In the case of the actor, that would be Dionysus; for the historian, Clio; for the dancer, Terpsichore; the doctor, Asclepius; the poet, Apollo and Athena and Calliope and Urania. These are of course Greek Gods, whose names became powerful for me through years of reading Greek literature. But it doesn't matter what culture produced your guiding spirit, nor whether it's immortal or human. All I'm suggesting is that good results come from dedication to a point outside the circle of the artist and the audience. Play the violin for the composer. Do Shakespeare for Old Bill. Or as the late great Lou Reed once said, "play football for the coach."