#40 The Actor-Coder

Zoe Cunningham is a film actor and the Managing Director of SoftwireUK and the author of Networking Know How. And of course, she is a competitive backgammon player too.  I'm delighted to have met Zoe and I've found learning about her two very contrasting careers inspiring. Here's what she has to say...

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What is the biggest lesson you've learnt over the last year?

The biggest lesson I've learnt this year is that it is possible to go through life without criticising every decision that you make. And that life is way easier then. 

I've been aware of this as an idea for a while, but I've found it hard to translate it into my life. I used to say to myself that I "shouldn't use the word should". That didn't work.

I just read a fantastic book called Nonviolent Communication and I finally feel like I really "got it". Human beings simply don't respond very well to feeling that they "have" to do things, and anything that we do can also be rephrased as a choice.

I've had a couple of really fantastic moments since then when someone has questioned what I did or I've made a mistake, and I've noticed that I haven't responded by calling myself an idiot or feeling attacked. It's amazing! I'm starting to wonder how much energy we burn by criticising ourselves when things go wrong, rather than just accepting it and carrying on.

What is your burning question of the moment?

My burning question is "What exactly should I be doing right now in order to progress my multi-faceted life objectives?". It's not that I don't have an answer to this question. I have many answers. I just don't know which is the right one.

Like everyone, I need to earn enough money to live and I have very marketable skills running IT teams. I enjoy working in leadership, mentoring and culture (which I do 4 days/week)... it's just not my burning passion.

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My burning passion is acting, and while I have done a great job over two years building up my skills, credits and opportunities (culminating in playing the lead in this fantastic short film that we just finished - the amount of money I have made from acting is in three figures and, further, my opportunities are extended by being able to pay for classes,  being able to afford to take unpaid jobs etc. etc.

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I'm working on many projects, because you never know which one is going to take off. But I'm also aware that doing too much leads to burnout and means that you're not focussing on the important things in life. So which things should I do?

Using my learning from the first question, I'm trying to focus less on getting to a perfect answer and to just get on with it and have fun. Wish me luck!

What’s the most inspiring thing you’ve seen/ heard/ read in the last year?

I'm re-reading Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman at the moment and I'm finding the combination of a fantasy world combined with real London history intoxicating. The great thing about fantasy is that it is absolutely limitless. And London history feels limitless too. Did you know that there used to be a British Museum tube station?

I had another inspiring moment last night, reading a book called Deep Work. The book was talking about the relatively low personal and professional value of social media engagement, and I suddenly realised that I was getting relatively low value from reading the book and I stopped and wrote the first draft of a TV pilot (a task that I was convinced I didn't have time for). So the book was useful because it made me realise it wasn't useful.

What's your one piece of advice for students out there?

My one piece of advice is to say yes. You never know where something will lead. Saying no because something is too much work, or not quite what you want etc. is just too easy. Say yes sometimes, just for the hell of it. Say yes, then bail halfway through, and don't beat yourself up for having failed.

You can read the rest of the profiles here

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