Annabelle Gurwitch on Setbacks, Bouncing Back and the Business Cards She Can’t Hand Out

Annabelle GurwitchIn Hollywood, true grit isn’t only the name of a John Wayne movie. It’s also a job requirement. So when Annabelle Gurwitch auditioned to play a mother in a commercial and ended up being cast as a crone in the Middle Ages, she took it in stride.

And when the makeup department told her she didn’t need any makeup for the grandmother part? “I was mortified, but I regained my sense of humor when I realized that considering the life span of people in the Middle Ages, I was actually playing a role much younger than myself,” says the actress, New York Times best-selling author and former host of Dinner and a Movie on TBS. 

Even having to wait around 17 hours for her close-up didn’t take the snap-back out of actor’s attitude. “There was a tremendous upside: I could look as exhausted as I felt for the shot,” she says.

Clearly, Gurwitch knows resilience (as well as funny). Here, she shares some of her toughest challenges and her coping strategies.

Her Infamous Firing

“Often, people looking at my career will assume that being fired by Woody Allen was one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced. It’s true that when I was fired from that play, I did think my life and career were over. But the experience was transformational in many ways. I developed a bigger imagination of a possible path—and launched my writing career. Also, turning the experience into a creative expression ending up being of service to others. That was incredibly uplifting to me. With Fired!: Tales of the Canned, Canceled, Downsized, and Dismissed and the documentary film that premiered as a Showtime Comedy Special and has played labor film festivals across the globe, my goal was to de-stigmatize the experience and shed light on the changing paradigm of employment. In the process, I created a community amongst my peers, and most satisfying for me, people from all over the country, in a wide variety of professions, reached out to say how much that film helped them to bounce back.”

Her Current Biggest Challenge

“I find life and work to continually offer what Shakespeare called the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.’ But the biggest challenge I continually face now is the challenge of the perfectionist mindset. I think successes often present even harder challenges than perceived failure. I See You Made an Effort was a finalist for The Thurber Prize for American Humor Writing 2015 and a New York Times bestseller, and as I’m working on a new book now, I’m trying to stretch myself as a writer and I want to top my success. I have to continually re-dedicate myself to the work and not be attached the outcome, because I know that the most reliable method to get a good outcome is to focus on doing the best work I’m capable of doing.”

A Writing Tip That Applies to Life

“I’m constantly coming up with strategies to avoid what I call ‘brain squeeze,’ aka writer’s block. One thing I’ve learned—which I tell my students in writing workshops—is to craft a thesis or mission statement. It is something writers call ‘writing to a point,’ and it makes the writing process manageable. It also translates to your career or life—with a mission statement, you can ‘live to a point.’”

Getting Over Self-Ageism

“Truly, the most powerful thing I’ve done is to get ahead of the conversation about age. I had new business cards printed up which read, ‘Annabelle Gurwitch since 1961.’ Unfortunately, though, I can’t hand them out because they have an email address on them that I can’t remember the password for, but you get the idea.”

3 Bounce-Back Strategies:

“First, I embrace community as one of my values, not competition. I have a great cadre of friends and colleagues that I have cultivated. We read each other’s work and meet up on a regular basis to talk out our projects and strategize both creatively and build our businesses. Another strategy I have adopted is to make exercise dates instead of drinks dates, which is something I also enjoy, but I count on my twice-a-week cardio tennis class with girlfriends to break up my exercise routine and ensure that I have girlfriend time as well. Finally, mentoring younger people is another great way of putting your many years of experience to use and keeping yourself relevant in the world.”

▶ Read more from the May 2016 newsletter.