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DREAM CAREER TOOLKIT: How are you the solution to someone’s problem?

Shawn Tolleson explains how to be proactive without being desperate, creating a profound shift in your career of a win-win attitude.

Shawn Tolleson is a career coach working with screenwriters and other entertainment industry professionals. She gives you the practical tools you need to accomplish your dream career. Check out blogs, videos, classes and more at! Follow Shawn on Twitter: @shawntolleson

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I just recently coached my one-month intensive Jump Start, and something came up throughout the weekend that feels worthy of a blog. It’s the idea of being the solution to someone’s problem.

So, let me back up for a moment and give this idea some context. Because, often in this business, we are highly driven and focused. This is not a bad thing, but it can have a downside. That downside is that in our drive and focus, we only think about ourselves.

DREAM CAREER TOOLKIT: How are you the solution to someone’s problem? by Shawn Tolleson | Script Magazine

And what that looks like day-to-day is a “me, me, me” attitude. We are only looking for the solution to our own problem—the person we need to meet, the thing we think they can do for us when we meet them, and so on. This can lead us to becoming that very thing we most loathe, desperate.

We all hate the desperate actor, writer, director, etc. We can smell desperation a block away. We don’t want to be that person. And yet we secretly fear that we are!

And, even worse, as we fear that we are that desperate person, that fear causes us to get even more myopic and me-focused, creating a vicious cycle that just perpetuates itself.

So, I’m here to blow the whole thing open and re-invent the conversation entirely. Let’s say good-bye to desperation, being myopic and all about ourselves. And let’s do it while still being driven and focused in a way that really moves us forward.

What if you changed the question that you walk around with entirely? Instead of “what can they do for me?” or “how can I get them to say ‘yes’ to ____?” let try this on for size: “What is their problem?” and “How can I help them solve it?” Another version could be “Is it possible for me to be the solution to their problem?”

Here’s what the difference could look like, practically speaking… Instead of walking around looking at everyone as the potential solution to your own problem, you’re actually listening for what their problems are. It’s like changing the glasses through which you look at the world. Instead of it being all about what people can do for you, it’s about what you can do for others.

Why is this better, you ask? Here’s why. One of the key things to know about people (you included) is that people don’t do things unless it’s a win for them. Even things that are done out of the “goodness of someone’s heart” are done because, well, it makes them feel good. In business (and yes, this is a business), things are done because everyone has a problem or many problems, and we all need solutions to our problems. As a director, I will cast you because you are right for the role. I won’t cast you if you’re not. Today you might not be the solution to my problem, but tomorrow you could be.

Agents will sign you because they have a problem, a hole in their roster, and you fill that hole. Producers will option your script because they need a project like yours to fit their slate, their financing, etc. Casting directors will call you in because they have a role to cast and you fit that role.

No one will call you in just because you literally or metaphorically stuff your headshot or script or resume into their hands. I know none of you would ever do this, literally. (Wink!) But I encourage you to look at the times you’ve done it metaphorically. The times you’ve sent your material to someone who has not agreed to look at it. Or failed to listen when they’ve told you what they are looking for. Or talked only about yourself and failed to ask about them, their projects, their needs, etc. Or put people on the spot in a way that was not appropriate and simply annoyed them.

So, here’s the shift I’m suggesting: First, seek to understand, then be understood. This is one of the 7 habits of highly effective people and it’s perfect for this situation. Make listening first and understanding the other person’s problems your primary goal. And then make sharing yourself powerfully your secondary goal. You’ll find that you share yourself even more effectively because you will be speaking to the other person’s needs and problems.

It’s a profound shift that will yield conversations, relationships and connectedness in every part of your life right away.

Seek first to listen and see how you can be the solution to someone’s problem. Don’t delay! Go for it!

© Shawn Tolleson, Strategy Coaching, Inc. 2015

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