Skip to main content

Specificity Wins: The Key to Getting What You Want

Specific: free from ambiguity

If you’re a writer, you know that a generic character is not someone the audience will root for. If you’re an actor, you know that vague, muddy choices do not make for compelling acting. In all things in life, the more specific you are, the more likely you are to clearly communicate and get what you want. If you want to paint your house but you just say “brown,” well, there’s a lot of room for interpretation.

photo courtesy of

photo courtesy of

So, why is it that so often you are ambiguous or generic with your goals? I often hear that someone wants to be a “working actor.” Not to be crass, but that could mean that you’re working in porn or in my home video for which I bought you a cup of coffee.

In all seriousness, the lack of specificity is one of the main reasons—perhaps the main reason—why you do not accomplish your goals. It is the main culprit in your requests not being answered and your efforts not paying off. It is the main source of your frustration and overwhelm, the reason that you look over your to do list and wonder what to do first.

If you are so intent on achieving your goals, why do you leave them ambiguous or back-pedal when you describe them? For most people, the reason is that you are afraid. If you commit to something and then fail to achieve it, you might feel like a failure!

Leaving your goals vague is safe. It gives you wiggle room. But it also prevents you from working to your full capacity and enrolling those around you to help achieve your goals. In the end, though, leaving your goals vague makes it nearly impossible to achieve them. The irony is that the very thing that makes you feel safe—keeping things non-specific—dooms you to failure before you even start.

So, what can you do? Read on for some ground rules on bringing specificity to your goals.

1) Be as detailed as possible when you articulate your goal while still being concise. This can be very challenging, but remember, as you articulate your goal, so you will accomplish it. If you’re a director you might think you want to direct anything and everything, but you don’t. What do you really want to direct. Say it loud and proud! You’ll be a lot more likely to direct it. 

Your specificity will also dictate which avenues are most important to pursue. For example, the people who cast commercials, theatre, music videos and television are all different. You can’t know all of them, so figure out what you want to do, and then the list of people you need to cultivate relationships with will become clear and manageable. It’s still challenging to meet and build relationships with these powerful individuals, but at least it’s possible. It’s not possible to know everyone in Hollywood, so narrow it down. Narrowing it down starts with the specificity of your goal.

2) Check your language for non-committal words and phrases. Look for words like “try” and “hope.” Once you find them, cross them out! Replace them with a declarative statement, as in “By (DATE) I will (YOUR GOAL.)” Your commitment starts with your speaking. If you aren’t fully committed, how can you expect anyone else to commit to supporting you?

3) Eliminate milestones and to do list items from your goal. Your goal is not your to do list. It’s not the milestones you must cross on your way to your goal. Your goal is your goal, the end result. 

So, take “clean up my office” and “get new representation” out of your goal. Cleaning up your office is an item on your to do list. It might feel like a goal because your office is a mess, but it’s not. Take it out of your goal, get some help to get it done, and then cross it off your to do list.

Getting a new agent is also not your goal. It’s a milestone. It’s something that is challenging, that you’ll need to accomplish on the way to your breakthrough. Think about it, though, did you come to LA or NYC to get an agent? Do you face rejection everyday to get an agent? No! You came here and you sacrificed because there is a kind of work that you are committed to doing. You’re committed to making movies, performing live, or working as a series regular on TV, not to getting an agent. So, keep the articulation of the goal to the kind of work you are committed to doing, and you’ll be more inspired and motivated to do what it takes to accomplish it. 

4) Make sure your goal has a clear timeline. This is where we often hedge our bets. Don’t. Give your goal a date and then see if what you want to accomplish is possible in that timeline. It might be hard, sure, but it needs to be possible. You might find that you have to rework your timeline once you’ve broken down the steps you must take to accomplish your goal. Without a timeline, however, your path for accomplishing your goal is unclear, and, say it with me, non-specific.

5) Make adjustments when and if necessary.  The point of being specific is to create a structure for accomplishment. Do everything in your power to maintain the goals you have declared. If that is impossible or if you do not achieve it as declared, take stock, understand the issues and set a new, specific goal.

In summation, as you articulate your goals, so you accomplish them. As you are able to share your goals specifically and powerfully, people will understand them and see ways to support you. Clear and specific steps will emerge. Behaviors that have been hindering us will become obvious. Obstacles that were overwhelming will become manageable.

With all of this to gain, is it any wonder that specificity wins?

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!

Related Articles:

Tools to Help: