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THE PHONE CALL THAT CHANGED MY LIFE

Monday was miserable. Monday was Hell. Monday was a miserable Hell.

I tried not to sit by the phone, but my apartment was small. Any place I sat, I was sitting near the phone, which meant that I was watching the phone, waiting for it to ring. If I went away from the phone, something always seemed to bring me back to the phone. I would hover over it, stare at it as if my looking would somehow make it ring; it didn’t. I looked harder; it still didn’t ring. It was refusing to ring just to spite me!

I decided to fight back. I wasn’t going to allow the phone to control me. I was going to control myself. So, I decided to clean the apartment. I picked up my bedroom, made the bed, washed the dishes and swept the kitchen floor, cleaned the bathroom, and vacuumed the rug. All of that took about fifteen minutes and I was back staring at the phone. I decided to go for a walk around the neighborhood. I wandered down seventh avenue and back up Prospect Park West, chatted with a few of my neighbors, and ended back at my apartment, staring at the damn phone. No calls. No messages. “Mmnn. Maybe I didn’t work the message machine right.” I checked the machine and then replayed the old messages to make sure a new message hadn’t somehow recorded last week.

Morning turned into the afternoon and still no call. I was sick. Again, my analytical mind began working: What did this mean? They had three days to think about it. If I didn’t get the job, they would have already let me know, right? But if I did get the job, why is it taking them so long to notify me? Are they looking for someone else? But if that were the case, they would have called to release me…” Suddenly, the phone RANG. This was it. I swallowed hard, took a deep breath, and picked up the receiver, trying to sound calm. “Hello?”

“Did they call yet?” It was Corey. Ugh! I understood and appreciated her excitement, but she was killing me.

No! Don’t call me, Corey. I will call you.” I hung up.

Some time later, the phone rings again. (If it’s Corey calling, I am going to kill her!) This time, it was my agent’s office. (Are you ready for this?) The deal memo was faxed on Friday, but somehow fell underneath the fax machine’s table. The assistant had just now found the deal memo. I was going to be Denise Huxtable’s husband. I was going to be a star on The Cosby Show!

Five years earlier, I had booked my first national commercial. When my agent called, I ran through my apartment jumping up and down, yelling at the top of my lungs. When a casting director for Another World informed me that she was going to hire me to deliver two lines on an upcoming episode, I grabbed her in a bear hug and jumped up and down with joy. When I was informed that I would be a regular on the number one rated program on television, I didn’t jump for joy, or run around the house, hollering like a lunatic. I was just too emotionally exhausted. All I felt was relief. The wait was over. All I could manage was a quiet, “Thank you.”

I hung up the phone and called Corey. “I got it.” She screamed with excitement. For a moment, I was in love with her again. As bad as things had been between us, she remained my biggest fan and my best friend.

Here it was. This was just the beginning. My career was going to take off. Celebrity. Wealth. My dream was about to come true. I had no idea — simply had no clue — how much my life was getting ready to change, and change in more ways than I knew. I simply had no idea.

Instead of thinking about celebrity life, the first thing I should have done is change agents. I am extremely loyal. I want people to be loyal to me, so I am loyal to them. However, I have never forgotten that conversation with Ron. As back handed compliments go, that was perhaps the best (worst?) I’ve ever received; the kind that sneaks up behind you and smacks you in the head — hard. The problem for me was that after being smacked in the head, I didn’t come to my senses. You know, the old saying, “For some folks, it can take a ton of bricks.” Yep. It took several tons to knock some sense into me.

Implicit in that conversation with Ron was that he did not believe in me. At least, he did not believe in me enough to push for me, to advocate for me, to knock down doors for me. In short, he did not believe in me enough to make a difference in my career by pushing open doors. It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, you need an advocate. Success will be easier to achieve if you are surrounded by people who believe in you. That was not the case with me and for that reason, I should have thanked Ron for a few good years and said goodbye. We eventually did part ways, but not before I had wasted another four years sitting on my behind doing nothing. Well, that’s not exactly true; I was doing something. I was begging him to get me auditions.

Two years later, Strictly Business would open to amazingly tepid reviews. I was still on The Cosby Show (barely), and I sat wondering why I wasn’t being seen for anything – nothing. Ron replied, “Well, for some people the phone rings and for others it doesn’t. The phone isn’t ringing.”

“Fuck that!” I thought.  “I don’t pay you 10% to be an answering service! I pay you to pick up the phone and call on my behalf.” The lesson here is that if your business mentor, advocate, or whoever is supposed to be running interference for you, can’t make phone calls for you, can’t arrange for you to sit down with the vice-president of whatever department — if he doesn’t believe in you enough to step out on a limb, say good-bye and find someone else. A flaccid mentor will not suddenly stand-up and be your champion. While you wait for them to see the light of your brilliance, opportunity will pass you by. It has taken me about two decades to recognize this truth. I won’t forget it.

 

Next…The changes begin and not all of them are good


About Author

Joseph C. Phillips

Joseph C. Phillips was born on January 17, 1962 in Denver, Colorado, USA as Joseph Connor Phillips. He is an actor, known for General Hospital (1994), The Cosby Show (1984) and Strictly Business (1991). He has been married to Nicole since 1994. They have three children.

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