All over the world, there’s no scarcity of people who will do anything to get into the entertainment industry and make it big in life. Actor, Producer, Realtor, and Coach, Clayton Snyder, shares the transition, transformation, and journey he made from being an ordinary boy to being that kid on TV. He talks about the details and thought processes of the different decisions he had to make in order to be who he is today. Clayton explains the importance of surrounding yourself with supportive relationships and communities, and how they can overall impact your life. He gets specific about why you shouldn’t be grabbing every opportunity presented to you, and being selective in order to maintain your self-respect.
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Clayton Snyder: An Entertainer’s Journey Of Transformation: From Disney Channel, To Water Polo, To Faith, And Beyond
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Clayton Snyder is our guest on this episode, he’s the interviewee. Who is Clayton Snyder? Clayton Snyder is a film, television and stage actor and producer, most known for his role as Ethan Craft on Disney Channel’s Lizzie McGuire. After filming the Lizzie McGuire movie in 2002, Clayton put acting on hold to pursue athletics and academics. He attended Pepperdine University where he earned a BA in film studies and All-American honors as a water polo player and continues to play professionally in Europe and train with the US national team. Heeding the call back to entertainment, Clayton has since starred in various film and TV projects that can be found on Amazon Prime and Netflix, as well as musicals at the Garry Marshall theater.
Clayton is an amazing dude. He’s up to a lot of awesome stuff here. It’s been a pleasure getting to know him. We both go to the same church, Legacy City Church. He’s an amazing guy. Some of the words that people that I talked to use to describe him are, Christian, entertainer, humble, friendly, crazy, passionate, disciplined, integrity, caring, intelligent, kindhearted, genuine, and honestly these are true. His superpower is compassionate in a lot of ways. He’s a deep guy. He’s talented in many ways. We talked about so many things in this episode. We talked about his grandfather and the legacy passed on. We talked about his family, his upbringing. We talked about the role of sports and what he loves about water polo and what those experiences gave.
We talked a lot about his experience of being a child actor and star in high school and getting that exposure through Lizzie McGuire, the movie and TV show and how that impacted him. We talked a lot about returning to acting. We talked about relationships. We talked about social media. We talked about addictions. We talked about a lot of interesting, vulnerable and important things. I’m excited for you guys to learn some wisdom from him. You can find him at @HeyClaytron on the socials, he’s active. He would love to hear from you. Let us know what you think of this, but I am sure you will enjoy it. Without further ado, please enjoy this interview with Clayton Snyder.
Clayton Snyder, welcome to the show.
I’m happy to be here, although you’re in my place. I’m happy that you’re here.
I’m happy that you invited me. It’s welcoming of you.
It’s a mutual invitation. You invited me then I invite you back.
What is it that you love about birds?
They’re the best. There’s something about their nature that is curious, silly, sometimes mad and eccentric. Not all birds, some birds can be beautiful. It’s mainly the ones that have personality. I grew up around some birds. My folks have a Catalina Macaw and her name is Peso. She was a sweetheart when she was a baby and she grew up and realized that she doesn’t like people, whenever she doesn’t feel like it. She sometimes has an ear-piercing scream that will shatter your ears. She knows a lot of wonderful phrases and stuff that wing together in any sentence structure that I find funny. I also had a series of parrotlets, which is the smallest parrot in the world, these tiny green guys.
How big are they?
They might be four inches in height. They’re in the family and they don’t repeat words, they make a pleasant, happy, chirping sound. They have a ton of character and personality. It’s weird to say because some people don’t see any personality in birds whatsoever, they see these evil creatures that are going to make a nest in their hair, and I get them. They can bite. They have claws that can sometimes scratch. Have you ever seen a shoebill stork?Things are simpler than they seem. Simply be a good person and do the right thing. Click To Tweet
I’ve been a big fan of different types of birds for the longest time. My favorite bird was the Eurasian eagle-owl, simply because they’re massive. They are gorgeous too. Something about owls, they’re funny, they’re majestic, but because of the furrow of their feathers, it makes them look mad all the time but they can never do anything about their anger, yet they’re soft. It’s a lot of paradoxes in this animal that I find curious.
Do you have any birds that are your pets?
I don’t. Peso is still around at my folk’s place. I will get to see her every now and again. I wouldn’t mind the ownership of a bird, although I do understand the maintenance it does take to keep any animal. I wouldn’t mind if a bird came into a relationship with over possession.
What is something that most people don’t know about birds? One thing is that they have a lot of character, but what else is it that most people miss the beauty in birds?
There’s an Instagram account called Nature is Metal, @NatureIsMetal on Instagram. It’s not for the faint of heart. If you don’t like violence or blood, don’t go to this channel. It’s animals slaughtering each other. I don’t watch it because I enjoy seeing that or I like seeing that happen, I find it to be a sobering reminder of what nature is and what happens all around us. We have such a safe, secluded relationship with death in general, as humans, we don’t know how to deal with it. We talk about what is right to eat and even about micronutrients and little things like that and yet you step a little bit outside of civilization and animals are straight up trying to survive. There’s nothing pretty or sacred about any of it, it’s survival. There’s no cooking involved. There’s no humane way to put down your prey. It puts my problems in perspective, I suppose.
I enjoy birds too. Watching a bird fly is fun. They’re always meandering about and having a blast flying through the sky and playing tag or fighting with each other in a fun way. There’s something about that careless or the carefree living of a bird. A lot of times when you see them flying around and even hearing their sounds and seeing their personality, it’s beautiful. Nature is sobering. It’s something we don’t see enough in society. On another fun note, I hear that you are a well-renowned or aspiring impressionist. The number one impression that I got requested was Elmo. Who are some of your other favorites?
The thing is, in impressions and voices and stuff, it’s the same thing doing an improv show. I get uncomfortable and nervous doing an improv show, but I have no problem improvising in the middle of a show. If it happens and comes up, if it’s a spur of the moment, I love it and I have so much fun doing it. If it’s ever put on, I freeze up. You even asked me like, “Do your impressions.” I’m like, “What impressions? I don’t have any impressions.” Until I’m in a conversation with somebody or I hear a sound and then I will imitate it at that moment.
Unpack that a little bit, what do you think that is?
Perhaps at that moment, I distract myself too much to second guess myself. When I put myself on a performance mode, it’s like telling a comedian, “Say something funny.” Some comedians would perhaps do great with that and some don’t. To any dramatic actor, “Make me cry.” There’s the stuff that happens sometimes. Impressions are not as high stakes as that.
As an actor, do you experience that at all in acting or is it different than the impressions or even the improv per se?
That’s different for me also. I had a wonderful teacher, Diana Castle, who taught me a lot about acting or rather being if you will. It was a philosophy class that happened to be talking about acting in our case and these are the power of language and words and our relationship to the content. It’s never referring to a character you’re playing as the character or, “He, she thinks that.” It’s using only I am statements rather than, “I am this person.” That’s the only way that I’m going to refer to this person in this conversation. Referring to an audition as an opportunity rather than an audition where you have to impress somebody, something that could bring anxiety and if it’s an opportunity, it’s something to look forward to.
In the scope of acting, the difference between performing and transforming, because if you’re performing, you’re trying to do something for somebody else. If you’re transforming, you’re simply putting yourself in the circumstances of the story and there is no one else in the room when you’re doing that. When you’re performing, you’re doing something to try to impress a casting director, director or somebody else. When you’re transforming, you put yourself there, you’re living out the circumstances of the story and it doesn’t matter who’s in the room, that pressure is taken off.
Those distinctions are helpful because it’s the same reality, its two different lenses and which lens we pick is our choice, 100%.
Even me before, I could see myself hearing somebody say, “It’s not an audition. It’s an opportunity.” I’ll roll my eyes at that like, “Give me a break. It’s an audition, sack up and do your thing.” You don’t need to sugarcoat everything to try to make you feel good about it. That’s a perfect example of my naiveté. It’s a lens and we get to choose anything and what works and I would absolutely much rather look forward to an opportunity. At this point, I’ve gone through seeing it as an opportunity enough times that I say audition, but in the back of my head, the definition is the same. I have a different relationship with the word audition entirely.
That doesn’t happen overnight. That takes practice. It takes reps. The thing that gets often overlooked is, those types of mindsets never happen. They happen by repetition, practice and experience, and often not doing it before we get good at doing it. It’s often under-appreciated the time it takes. I want to come back to acting but before we do, because I did a little bit of research, I want to hear more about Howard Snyder. Who is Howard Snyder?
Howard Snyder is my father’s father. My dad, Steve’s dad is Howard Snyder. The name is significant not only because he’s my grandfather, who I did know growing up. He passed away. I would have loved to have been older and been able to talk to him. I’m thankful to have known him as much as I did. When you’re a kid, it can only be deep and you don’t think of so many things, you would ask people. Since then, I’ve had a lot of growth in my relationship with Howard because of his son, my father, Steve. I called Howard pop-pop. Pop-pop hasn’t been around for years.
My dad has been working on a book about Howard’s World War II story. It’s called Shot Down: The True Story of Pilot Howard Snyder and the Crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth. You can Google search Shot Down book and it will be the first thing that comes up. Howard was a pilot of a B-17. They were called flying fortresses in World War II and the European theater and he was doing bombing runs over Germany, stationed at Thurleigh, England. A B-17 is comprised of ten crew members. He was the oldest in the plane at about 27, 28 years old, which was old for that time. You have a lot of kids in the war that are 18, 19 years old, including in his plane, but there are mostly early mid-twenties.
On his seventh mission, he was shot down after bombing Frankfurt. Their plane was hit by flak and the bomb bay doors got stuck open. The drag kept their plane from keeping up with the formation of the rest of the B-17s. They got picked up by two Focke-Wulf fighters and all three planes shot each other down. The flying fortress, it’s called the fortress for a reason, it’s got ball turrets all over the thing. They’re not easy pickings necessarily. All three go down, two of the crew members died in the plane. The rest of the eight parachuted out all to different faiths.
One of the German Focke-Wulf fighters crashed in his plane and the other one was able to parachute out. My dad was able to research all these different people, including the German fighter pilot and what happened to them on their journey after being shot down. Whether it was being captured immediately, or they were sent to hospitals or prison camps, or whether they were in hiding. My grandfather was being sheltered by Belgian farmers who found him before the Germans did.
They would move him from attic to attic, basement to basement of different family’s houses. They were part of this underground partisan network of Belgian civilians who had nothing to win. They had nothing to gain by hiding these American airmen, except as an active rebellion for these invaders that were occupying them and to try to help who they saw were their allies. It was a year later that Patton’s third army would come through France into Belgium and liberate Belgium from German occupation, at the time which is when my grandfather was found and relieved back to the States. That’s part of the story.
What a remarkable legacy, honestly. Peter Peitz, my grandfather, he was on this show, episode 28. I went to Arkansas for his 80th birthday. When you were talking about that, it increased my gratitude for getting to experience or have him in my life at an older age. He’s been such a blessing to my life. It’s easy to take that for granted, I’ve been reminded even now. What do you see as the legacy that Howard has passed on? What do you see as the effect of his life and his story?
I’ve learned a lot more about Howard, pop-pop, not only through the story that we’ve unraveled but also through looking at what my father’s relationship is with him. He definitely looks at his father with such admiration, love, respect and thinks that his parents had the perfect marriage. He looks up to him as a dad, as a father figure, as a husband, as a man of God, and all these different things that made him a solid human being. We’re working on this documentary of Shot Down and where that might go from there. In talking to different filmmakers, we’re trying to find the right team. A comment would be like, “Everything’s compelling. It’s incredible what happened, but we need a more human element.”
He’s almost too much of an upstanding guy to make too much drama over. He’s not interesting enough, he’s just heroic. He’s not all these things. Of course, there are dark sides to everybody. There’s stuff there, I’m sure. At the end of the day, he was truly part of what a lot of people consider the greatest generation who willingly laid down their lives for what the world thought was a noble cause. We haven’t seen everyone come together like that since then. Things are simpler than they seem, be a good person, do the right thing and it boils down to that. We try to complicate things a lot.
The older we get, the more complicated we make it, and it’s foolish of us. If we rewind the clock a little bit, what was your first love? Learning some of the stories from your childhood, from some of your friends or family, you were a talented kid growing up and you were gifted with a lot of abilities. What was your first love between singing or performing or swimming? Was it the stage? Was it the water? What was the first thing that you remember being captivated by?
The earliest memory I have of having a dream or a goal was in elementary school at McGaugh in Seal Beach, California. It was a yearbook situation and there was a question, where do you see yourself in twenty years? I answered, “Winning the Academy Award or win in the Oscar for the best comedic actor.” I specifically remember this because a friend of mine, Arielle Miller, at the time came up to me with such concerning eyes, “Clayton, I have to tell you something.” I was like, “What?” “I looked it up and there’s no such thing as a best comedic actor.” That was the first idea. Jim Carrey was a big influence on me and Robin Williams. Those are the two probably biggest standouts.Grab opportunities and keep moving forward for your passion, not your pride. Click To Tweet
I love the movie Hook, The Mask, Ace Ventura, Mike Myers in the Austin Powers movies, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Wayne’s World. I watch Saturday Night Live all the time. Those were what I consider the golden years of Saturday Night Live during that time. I watch a lot of Simpsons too. I love comedy. I love making people laugh. That was the first thing that captured me that I enjoyed doing. I want to say it’s not because I loved the attention you get from it, I enjoyed the effect of it and to give other people joy, but I could also be a narcissist and not be admitting to it.
It’s hard to know sometimes as a kid. What was your childhood like? How would you describe your childhood?
It was full of opportunity. I have so much to throwback to my parents. Honestly, to grow up in such an acquaint, safe town in Seal Beach, less than a mile away from the beach, I was doing swim club and baseball, soccer and a junior lifeguard. I was going to school with amazing kids in a good community. I was doing Boy Scouts. I was in a band. I was doing alto saxophone and doing acting classes, voice classes, dance classes, I was all over the place. I have no idea how I did that let alone how my parents facilitated that. Resources aside, how do you fit in that time? It wasn’t until middle school that the whole Lizzie McGuire stuff came around and that threw life for a loop.
When did you get into water polo or swimming?
The water was my first engagement with athletics. I was in Mommy and Me classes that I do not remember. I was doing some lessons because the pool was across the street from our house. We were on a corner section of the street and the crosswalk was right at that corner to cross the street into the elementary school and you’re right there and the first thing you get to is the pool. The practice was easy to get to. Growing up, I was taking all these swim lessons and stuff like that. I remember, I was messing around after a little private lesson as a little kid, I wasn’t in swim club yet, and I was doing flips over myself or whatever kids do to entertain themselves after doing a water workout. I come up for air and my mom and my instructor were looking at me expectantly and I could tell that a question was asked and I said, “Yes.” They said, “He wants to join the swim club.” I said, “No.” That was how I joined the swim club. That must’ve been when I was 5 or 6 because I was doing that for a few years.
One day, my mom was picking me up from swim club practice. She saw either before or after some kids playing in the same pool, this sport with a ball and it looked like it could be fun. You have to be eight years old before you could start playing water polo because your body needs that extra time to develop to be somewhat coordinated to not only swim and not drown but also involve a ball and wrestling with each other and stuff like that. As soon as I was eligible, age-wise, I was thrown into a club there and at the time it was Seal Beach Water Polo Club under the legendary Klaus Barth and that’s where that journey started.
Do you have any siblings?
I have two older half-brothers, one from my dad and one from my mom. My eldest, Doug, he’s 22 years older than me and my brother, Devin, on my mom’s side is five years older than me. I was the youngest of three and also an only child in a way.
Was it middle school with Lizzie McGuire? Talk to me about that because as you said, that changed a lot of things. How did that come about? Talk to me about that experience because that’s obviously going to be a familiar thing for most people. Ironically, I didn’t know that about you until I started researching. I was like, “That’s interesting.”
I don’t necessarily broadcast that to people that I meet. It’s like, “Nice to meet you. I was on a TV show, Lizzie McGuire. Where are you from?” I certainly think not talking about it is the better way to go. It’s also weird for people when it’s never brought up and they discover it a year or two later like, “You were on the show? You’re that guy.” That was an issue growing up, having done that definitely talk about lenses that put up a filter for your engagement with people. If you meet anybody that knows you as that guy from that show, there is no hope for a real friendship. There’s no getting over that hump.
Whenever anybody would say, “You’re that guy from that show.” I would almost be like, “Okay.” Not that I would dismiss them, I would try, but then their behavior is different and it’s much subsided. That’s not the case anymore. I know plenty of people that were like, “I love this show.” I’m friends with a lot of them. Back then it was a thing also because we were younger. I was doing elementary school plays in fourth grade. I played Mark Twain in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
I heard you were a little disappointed.
I was devastated two years in a row. The thing that was brilliant about my school, I don’t know if it was brilliant about the school or that just spoke to me because I wanted to do this more, you had to be in fourth grade. You can try out for the school play until you were in fourth grade. It was only for the fourth and fifth graders. It was the big kid thing to do. The cool people did the school musicals and I’m like, “I can’t wait to audition for that.” The next thing was Tom Sawyer. If you’re going to go big, who are you going to go out for? Tom Sawyer. Not that we selected which roles, but you’d know which one you’d hope to get and you’d go through scales to see what you could sing and read different scenes.
I didn’t get Tom Sawyer. I didn’t get Huck. I got this guy, Mark Twain, who’s not even in the story and I’m like, “This is a bummer.” My dad was away on business a lot when I was growing up. He’d fly to the East Coast a lot. I would leave him a lot of voice messages. One that he still has saved was, “Dad, I hope you’re doing well. I didn’t get Tom. I got cast as Mark Twain. You’ve probably never heard of him.” It turns out that Mark Twain’s role in this rendition of Tom Sawyer acted as the story’s narrator and was sitting in a chair in front of the curtain the entire show and had multiple monologues including a big two-pager doozy at the end. My parents would tell me later on that they remember me looking at my lines and seeing how much I had to memorize and they were thinking, “There is no way he can do this. He will not be able to do this. He can’t do it. It’s too much.” I did it. They were like, “I can’t believe that.”
The next year comes, Wizard of Oz, I’m going to be the Lion in the Wizard of Oz because he’s the funny one, he’s the fun one, and that’s who I am and that’s what I want to be. The part of Oz gets cast, Scarecrow, Dorothy. The Lion, goes to someone else, I was like, “What? No.” The Tin Man is yours truly. I was like, “No.” Who I thought was the most féminité and boring, more importantly, of those characters. He was this soft-spoken guy with the contrast of the silver makeup, made it look like he was wearing lipstick, which made me feel uncomfortable.
I talked to the teacher afterward and I was like, “I don’t want to be the Tin Man. I want to be the Lion. This is such a bummer for me.” She’s like, “Why do you want to be the lion?” “He’s funny.” She’s like, “You can make the Tin Man funny.” “I can?” “You can make the Tin Man however you want him.” I was like, “I can make the Tin Man funny?” She’s like, “You would have been a great Lion, but no one can do the Tin Man as you can.” That could’ve been total nonsense but she was right. That’s what I did, I made the Tin Man my own, which is what another great lesson in acting was.
From there, I joined the Lakewood Community Theater. It was doing plays and musicals and I was doing Conrad Birdie in Bye Bye Birdie and some spin-off of Frankie Avalon in Beach Blanket Bingo and did some other dramatic stuff. My mom asked me if I wanted to take a stab at acting professionally for TV film stuff and I said, “Definitely.” She signed up for Backstage Magazine because at the time there was no internet, so growing up in elementary school through all this with no internet was a crazy thought. She found a workshop for a manager and it apparently costs more than it should have and went to it.
There was a bit of a sliver of hope that you get an agent after doing this workshop and it happened to work. I get an agent and after auditioning for a year and a half, with a lot of near misses, I booked a PSA commercial that paid $100. I booked a background role in a USC student film called Cotillion because I took cotillion and it’s a form of dance. It’s the art of ballroom dancing, manners and etiquette. The next thing was Lizzie McGuire. That was the progression of that and this whole time, I was playing basketball and water polo and I was in a band and going to public middle school in Orange County and my mom would drive me to auditions in LA.
That’s intense. That is a full life. Lizzie McGuire was first a TV show, correct?
Yes. Within two years or so of filming, they filmed what would be three seasons worth is how it came out to.
How did that change your life then? Once you got that role, did all of your things have to cease? Were you still able to do it along the way?
On a practical level, my middle school, McCullough which was a great school, they weren’t equipped to have kids acting professionally, missing days out of each week at a time. I was in half the episodes they filmed. The week prior, they would call my agent and my agent would report to my mom, “This next week, they’re going to need you this day.” It could be Monday through Friday. It could be Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. It could be Wednesday to Friday, whatever combination thereof. I would tell my teachers, “I’m going to miss school these days. What could I do?” They’d be like, “You could have this worksheet, try to read this.” I would do the same work, but I wouldn’t be there in class and they’re teaching it. You do have an onset tutor. If you’re a minor, which I was, if you’re under eighteen on a TV show or film project, at least with SAG-AFTRA, you are required to have three hours minimum of school time where they have an onset tutor to help you with whatever schoolwork you have. That tends to work a little bit better if you are either homeschooled or private schooled, but with me, it wasn’t working as well. I barely passed middle school because of that.
On a social level, I forget when exactly in the year, the first episode premiered on TV. I made a big deal out of it. I invited a bunch of friends over and I remember being embarrassed because it was not the kind of tone of a show because I was a Nickelodeon kid. My brother was the MTV kid, which is the older kid, edgy. Between Nickelodeon and Disney Channel, Nickelodeon was edgier than Disney. I was the Nickelodeon kid and so were my friends. Watching this Disney show that was way bubblier and had what I thought was an atrociously animated cartoon character, to be the main character to Lizzie’s thoughts. It didn’t fit the tone that I imagined it would be and it was way lighter and all that and I was embarrassed. I remember my friends being there and some of them weren’t that interested in the show. I remember all I wanted to do was for it to be over so we can turn on Madden 2001 and I start playing football video games right away and forget this ever happened.
The next day at school, there were loads of people around campus who didn’t know who I was and wouldn’t look at my direction. They were all strangers. I show up the next day and you got a lot of ooglers everywhere and they’re like, “That’s the kid.” That’s where it got a little weird. People throw in jokes and stuff like that and roll with the punches. You can get a little defensive by closing yourself off, but I had a pocket of awesome friends at that time that I’m still friends with. That helped keep me humble because the show didn’t mean anything to them whatsoever because they knew how much of an idiot I was. There was no like, “He’s a famous actor kid facade.” It’s like, “Him? No way.”
Isn’t that fascinating? It could be two drastically different perspectives on the same person and one is based in reality and one is based on a created reality or persona. I’m curious, for the years ahead of that, how hard was it to be a normal child or a kid or go through the normal development process? Did that greatly alter your childhood? How was that experience?
Two big ways that came out were, I tried extra hard and it came out especially in high school. When you’re a freshman going into high school, you’re definitely a nobody unless you were a kid on Lizzie McGuire, in which case everyone’s eyes are on you, “That’s the kid.” They’re waiting for you to either have an attitude or something to target you in some ways. I would do things to try to make myself more invisible or at least less interesting at the same time being outgoing. It’s a strange balance. I couldn’t help myself from people that I felt comfortable with. I’d find myself dressing in ratty clothes. I would screw around at recess or lunch and get grass stains on my knees, wear these ratty plaid jackets. Somebody made a remark that with that and the attempted beard I had, they said I looked like a lumberjack. My closest friends ended up calling me Lumberjack and Lumber for short for a period of time. They still do call me that.
I do stuff to make me feel at least seem like I’m not important. I’m not going to wear a leather jacket and designer ripped jeans. I’m going to go in the opposite direction. I will rip my own jeans and look like an idiot. However, it came out on the athletic side. One of the reasons I stopped acting after the movie was because I missed playing water polo too much. I thought that’d be a good idea to stay in school plus it’s where all my actual friends were. It’s not that they weren’t friendly on the set of the show or anything like that. They’re all great people but those are my homies and my ride or die. Water polo was an outlet for me to prove that I mean business because someone could be on a show and you could project all this, “He thinks he’s cool.” “This little goody-two-shoes kid.” I had a vehicle that I could drive that would be like, “No. I’m legit.” “I’m going to prove to you that I’m not that but I’m this.”
I would be a sophomore because I missed most of my freshman year of playing. My sophomore, junior, senior year, when we’d have away games, the opponent’s schools would have record attendance for their home games to either see the kid who played the Ethan Craft play or to heckle him. I became bait within the guys I was playing with. In the water, they would talk crap to my face as we’re playing. I can’t think about the stuff that they said but they would try to get in my head and somehow it became motivating for me. That’s when I learned in sport, in water polo especially, that there are different ways that you can get back at people.
I could lose myself in any of those given moments and maybe punched the guy in the face out of the water, try to hurt someone or I could own them in the next play and win the game. That’s the victory. What’s going to hurt you more if you provoke me to lose my cool? If I keep my cool, I score five goals against you and we win the major league and you have your tail between your legs. I’d rather have the second option every single time. That taught me composure, ethics and sportsmanship. I would shake everyone’s hand after the game and look them in the eye and be like, “I’m here, we played and that’s what happened. You chose your route to go to playing and I chose mine. I hope you’re happy with your decision because I’m happy with mine.”
Was there ever a moment in that period where you had wished that you hadn’t played that role or had that opportunity?
There was definitely curiosity there of what that would have been like. Out of the different choices that I’ve made, I don’t take that one back. It was an incredible experience and it has since afforded me a lot of great opportunities, friendships and perspectives. One worry that my dad had especially was what happens to child actors. That’s a real thing. The fact that I pulled out when I did after doing that one show and wanted to go back to real life doing school. Water polo was re-grounding for me and it has given me an interesting take on both sides of that life. It would have certainly made things different, but no, I don’t think I’d take that back.
The reason why I’m curious about all this and it’s helpful because we see this ideal or this dream reality of being on a show or being a kid star. We think it’s the best thing ever but it comes with some great costs and it changes a lot of things. The way we see it versus the way it plays out is different. Being able to hear that difference in perspective is interesting. In that decision to pull out and pursue more of a normal path with water polo, school and taking that as far as you could go, what would you say helped you avoid the perils or the hardship with being a child actor? As a child in the industry, what are some of the perils that are often faced? We interviewed Alyson Stoner on the show and she had a different path. She was in the industry for most of her life, including her childhood. That was a challenging thing for her. She talks about some of that in the episode. I can’t imagine because I’d never experienced that but I know that it’s hard. It almost robs you of your childhood in a lot of ways. What do you see as the things that maybe helped you in having a healthy or helpful experience?
I don’t feel that I have full authority to have an opinion on that because I didn’t have a through-line of a whole childhood experience into adulthood. That would have been an entirely different version of Clayton. I don’t know if I would have been okay. From the experience that I did have, I would say that I owe it to my parents and my friends. Maybe that’s it. This blows up into a bigger conversation that I had not too long ago with some friends of mine of adults in the industry like Harvey Weinstein. We could talk about how bad it is for someone to do something but my mind and the minds of some friends of mine are drawn to who was there, who was around him? Where is his community? Where were his friends? Did he have friends? If they didn’t try to channel away these things, were they ignorant or were they not? If they weren’t, did they try to say something? There’s much value in a community. It cannot be overstated.
That’s why I value the times that I can come to United, the youth group that you host with our church. There’s raw accountability there and that’s where it’s nice to have someone who shares your faith as a Christian because we can see each other at a fundamental base possible place and work it up from there. There’s nothing to hide in this conversation. To have that show going and have my parents and I go to church on Sunday. Not that it solves problems for everybody but the group of friends that I had, we were straight edgers. We didn’t call it that. We didn’t know what that was but for whatever reason, I don’t know why, but we didn’t feel we wanted any drugs or alcohol in our lives.
That’s not the case for a lot of middle schoolers and especially high schoolers even. We were all pure in that sense and innocent kids and we were super weird. Don’t get me wrong. We had plenty of fun. When we all went to college and everything changed. Everything changes in college. I can’t put a finger on this moment. I’ve never thought about why we were drawn to that lifestyle as opposed to another. We always considered ourselves the in-crowd or the out crowd if you will. Where they were the cool kids but one, we’re not them and we don’t want to be them. They seem empty to us. We’d rather do more fun things, I suppose.
Probably part of that is maturity beyond years. That comes even from the experiences and exposure of even being a part of the show. It naturally matures you inwardly faster because you’re facing greater challenges in many different ways too. Also, some of that is God’s path. He has his all on a different path. After leaving, you did make a comeback. Now you are back acting.
You’re doing it. What was that decision like to get to decide to return to acting? Was that something that you knew you’d always return to?
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It’s a calling.
After doing the movie, it came down to three major things. Public school, water polo, and acting. Out of the three of those, it felt that acting was the one that could take the back burner until later. I wanted to come back to it. How and when exactly? I have no idea but in the meantime, I had a good trajectory going with water polo and wanted to see where and how far I could take it. Although I didn’t have a national team or Olympic aspirations, I knew I was ahead of my average skill level or peer at the time and I knew that if I stopped, I would never know how far would it go. With public school, all of it. All that BS says, “Stay in school, kids.” I thought that was smart plus that’s where my friends were. I found ways or ways found me to stay involved in performing in different ways. I randomly was eligible to take a music theory class in my senior year of high school.
At Pepperdine, there were various performances songfest and dance in flights that I was able to get on stage for a little bit. Sorority, fraternity contest, things that we would participate in. I wasn’t in one but being on the water polo team, that’s its own frat for sure. It wasn’t until after college I thought I was going to stop playing water polo and go into acting again and possibly directing. That’s when the national team coaches at the time who knew me said that I had a possibility. I was not there yet, but there’s a possibility. If I kept training, improving and developing that I would have a shot at making the 2016 Olympics. I was like, “I can’t hear that and not try.” That changed my trajectory drastically to training with the national team over the next couple of summers and trying to find opportunities to play professionally in Europe.
I found myself in Italy, Hungary and Montenegro, but the summers in between, you’re not making money playing pro water polo. It’s not something you do for money. It’s something you do because you’re trying to achieve a goal. That’s why the European club teams love Americans because they’re all super-driven, smart and not expensive. They’re looking for an opportunity to play. Not to say that Europeans are greedy but for some of them, that is the way to make some actual living wages out there which is different. I was coaching during the summers at that time and not making a lot of money doing that. I’m making a lot of money playing pro water polo and I’m like, “I’m 24 or 25 and I could possibly do this until 2020.” What if I’m in my 30s doing this? Year after year I have to think about my future. Maybe I should consider getting back into acting. I talked to my manager that I had when I was a kid and I was like, “It’s time, after eleven years to come back and where do I start?” She was like, “Let’s get you in a class.” I got back into a class and that was an awakening. I do love this and this is awesome.
It’s one of those meanings of, you like it, you think you’re good at it and other people think you’re good at it. You’re like, “This is nice.” I left to play in Montenegro. I had a great coach. It was the best opportunity I had yet. We’re playing in the strongest league in the world, the Adriatic League. There are several multi-Olympians on every team you’re playing against out there. I was trying to train for the opportunity by myself and I failed miserably. That led me to different injuries that were mounted on top of ones that I had previously. The lower vertebrae are fused together from a lifting incident at Pepperdine to spraining my collateral ligament between my thumb and forefinger. If you can see that, it’s gnarly. It’s a miracle that I can even hold a ball.
His thumb is 180 degrees to his forefinger.
I got kicked in the head hard one summer. That would flare up every now and again. I was always dealing with bicep tendonitis in the front of both shoulders. During training, I get there and three days in and I got bad food poisoning, in both ends situation. That happens and I finally get in and I’m not in shape enough but I’m going hard to try to prove myself. Both my hamstrings snap. All of my teammates think that I’m making it up and they’re not on my side. The weather is raining all the time. It’s the fall so everything’s closed and it’s a miserable situation. It’s one of these things where it’s like, “Clayton, if you want this to continue, you’ve got to want it. How bad do you want it? What else do you have to do?”
I think about where my family is and my friends and where they are, acting and how much of a rush that was to get back into, and there was a transition in the leadership of the national team at the time where it was a new coach from Serbia who was wiping the slate clean with a lot of guys. My age group of people got wiped clean. I never made a national team roster even. I was fighting that uphill battle and I was a center but I’m too small and I’m too slow. It’s that stuff that you can’t correct it that late in the game. It’s like, “This is it.”
I had a mentor at the time who I was trying to talk to him and be like, “This season has passed. It’s time to go onto a new chapter.” I was trying to find all the nice ways to say it and he’s like, “You’re quitting.” When you’re a team captain, most of your team is growing up. You get it. The word quit is a special word in the mind of an athlete and a lot of people. Especially in athletes and when you’re in a leadership position. You’re a lot of things but you don’t quit no matter what. That’s such a loaded word and such a loaded meaning to that. He and I had had an agreement of, “You’re going to play this and train.” I was done about two months in over there. It was a long two months. It felt way longer. For a season you’ll normally be there from 8 to 10 months.
That was the moment. I showed up at the pool and no matter what, you can have the worst day training and you can be in a bad mood but you could always wake up and hit the reset button and be like, “It’s a new day training. I’m going to go hard.” That was a constant. No matter how tough things got and going, how bad of a mood I was and no matter how bad I played in the game, I’d always wake up. It’s a new day. This is a new training. I’m going to go hard. This is the first time that I got to the edge of the pool in my suit, and I was like, “I don’t want to get in at all.” I had never felt that before ever. It freaked me out.
For me, it was an indicator of something. I talked to the assistant coach and I was like, “I’m done.” He was like, “Clayton, it’s okay. Get in. Hop in. Do the set.” I was like, “Fine.” I ended up getting in begrudgingly and went through the motions in that practice. That’s when I talked to my mentor, “I’m done. That’s it.” He was like, “Get through this week of training and play this game. You need to get a score goal and we’ll go from there.” I finished our training as if it was the last week of training I’ll ever have in my life. I did well and it gets to the game. We’re playing, the play goes to me, I get the ball and I score but I get called offsides on the play.
It goes from this moment of we’re doing it to look over it at the ref who calls it the other way in. I swear it was not offside. I think about that too much. I remember swimming back to defense being, “That’s it. I’m done.” I would call it that I was mentally weak. I could give it all kinds of names. At that moment, that’s when it hit me. The fundamental issue was this. It wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t my real goal to even be where I was. I was there because the opportunity was there.
It could have been an extension of the whole Liz McGuire stuff of, “In your face, I can do it,” deal. As I was coaching, I would tell them, “I have to leave. I’ve got to go play overseas.” Another coach would talk me up and he’s like, “He’s going to make the Olympics. You watch him.” I feel that I’m letting these kids down and think about all the things that I’d given up to gotten this far. Other people would die to be in your situation so how could you quit now? Many people would love to be here but they don’t have the opportunity that you have. You’ve got to keep pressing forward. That’s such the wrong reason to do it. It was pride and not passion.
That sunk cost fallacy is hard. How much you’ve put into it, effort, time, money, training, help from others and that is such an obstacle to quitting. Seth Godin has a book called The Dip, which for anyone that experienced this or knows this conundrum, it’s the best resource. It’s small and it’s all about when to stick it out and when to quit. We’re always going to hit those dips in whatever journey we’re on. He makes a compelling case that if you’re not going to be the best in the world, you should quit and framing it in that way. It’s fascinating to hear you share this because it is parallel with my journey. One thing I want to come back to is, one of the factors you mentioned was training by yourself. What was that? You’re a relationally driven guy. You’re a strong community. The reason why I’m curious about this because I found the same thing for me and I’m curious about what caused that for you?
I found myself living with my parents as a lot of aspiring professional athletes can do to define themselves for a period of time. That first summer coming out of college, the national team was training up in Thousand Oaks. A teammate of mine, we’re both aspiring to meet the national team, lived in a garage of a woman who worked on the athletic department staff at Pepperdine. We would commute 45 minutes to the pool and back twice every day. We’d commute from Malibu to Thousand Oaks through this canyon, and we’d get there trained for three hours, get blasted, drive 45 minutes back, sleep, wake up, go back to the pool for three more hours, come back and sleep. That was a whole summer.
That’s when we both got picked up on different teams in Italy that next year. There’s no agency for pro water polo in there. There shouldn’t be. Even if there was an agency, you’re not making much off the 10% that’s going out there. The next summer, the opportunity was definitely more limited than it was the previous year. I forget what the train situation was but it didn’t work out that year between Hungary and Montenegro because it’s the same thing with the national team, they have a tight budget. Resources have to be allocated where they need it the most. They’re not going to house hopefuls in the area.
Looking back and it’s like, “If I was smarter or more resourceful, I could have maybe found someone to sponsor me to live closer so I could attend training and stuff like that.” I didn’t think of that at the time. Instead, I was training at the joint forces training base in Los Alamitos, which is where I would train in high school. That’s where the women’s team’s national team facility was. I, being friends with a team manager of the USA team would let me have the keys so I could walk on the deck, say my name was someone’s name, and I would be able to use a facility. I’d hop in the weight room and my training went south. I would go there once or twice a day on my own and I would play Masters every now and again. In my head, I had seen how big some of these guys are in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, and that in my position of being a center, which is the Shaq, if you will, of the water polo team.
I’m a big guy to most people I know, but in my lens, I am a small guy. I need to get bigger and stronger if I’m going to be able to wrestle these guys in the set. I put all my eggs in the weight lifting basket and I got strong, but two major things. I was wrong about swimming getting back into fast enough. Two, confusing leg strength on land with leg strength in the water. Doing squats and deadlifts on land do not make strong water polo legs. It’s a different skill. I was like, “Muscle is muscle. Strength is a strength. It transfers everywhere.” It does not. Water polo is a specific leg strength that I did not train for. I was slow and weak going over there, which led to disappointment and injury.
It’s such a grueling process and journey to have to face injuries, especially when you’re spending your whole life at that point. You’re focused on that goal and there is a bodily restriction that is out of your control at this point and now you have to deal with it and pause everything else. I can relate with that as well because of my pride, God gave me the injury to give me a way to not “quit,” but it’s the same thing. It is such a journey to compete at that high of a level in any endeavor. What did that give you as a man? How did that help your personal development?
It gave me a lot of perspective on things. I believe that whatever things we feel they say fail forward. That goes not only for ourselves individually but it’s for us to pave forward to other people. I now have the vision and the wisdom to speak to other people. I’ve still been involved with the sport now. I’m managing a team of guys who came out of college and are training on their own and facing their own obstacles of continuing to play. There is a fine line between pushing through pain and stop being dumb. We’ve created this culture where if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. If you don’t vomit after a swim set, you’re not pushing yourself hard enough. Get over it.
There might be a time and a place for that mental toughness but you’ve got to be in insane physical shape to be put in a position to push yourself to that limit. Otherwise, your career is done. Is that worth it? Absolutely not. I can talk to guys if they need rests and encouraging them to take rest. If they need recovery, give them time to take recovery. Talk about an issue that’s not talked about enough in sports, especially in the water polo community. We’re way behind in recovery implementation in science as a community and a whole.
Let’s expand the picture here and not talking about sports. Let’s talk about society as a whole.
I’m saying this and I’m still terrible. I probably know way more about water polo recovery more than I know about personal life recovery.
We segregate them in these boxes. Granted as a professional athlete, you’re striving for 90% to 95% plus optimal performance. In a normal human existence, it’s selfish.
What does it even mean? What does 90% to 95% optimal performance as a human being mean?Thinking about your success and finances are not at all bad. It’s when you make a master out of it that it becomes bad. Click To Tweet
Meaning, you can be overly selfish in your decisions. As a normal human, that’s too selfish. It’s not practical to strive for 90% to 95%. If you’re a part of the elite and you are optimizing performance to the level you need as a professional athlete, that’s selfish for a normal human being. There are different tiers, but we still suck at it either way.
I’m sorry my mind can go far in different directions.
I like that because recovery is important. It helped you with perspective. Who would you be without those? How many years of pursuing the career or the path of getting to the Olympics?
That was three years.
What else did it give you besides perspective? Why are you grateful for that journey over those three years?
As hard as it was to quit, I eventually was able to look back and be like, “Good job. That was insane.” A small percentage of people get to that level but I’m still tight with that community as a whole. I’ll still play the comparison game. These guys who had come out of college and are killing it, have a bright future and they’re going to make the national team and stuff like that. I’m happy for those guys and I can’t help but think, “If I had done this right,” That’s still a tricky place. Back to better what I gained from it. I gained the language. This is probably the biggest thing that I’m most stoked about having to play at this level. I’m not saying I’m a phenomenal player by any means.
In some communities, fine, but I was never a national team caliber, for sure, but I can still play and at a decent Masters community in most places. Here’s a more concrete example. In playing now, I co-founded a men’s club team here in Los Angeles. We represent the Los Angeles Athletic Club in downtown. Now, it’s a Men’s Masters team and we compete in various leagues and tournaments throughout the year. My cofounder is an anonymous type of person so I’m going to leave him anonymous but for everyone who knows, knows.
Through the leadership of my cofounder, he was able to help us coordinate two international trips in our first two years of playing. We went to this tournament hosted by the Czech Water Polo Federation in the Czech Republic, called the European Union Club Championship in which the champion club team of various countries, Czech Republic, Austria, Belgium, England, Denmark, and Ireland would compete in this tournament. I would say it’s tier two as far as European water polo goes. We would not stand a chance versus the Serbian champion, Montenegrin, Croatian, Italian, Greece. There’s no way.
This is a good level for us. The first year didn’t go well. The second-year we took it a lot more seriously and we had a great trip. Leading into it, I was going to go visit a friend in Italy that happened to be there at the same time. I want to go and visit my friend in Italy before playing in this big tournament but I can’t go to Italy and lounge around for a couple of days. We need to be in good shape. What I do is through my circle of contacts, I can reach out and be like, “I’m going to be in Florence for these couple of days. Can you put me in touch with the coach of the team there to see if I can train with them for a couple of days?” He said, “Sure.”
A couple of days go by, he gets in touch. I’m on Facebook with the head coach of the team in Florence. I’m able to show up play with the Division I team in Florence for a couple of days, make some friends, hop in the water, lifts weights with them, do some swim sets and play little water polo. That is cool that I can do that and hop around the world. We have common respect. I was not nearly as good as those guys were but there’s still this common respect of us playing and loving the sport. We have that commonality of us already being friends because we all love this.
During the tournament, we played against the team from Belgium and we get to talking and I would be going to Belgium after the tournament. One of them jokingly says, “You should come to Antwerp where we’re from.” I’m like, “Okay.” I go over there for a couple of training. I hop in with their team and I hopped in their training for a little bit. I can go to most places in the world and I’d be able to find a pocket of people who play water polo. It’s a language that I can speak and it’s this core commonality. It’s like you and me being brothers. All you have to know is, “You love Jesus?” “Dope.” We’re good. We’re connected. I don’t know you fully but I know a good part of you. It’s the same thing with water polo, “Do you play water polo?” “I see you. I know a big part of you.” We have that to go off of.
It’s that shared life experience. It’s those intangibles that you can’t learn through knowing something. It’s by living it that produces such an awesome comradery. You also picked up a real language that you speak. Is it Italian?
How long did it take you to learn in time?
Was that you trying to figure out my response? I won’t call myself fluent per se. I’ll say semi-fluent. To tell that story, I studied Spanish in high school because we’re in Southern California. I got through AP and got a three on the test. I was learning for the sake of a grade.
Welcome to the school for all of us as kids.
I was studying for a grade and that’s it. That’s when the Lizzie McGuire came about. This is another reason why I was thankful for the show, which led to the movie because the movie went to Rome. The movie went to Italy and I was living over there, me, my mom and my dad, we got reconnected with our Italian side, my mom’s side of the family up by Lake Como. My grandmother on my mom’s side, her parents immigrated from Italy to the States. I have distant cousins that were still there. It’s tough to name exactly what that relationship is but there is blood there that is the same. We go over there for a weekend to visit where they’re all from. It’s a great time but there’s only one woman, Raphaela, bless her heart, who could speak English. It was broken and tough for her to translate between everybody. It was a little more rural part of Italy at least around Syracuse. As we’re leaving, she says, “Clayton, please, you have to learn Italian. Promise me.” I did promise her.
As I was going to Pepperdine, you could opt into a language and test out of a few units or start a new one. I was thinking about, “I can test out on Spanish or at least get a few out of the way.” “No. I should take Italian.” “Why not?” I had no practical reason to do so other than because I said I would. That was something that had been developed in me of being a man of your word from a young age. I studied Spanish so I had a phenomenal foundation for Italian as far as the grammar structure goes and the word similarity. Italian completely subverted all of my Spanish and I ended up excelling at it. I should have minored in it because I was one class away from getting an official minor in it, but I didn’t even know it.
By the time I was graduating, I looked at all the Italian classes I’d taken. I was like, “What the heck? That could have been a little bit official.” From Italian language classes to film classes and other things. By the time it came back around for me to play water polo professionally, that was part of why I was elected to play on this certain team because I could speak Italian. Now, when I got there, I found out that I learned school Italian and not Italian-Italian. There were common phrases that I had no idea what they were saying.
When I get off the plane, that’s a nightmare story of traveling from the US to the team, I got there. I’m happy to be there. The coaches were waiting. The coaches were like, “Clayton, tutto posto.” I was like, “Como?” I had never heard that phrase before and I could hear him in Italian saying, “Who is this guy? He can’t even speak Italian.” He was saying, “Tutto posto,” which is a slang version of tutto a posto. It means, “Everything in place, are you good? Are you okay? How is it? What’s hanging?” I did not know that but slowly I learned the slang and more relaxed version of the language. Between being there for ten months and visiting my family, it’s five more times since then. That’s been my attachment there. This last time that I was in Florence, I was able to speak a little bit but all my Spanish is gone for sure. I can have a good conversation in Italian.
I did Spanish for a few years and that is long gone. I’m jealous that you’re bilingual. One of the things I’m doing in research is hearing from your community. How they would describe you in a few words is humble, friendly, crazy, passionate, disciplined, integrity, caring, intelligent and those were a few. It’s interesting because there’s this playfulness but there’s also this disciplined and this integrity. There are this commitment and dedication that you hit on a little bit. Even in sharing that story, you said, “I’m a man of my word and I’m going to be, I’m going to follow through with what I say.” How important is that?
I’ll be sorry that I did or at least I feel terrible and I’ll go out of my way to make it clear.
As a man, what is the importance of commitment? What is the importance of integrity in your life?
I’m still learning this. A lot of that comes from through our faith also and we’re told that that’s a better way to live. I wholeheartedly agree with that. A book I had gone through, which I wouldn’t be surprised if you had, 12 Rules for Life.
I haven’t read it yet. It’s on the list.Be the best person that you can be for the people in your relationships. Click To Tweet
It’s by Jordan Peterson. I’m a big fan of Dr. Jordan B. Peterson. He had a big impact on my life through the years. In his philosophy, one of his roles is always to tell the truth or at least don’t lie. He goes on to give examples of hard times, “It’s going to be hard to be truthful. You can think of all the reasons why you can tell a white lie on various things. Ultimately, it’s the lesser of two evils to be truthful.” Everything always catches up down the line. We get hard truths in the Bible about ways to live that are hard in the moment, but long-term, it would pay-off and it’s in our best interest. It’s like the parents saying, “Don’t eat the cookie. You’re going to ruin your dinner.” The cookie tastes delicious now, but you’re going to spoil your dinner.
There are things that don’t make sense at the moment and you could feel that there are many better alternatives at the moment. Commitment from an athletic perspective to anything, you won’t go far with anything. This has been a huge battle for me personally in my post water polo life, though I’ve come back into acting even that’s a general word. You must be more specific than that in this industry and it’s a pitfall. It has been and can be sometimes still for me and actors to throw themselves and make themselves available for anything. In this industry, it’s the thought of, “You’ll never know where something might go.” Every opportunity is only that. It’s an opportunity and you’ve got to latch onto it because this guy might go somewhere and they’ll bring you with them or you don’t know who’s going to see it and they’ll pick you out of it and be like, “This project was trashed but who is that guy? I want him to be the star in my blockbuster,” and all these little weird things.
We heard it happen before, therefore, we need to put ourselves in that position and that’s a huge lie, too. The truth is that there’s this careful balance of being too prideful about what you do or don’t do versus being selective and having some self-respect or holding yourself at a higher value. You have to value yourself at a certain level or else, who else is going to? It’s less about commitment, it’s about committing specifically. Because I’m committed to acting, that doesn’t mean anything. I’m committed to the health and that doesn’t mean anything. Until you break those things down to know what they mean, then you can make them actionable and know what they look like. It’s flattering to hear those words, but I feel like I’m still working on all those qualities every day and they’ll be in seasons in and out of that. I love James Clear’s quote, “Soon is not a time and some is not a number.” It’s like, “If you say you’re going to get it done soon, great. I don’t believe you. Tell me when.” It’s the same with commitment. We need to be specific, clear, and define terms if we’re ever going to get anything done. That’s such a powerful point.
Small adjustments in a language I’ve found have been super helpful rather than like, “I’ll get back to you about that soon,” or “I’m going to update you in two days and then set a reminder.” Small things like that go such a long way in communication and in getting things moving forward.
It’s like valuing the other person more than itself. That’s what it is. It’s like, “I value this person. I respect that they deserve an answer and I’m going to give them in a timely manner, but I can’t give it to them now, so here’s when I can,” and then communicating that. They understand it like, “Great,” but it’s funny how hard that is for us to do a lot of times. It’s like, “It’s that simple.”
What are other ways in your current life that helped you live with commitment or discipline in pursuing, especially in the world of acting? What are some of those accountabilities?
The way to be disciplined is not leaving the discipline up to yourself. There are plenty of people out there who can easily be like, “I’m deciding to do this and I’m going to do that,” and then they just do it and that’s awesome. I know myself well enough. Another big reason why I’ve been able to relate everything in my life, as I’m sure you do to golf and I do to water polo, I can make anything. By the way, From Here to There. For water polo, one of the reasons why I was successful wasn’t because necessarily I made the decision to show up to practice every day or I made the decision to push myself every training and eat well. It is because I had parents that drove me to practice. I had coaches that told me what to do. I had teammates to my left and right that were beating me out of a natural competitive spirit. We try to push each other in these sets. It was a team.
I realized soon after that, “I don’t do well going lone wolf on these things. When I think that I can go lone wolf and I do go that way for a while, I fall flat on my face and I find myself super depressed in a bad place because I feel like I’m underperforming. I feel like I have the resources, time, and background to be way further than or do better than I am right now.” The root issues that I’m operating in a completely different game, that’s not how I play. I’m like my grandfather. The interesting thing about the Army Air Force at the time of World War II is that they would distinguish if you wanted to go and be a pilot. They wouldn’t just put anybody and decide who’s a fighter pilot and who’s a B-17 Flying Fortress pilot? They would one, segregate them by their height because if you’re over a certain height, you could be a fighter pilot.
My grandfather was already too tall to be a fighter pilot, but they also divided them based on their personality. Your mavericks, lone wolves, and guys who wanted to be ultra-competitive and go on their own. You guys are fantastic fighter pilots. Do your thing. Guys who are more team-oriented, subdued, and mature were put into teams to be on these teams of planes. I don’t know if I inherited that from him, but that’s the vision that I find myself, I thrive in teams. When I tried to go too independent or by myself, I fall flat.
It makes me think that it is a more mature position to be a team player because it’s harder, but we don’t think it is. We think that the lone wolf is the harder path like, “I’m going to go do it on my own. It’s going to be way harder,” but in some senses, it’s more limiting and you’re less capable. It’s harder to be a part of a team than to be your own team.
I forget whose quote this is, but it’s something along the lines of, “You’ll go faster alone, but you’ll go further together,” and it’s beautiful.
It’s funny because I’ve experienced the same thing in golf. I am a relationship-driven person and I love the community and people, but when it came to golf, especially professionally, I isolate myself and I became this lone wolf mentality. That was an indication that this isn’t where God called me. It’s like, “You’re not being effective for the kingdom and you’re doing your own thing. Of course, this isn’t what I’m going to call you to.” I look back and I’m like, “It was evident that this wasn’t what God had for me in a sense.” Looking back on it now, I see it, but at the moment, I was blind to that. It’s interesting to think about it now and how we need that community and accountability in all areas of life. We’re always better with others supporting us. We’re limited by our own.
We take it for granted how much we support other people, too.
The most resounding theme that I heard from talking to others was how much compassion and care you have for those in your community. This isn’t a prop you up thing. This is a reality of your life and it’s something that you pour a lot of time into. People said that he has the ability to care more than anyone else and he’s a compassionate guy. He makes everybody feel seen, heard and even cherished, but it can also be his Achilles’ heel when he depletes himself and trying to make everyone else feel good and be the answer. There’s this tension because it’s such a gift to be able to do and it’s not the norm. It’s amazing that people get to praise that in you and I want to praise that too, but it can be unhealthy. If we give so much, then we have nothing to give. What is that balance for you? It balances impossible to maintain, but we can strive for it. What does that look like for you and where do you find yourself? Which side do you see the imbalance showing up the most?
I’m dealing with that and I’ve never not been dealing with it. I’m definitely in that season where I tend to fall on different extremes all the time. A big focus is on this next international trip, which is like the last hurrah. I’m going back to the Czech Republic for the third time and wanting to do the best that I can at that. I’ll be overtraining for that in the meantime. Also, accountability as well. Checking in with people, being candid to their feedback and how you were sounding can be helpful. I can certainly get tied up in my thoughts. I’m dealing with a massive addiction to YouTube and Instagram as ways to shut off my brain. I don’t have substance abuse, which is cool, but that doesn’t make it an addiction nonetheless. When I feel stressed out, overloaded or I don’t want to think about something, that’s where I’ll turn. You can hit that related video button all day. The number of hours on that is atrocious, frankly.
There’s always a healthier alternative. It’s not about not doing something, it’s about what are you doing and it’s dead. That could be calling a friend, just breathing or deciding to turn off your phone for a little bit, so that’s not there. When you’re in your car, we have many ways to increase convenience and efficiency in our life that should be allowing us to relax a little bit, but it’s only enabled us to squeeze more into those cracks. Every moment that you’re doing something, you have to also be doing something. I can’t just eat a meal. If I’m not sitting in front of somebody and talking, you better believe I’m on my phone. If I am driving and something is on. It could be music, podcasts or an audiobook. There’s always something that has to be happening at the same time all the time. That’s become gross.
I got to think about what it was like 50 years ago when that wasn’t a thing. When you didn’t have these supercomputers in your pocket and they’re not even in our pocket, they’re glued to our hands. I thought of the imagery of what a playground would look like years ago of kids playing as opposed to now, whether this might be sitting on the phone. Kids are still playing on playgrounds, but the difference is like, “What’s the most attractive and what’s taking our time?” How do I take care of myself in the balance and stuff like that? There are practices that when I’m able to peel back and be like, “What are my foundations?” I know that I am in my best place when I am going to church and when I have a steady practice of personal prayer, Bible time and devotion. My utmost for His Highest is a fantastic devotional that I’ll usually refer to. Some meditation is something that I want to kick up a little bit more. I start small and go somewhere. I know I could benefit from that.
Also, attending a community group weekly. Ideally the same one from week to week and holding fast to that commitment unless some emergency comes up. When those are in place, I’m usually in a good spot and there’s sleep, which I’ve had to continue to develop methods to wind myself down at night. A lot of people’s mind tends to wander at night and I’ve tried journaling thoughts. I’ve tried magnesium foot spray oil and done melatonin pills. I went to a medicinal marijuana shop and searched the CBD thing that would help. They referred me to CBN, which was supposed to help specifically for sleep and it’s still a struggle. There’s temperature management, but I’m also mindful because you don’t want to pay for that. It feels high.
Am I drinking enough water? What’s my diet like? How late in the day am I having coffee? I’m going to stop having it after 12:00 PM. Those things and the spiritual things are in place because the Lord provides and He’s going to get you through whatever you’ve got going on. Also, the practice of Morning Pages, which I got from Julia, The Artist’s Way, if you’re familiar with that. That tends to be a reflection back at me. I also discovered the benefit of therapy back when I was playing water polo when I was working with a sports psychologist. She helped me through a time when I was playing in Hungary going through a lot of mental barriers. I was like, “This stuff is real.” I like talking about going to therapy because it’s definitely a stigma we need to eliminate. Every single person everywhere, if they can, should be in therapy. It has nothing to do with you having to undo some major trauma that you’re undergoing. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy. We have a lot of stuff that we don’t even know that we have to go on. That’s going to enable us to be better friends, sons, daughters, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, and anything for each other and get out of our own way.
There’s a great quote I love, “If you can’t self-observe, you can’t self-correct. We can’t see what we can’t see.” Having someone there to help us see is such a useful role and that’s largely what a therapist is doing. It’s helping you see and understand what’s going on that you can’t see or what’s going on in the subconscious and these layers. It’s like health. You don’t want to go to the hospital when you’re sick. You want to do preventative healthcare so that you don’t have to go to the hospital in the first place.
It’s a big motivator for my therapy. I believe that most of the issues of the world would be fewer issues if we had a stronger family unit and it involves the health of kids. That comes with healthy parenting, healthy marriage and healthy dating. It all stems back to our relationship with each other. Being in a relationship, if I’m taking it seriously, I want to bring the best version of myself into that, so I would be the best husband and best father that I could be to give my son or daughter the best chance they got.
It sets the stage for each other. It’s not like, “This isn’t an important step because what’s important is later.” No. Each step is vitally important for setting the foundation for the next step to be healthy and important. For some reason, we forget this. We lose sight of the future responsibility, reality, and gravity of it, and that legacy that’s going to be left. We get to influence that in how we choose daily and that’s a daily call. How can we daily put this in front of me?
If anyone is interested in checking out therapy the way that I found my therapist is super easy. You can go to PsychologyToday.com and you can search by where you live, by zip code, by health insurance coverage, and by the topics that you want to talk about, whether you want to see a guy or girl. Any specific other things that you’re looking for, it will narrow down the search for you. You can email them and say, “Let’s meet up,” and take it from there.
It’s a hard thing to say, “I have a YouTube and Instagram addiction.” That’s something that none of us want to say and it’s hard for us to believe.
It’s weird to say and it feels shameful, weird and petty.
The reason you can say that is because you’ve worked through it to some extent, in the process of it, and you’ve recognized that there’s a need to grow in this area. That doesn’t happen by chance. How did you recognize or see what was going on and say, “I need to change this?”The darker things can get, the more we can appreciate what life is. Click To Tweet
Maybe when you go for dozens of nights when you had a clear evening to get a solid night’s sleep and you find yourself at 4 AM on your phone. You’re like, “This is a problem.” That’s not specifically what I would go to therapy for. It’s just a symptom. It’s a mask for other things that are not being dealt with consciously or unconsciously. A lot of it stems from suffering from analysis paralysis or thinking about planning about doing. It’s bad enough to plan and plan, and then take action, even thinking for a long time while planning and then taking action. Because of the trajectory of my life, it’s always been clear what the goal was. When you’re on a TV show, you do the show and do the work. When you’re on the water polo team is to win the championship and the coach is going to tell you what to do. You’re like, “I’m going to do those things the best I can and the cars are going to fall where they lie.”
There are all these clear goals, but then when it comes to this whole acting thing where that’s where it comes to those specifics about being where you want to be, going where you want to go and being clear with that for yourself and for others. If you’re not, then you’re nowhere. If you’re not somewhere, you’re nowhere. It’s like getting in a boat, casting off and being excited like, “Where am I going?” It’s less exciting when you’re on a boat and you realize that you have a finite amount of resources that can take you for that long. In conjunction with seeing a therapist and talking about other issues, awareness begets awareness in general. You start taking stock and the practice of mindfulness, if you will, and being like, “What is happening right now? Why am I sitting like I’m sitting?” I’m conscious of the body language that I’m giving you with my feet up on the table and stuff like that, but that’s because my lower back gets uncomfortable.
It’s interesting because that’s something that I think about. When I’m giving an interview, I want to create a presence for my guests to feel warm, welcome, and open. I am consciously creating that environment and intentionally doing that because of that awareness. There’s a book called Strangers to Ourselves by Timothy Wilson. It’s all about understanding the adaptive subconscious and he makes a great point that self-awareness is helpful but to an extent. When it becomes hyper self-awareness, it isn’t helpful and it leads us down a hole that we don’t want to go to because then we start realizing so much of what we do is unconscious.
We have little control over 95% of it and it can almost be depressing. He said, “Hyper awareness isn’t helpful because it doesn’t usually lead to action, but a healthy self-awareness that does help us act more like the people we want to be is good.” It’s an interesting tension there. Because of technology, these things that we consume on a daily level, and we’re distracted by every single one of us, our self-awareness is naturally reduced on a drastic level for all of us. It’s because we don’t have space in our day.
It’s become clear that faith is an important part of your life.
How has faith impacted or shaped your life?
I was raised in the Lutheran church and identified more with a nondenominational trying to learn about Jesus and following the guy. Faith is definitely about believing something more that this all matters. The decisions I make matter and there are consequences, whether good and bad. We wouldn’t give it a playbook in a big way like a player’s guide to life. They tell you exactly how to get through the game in all the little special nooks and crannies for skills and whatever. We’ve been given all these great nuggets of wisdom and how to think and how to react. It’s been such a grounding piece in my life. It taught me about relationships and told me about being a better man and what’s important in life. I can get wrapped up about things that I can absolutely be a prideful person. I can get stuck at and think about my success or what status am I going to achieve or how much money am I going to make.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, but it’s when you make a master out of it that they become bad. Money is not evil, but the love of money is evil. Money can be an incredible blessing that can bless a lot of different people, so it definitely can be a wonderful thing. When it’s overpowered by greed, it’s helped me to identify my own nature in shortcomings. I have also talked about shameful things and I’ve gone through seasons of bad nighttime binge eating. Whatever is there, I ravage it, so I’ll not be hungry at all. It’s another way to vale stress and my dad’s gluttony in a big way. I’ve got all these things that are working inside of me.
There are a lot of great things about humans. There are all terrible things about humans. My faith helps me reconcile and put a mirror up to my nature and puts me in the right direction. What we can bring out of the Bible is still what I consider a vague understanding of who this being is. You go from seeing these pictures of this old white guy with a beard and you’re like, “That’s God.” He’s so much more than that. Whatever we can get from this book, there’s so much more revelation to be added on who He is and how He’s threaded through all of us. Even the idea that your body is a temple, that has helped me through a lot of health decisions like, “If God lives within you, how would you want to respect your Creator or even the thing that you’ve been blessed with?” We come from dust. People can have a lot of pride in their accomplishments or what they’ve done.
It’s like, “Who gave birth to you? Who fed you? Who wiped you when you were a child? Who gave birth to them? Who was responsible for the sewer system?” Everything weaves together in an impossible way for us to be where we are here now. It’s such a grounding force of like, “This all started somewhere,” and there was a lot of things that we can look at like, “How can a creator invoke so much evil in the world or allow so much suffering?” It’s a pendulum where darker things can get, the more we can appreciate what light is. The fact is we do live in a broken world and if the world were perfect, we wouldn’t need the savory and that relationship with God.
There’s a marvelous talk that I was listening to where the idea is like, “Why would God even create any of this? If you’re God, you’re just being in nothingness. You are everything. The only thing you are not is being.” If you are the most merciful thing in the universe, you never get to experience it until you are able to act upon it. To make this creation where God can experience His own mercy to his creation, I was like, “That is freaking genius,” and somebody is like, “God is prideful.” I’m like, “He can be whatever he wants to be.” At the end of the day, I’ve experienced enough for whatever hardships that I can incur and see. I truly believe that we have more to be grateful for.
You did a beautiful job of unpacking what God has told us and what He’s about. It’s believing in something more than that and this all matters and you’ve been given a player’s guide. What great hope is. That’s one of the best blessings of having faith and believing in God and Jesus that gives us this unending hope and it connects dots in ways that I can’t explain like my own testimony. The caveat to this is when I’m pursuing God, but when I’m pursuing God, seeking Him or living for Him, there is no hole in my heart. I’ve never felt like there’s something missing. If I’m not, there is going to be something. We can all relate to that hole in the heart, but for you, when is faith hardest?
Faith is hardest when I’m not physically in it. When it’s a mental game. When I’m not around my community and I’m not walking it. That was another interesting thing growing up in the Lutheran church where it’s only scripture, faith, and grace. The whole idea was it was a break from the Catholic church from the reformation because the Catholic church was making it about works. You could pay money to have your sins forgiven, etc. Martin Luther was like, “No. You don’t need to do anything. It is solely by your faith that you are saved by God’s grace.” We know that from scripture alone. I’m not from anyone else’s authority. There was this massive rebound from anything workspace so that it had nothing to do with what you do. It’s what you believe.Fail forward. That goes not only for ourselves individually, but for us to pay forward to other people. Click To Tweet
As long as you believe, you’re good and you’re fine. After coming into more of the nondenominational scene where the first time that I started to was read the Bible on my own, the New Testament, the Beatitudes and to hear what Jesus had to say. In Paul’s letters, faith without work is dead faith and that is biblical if we’re talking only scripture. There is acting upon it. You can’t say you believe in something because belief is walked out through what you do. In Josh’s last sermon, he talked about that and belief is in the walking and it starts through faith, but sometimes, you’re not feeling it and sometimes, doing it, you feel it.
If you’re not feeling particularly close to God, volunteer at a shelter one night and then sometimes getting back to some people, you’ll see Him again, and you’re like, “Where have I been?” You’re brought right back to it. You can argue that it’s like a confirmation thing. When you’re away from it, when you’re away from anything and from toxic friends, you’re going to question your relationship with them. When you’re in it, it’s fun and you’re doing it, so you could say that about anything. We judge things by the fruit of it. I don’t care because I know what the fruit of that looks like and I know that I am tenfold a better person. My circles around me benefit from that as well when I’m in that walk.
There’s a great quote, “It’s a lot easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.” It’s almost psychologically proven. It’s like, “This is a fact and this is God’s design.”
Serving or doing something for others is what unlocks our ability to be like, “This is what life’s about. It’s not about me.” I’m in this boat all the time. I get wrapped up in what I’m doing when I’m trying to accomplish, and what is on my task list. It’s simply like, “How can I get my eyes off myself and put them on someone else?” You see this even with King David. He stopped fulfilling his role in serving and decided to stay home and chill out one time.
The cool thing about that he got to use it and that’s Jesus’ bloodline. God’s way is all about receiving and then responding. It’s not about earning or acquiring. It’s how do we receive and how do we respond. One of the most important parts is receiving as a continual thing. It’s one in doing, but it’s also keep going. What has God called you to? What is that overarching vision that you see? What is the thing that you put in front of you daily that you’re pushing towards in your work?
He has provided a lot of opportunities in more stage performing, which has been interesting. Since coming back, I assume that where I would go would be more film and television. It fits because of one, it’s such a community. There’s so much more relationship involved with it, with all the rehearsal time that you need to do. It’s present and it’s live as in like a live game where you do all the prep work and you’re doing it once. It’s got to go and there’s room for improvisation in it if need be and that’s fine. It’s a total joy and those doors have been opening in that direction, so that’s something I want to pursue more of and to see where that takes me. I’m going to be seeing some voice technicians and coaches continue to enhance my singing voice, make it more competitive, and continued movement classes. That’s certainly a direction.
It makes perfect sense because it is a performance, even acting is, but there are fewer stakes. It’s not live a lot of times.
There are millions of dollars on the line, to be fair. The stakes are plenty high in those regards. It’s certainly different. It’s not that I don’t like film and TV acting. It’s a similar thing and that’s something that can be tough to decide. If things aren’t going your way in a certain venue, is that an obstacle to overcome or is it God closing the door on it? With some prayer, it’s wherever the peace is. It’s not that that the door is closed, but I find peace in walking through this open door in this new territory.
What new habit or belief has most positively impacted your life?
New ideas, habits and things are thought of in the start all the time, so it’s hard to say, but I’ve noticed the most with Jordan Peterson’s rule of telling the truth, the released outline. I’ve noticed that I have a positive impact on things.
What question do you ask yourself the most?
Who are you?
What book or books have had the biggest impact on you?
12 Rules for Life. One that I’ve been reading has been The Magic of Thinking Big. It has been great. Do you remember the author for that?
Also, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. When you’ve got a lot of stuff going on in your mind and in your life, you can boil it down like, “All things aside.” What is the one thing that by doing, it will make everything else easier or not having to do it? Sometimes, that’s simplification is that easy to be actionable on things. I’m like, “I can think of a big picture on what needs to get done or what might need to get done later or how I idealized something.” All that aside, but what’s the one thing that you can do right now and that’s going to have an effect or the biggest impact that you could work on and do that.
What fears are most present for you in your life?
One of the fears that are most present is feeling like I’m squandering what’s been given to me. I feel like I’ve been given a lot of opportunities. What squandering means is some financial ruin perhaps. It can be tough out there in the acting world at times. It’s a somewhat classic story of an athlete who’s been playing a sport for a long time and is going into a new venture and trying to discover himself. It’s the same stories with you, Thane like, “I am this. I am not this then what am I?” Until you’ve had some status in that arena like, “Are you that?” I haven’t had this success that’s powered with when I was thirteen years old. There’s always going to be that voice in the back of your head that’s like, “You’re not that yet. You’re not there yet. Why even call yourself that?” As Christians, we have the benefit of, “That is not who I am. I’m a child of God,” and that helps center everything. I can move out from there. That’s a question I ask myself all the time and I’d have to remind myself of what that is.The correct way to discipline is to not leave the discipline to yourself. Be accountable through relationships. Click To Tweet
I love this quote, “Forward progress is not a finished process,” and it’s helpful because it reminds me that there’s no finish line.
If we’re talking about getting there, there’s no there. If you’re climbing a mountain, there is no plateau that you’re going to reach. You can stop up the mountain every once in a while. There will be a little campfire that you can enjoy youth for a little bit, but you’re going to get right back at it suffice.
Maybe just observe the beautiful birds around. Besides birds, what brings you joy in life?
This video of the orangutan in the hound. If I need joy in my life, I will watch that video and it will bring me joy and my girlfriend, Allegra. Playing water polo still does bring me joy and performing and acting as well.
If you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why? They would get this text message from you every morning to start their day as a reminder.
Did you make your bed? There are a lot of cheap answers that I could steal from other people like, “What good will you do this day?” Text somebody what you’re thinking about them. I found that goes a long way. Not in what do I gain from it, but that’s something I’ve been trying to practice more that I’m failing miserably on. Throughout your whole day, you could call it randomly firing synapses in your brain or things are put there for you to act on. You’ll think of random people throughout your whole day and you let them go and keep doing whatever you’re doing. What if every time you thought of that person, you ask yourself, “Should I hit them up?” I’m like, “Sure.” It didn’t have to be a phone call. It’s like, “I’m just thinking of you. I hope you’re doing well.” You’ll be surprised what might come back at you in a good way.
It is following the prodding of God. It’s amazing the impact that it has. Clayton, thank you for coming on. Where do people go to connect or say hi or send some feedback?
@HeyClayton on Instagram is one place and you can also shoot an email over to Info@ClaytonSnyder.com. I’d like to have some fun from time to time when I’m in a good relationship with Instagram. I’ll hop on the stories and try to make people laugh every now and then.
Thanks for coming on. This has been a treat and I’m excited to see what God is going to do.
For all you up and comers out there, we hope you have an up and coming week.
- @UpAndComersShow – Facebook
- YouTube – The Up & Comers Show
- iTunes – The Up & Comers Show
- @HeyClaytron – Instagram
- @NatureIsMetal – Instagram
- Shot Down: The true story of pilot Howard Snyder and the crew of the B-17 Susan Ruth
- Episode 28 – previous episode
- Alyson Stoner – previous episode
- The Dip
- Los Angeles Athletic Club
- 12 Rules for Life
- From Here to There
- Morning Pages
- Strangers to Ourselves
- The Magic of Thinking Big
- The ONE Thing
About Clayton Snyder
Clayton Snyder was born in Los Angeles, California to Glenda Pack and Steve Snyder. He is of German and Italian descent, and is the youngest of two older half-brothers, Doug and Devin.
Snyder graduated from Los Alamitos High School in Los Alamitos, California as senior class vice-president in June 2006.
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