Q. Hi Jordan,
I read your blog all the time, and I so often relate to you on your “life advice” posts. I admire the help you are willing to offer your readers and am seeking advice on an issue.
In college, I majored in theater, and I love performing and acting so much. Since graduating a year ago, I have worked a couple of small gigs, but nothing big and nothing paying enough for me to not have a day job. So I’m working at a small (and quickly growing) start-up.
Here’s the thing: I have fallen in love with my day job. Not the job so much as my boss, the CEO of the company. She has told me many times that she can see me running the company one day, and that she wants to help me find my passion and the right position in the company for me. I look forward to going to work every day and I think what the company is doing is important and awesome.
The other day, a friend in the theater community asked me to audition for a show. It would be full-time during the day and paying (an amount that I could live on), but would only last through mid-November. It’s a children’s show, which is not my ideal production, but hey: it’s theater. When you’re an artist, you take what you can get.
I haven’t even auditioned yet, but I am already dreading the choice that I will have to make if I get the part. My boss knows that if I had my way in life I would be acting, and she wants to help me achieve my dreams. How amazing is a boss like that?
Do I stay with the job that I have grown to love with people I so enjoy and work to help grow the company and potentially lead it one day? Or do I take a job I’m passionate about, but maybe end up jobless again in a few months?
I need your advice.
A. I’m so glad you wrote, because I think that the issue you’re dealing with is one that many people who are drawn to careers in the arts confront at one point or another.
First, let me say that I completely understand (and mostly agree with) your sense that, as an actor, you have to “take what you can get.” I did lots of “take what you can get” jobs when I was an actress, and often gave up other things that I wanted to do in order to take them (my mom and I had a running joke that all I had to do to book an acting job was schedule a flight or a vacation). Early in one’s career is the time to be grateful for any and all opportunities that come your way and to establish yourself as a consummate professional…which means getting the job done (with a smile), no matter what.
That said, if you’re going to dedicate yourself to acting in the long-term, it’s so important to be honest with yourself about the lifestyle that comes along with it: there are very big highs, very big lows, and a lot of frustrating stuff in between. The simple fact is that nearly every actor has to have another job or jobs to pay the bills, and these jobs likely won’t be particularly stimulating or have a ton of forward motion, because they’ll be transitory by necessity. My resume is peppered with bartending jobs; Kendrick sold coconut water on street corners when he was in Harlem Shakes. And this isn’t the sole domain of the “young, starving artists” – for many, taking odd jobs to support their passion is a way of life for the duration of their career.
I’m sure you know most of this already and have considered the challenges associated with an acting career, but I think it’s important to emphasize these things because it’s so easy to get caught up in the “all-or-nothing” approach to being in the arts. Sometimes it’s easier to stay so focused on what might be that you forget to check in with whether you’re happy now.
I wasn’t honest with myself about my career and the realities of being a (semi) working actor until…well, until my career went down in flames. It hurt so much – so, so much - and a lot of that pain stemmed from the fact that I was so shocked by my failure (or what I perceived to be my failure), because I had never really looked at the industry or my role in it realistically. I was scared to, because I was afraid that what I might discover was that I had chosen the wrong path for myself…but if I had taken a cold, hard look at my life what I would have seen far earlier is that it wasn’t “being an actor” that I loved; it was certain aspects of being an actor. Aspects that I was able to incorporate into a career path that I ultimately found much more fulfilling and comfortable.
The point of this isn’t to discourage you from acting, not at all. It’s just that there’s this pervasive idea that in order to be an artist you have to be all-in, often to the exclusion of other things in your life that might bring you joy…and that somehow your artistic contributions aren’t as valid or relevant if you do (and enjoy doing) other stuff, too. And I think that’s false. I think there are lots of ways to incorporate a true passion for the arts into one’s life in ways that don’t require you to make potentially enormous sacrifices in other realms.
And of course there’s something else to consider here, and that’s the fact that you say that you love your job. I was so thrilled for you when I read that: seriously, it is so unbelievably rare - such a gift – to find a job that you truly love, and to be surrounded by coworkers (your boss, even!) who want to support you and teach you and help you grow. That’s flat-out awesome, and not something to be taken for granted.
Again, this isn’t meant to suggest that you shouldn’t pursue an acting career, although I do think that you should be open-minded about what sounds like a really fascinating alternative. It’s just so important to understand what the realities of being an actor are, and then, if you decide that your love of acting is simply the most important thing to you, do it. And take joy in every single opportunity that you have to set foot onto a set or stage and entertain people for a living, because it’s a tremendous thing, and so many actors I’ve known (myself included) get so jaded by the industry that they start to take it for granted.
When it comes down to it, the fact is that you’re in a pretty great position where both of your alternatives are fairly awesome, and I strongly suspect that you already know what you want to do. Both paths – either committing to the theater or acknowledging that you love acting, but that you want other stuff, too – require a not-inconsiderable amount of bravery on your part, so all you have to do now is have faith and courage, and take the leap, one way or the other. And know that whatever happens, it’s not the end of the world. One of the most fantastic things about life is that you get lots and lots of opportunities to change your mind. Take it from someone who did (more than once), and who eventually found her way.
Oh – and break a leg.