A friend I trained with has just been cast as a new regular in a soap and, while I’m thrilled for them (honestly!), I can’t help but feel as if everything is passing me by. At what point do you throw in the towel?
This is a tough one. Throw in the towel? Only you can answer that. Only you know whether you’ve truly had enough and need to find something else to expend your energy on, or whether you’re just a bit disheartened. And you know what? After the year we’ve all had, I’m surprised more people aren’t feeling like throwing in the towel. It has been incredibly difficult for creatives to keep going – not just because there has been hardly any work around. It has also been difficult to see how our work seems to lack value for so many people. I’ve seen many angry posts from people about how we need to get “proper jobs”. It is difficult to feel proud of what we do when our work is diminished in this way. So first off, Melanie – give yourself a break! Please don’t go making any decisions right now – the world is still upside down and all over the place and none of us are feeling stable or secure because nothing right now is quite normal. I’m thinking of this period as being like getting over a long illness – I feel “OK” but I’m aware that I still have a way to go until I’m “fully recovered”, so I’m not pushing too hard right now.
Years ago, when I was thinking about leaving acting a friend of mine gave me some great advice: “So leave,” he said. “The industry isn’t going to suddenly close down because you decide to step away for a while. Leave – and if you want to come back, then come back! It will still be just as difficult and frustrating as it is now but at least you’ll have learned something new about yourself.” He really had a point – there’s a big wide world out there and we should certainly experience as much of it as we can. Who knows, you may find something you love even more than acting (and hey, it may even pay the bills!). You may not, but if you don’t try, you’ll absolutely never know. And the industry will still be here, just as tough as ever, if you want to come back.
It is ingrained in us from a very early age that if we work hard we’ll be rewarded. We go through school and take our exams and get certificates and depending on the results we go to Uni, or on to further study where we get assessed and graded. We are encouraged to work hard to get good results. We are used to seeing a payoff to all our hard work.
Except, in our industry, “hard work” doesn’t always get us the desired results. I know many fantastically hard-working, talented, truly gifted actors who, for whatever reason, have just never had the break they deserve. Hard work, in our industry, is only part of the equation. You also need a bit of luck – a sprinkling of fairy dust. Success comes in the sweet spot where hard work meets opportunity.
Lucky then, that opportunity can knock at any time and fairy dust doesn’t have an expiration date. Your journey is your journey and so you cannot compare it with anyone else – comparison is, as Roosevelt said, the thief of joy. Comparing yourself to someone else is the fastest way to feel ‘less than’ and to lost sight of what’s important to you. Your journey takes the time it takes, your best bet is to try to enjoy the sights along the way. Think of it as a journey of exploration, not one of destination.
This may take a revaluation of what ‘success’ means to you. Most of us find that the goalposts are constantly moving and, as I have said before, the older we get the more learn to adjust our expectations. Monday’s definition of success is likely to be different to Friday’s definition. One thing I am sure of – no two people will have the exact same definition of success. For what it’s worth, the definition that works best for me is ‘doing what I want to be doing and being comfortable with the choices that led me here’.
The path you’re on is never a straight line and I find it comforting to remind myself that there are two definitions of career – one is ‘an occupation undertaken for a significant period of a person’s life and with opportunities for progress’ but the other definition, and the one that is probably much more recognisable in our industry, is ‘to move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way’. That’s how I’ve felt for nearly forty years now – like I’m in a bumper car, often out of control, racing along. And you know what, I kinda like it!
Be comfortable in the choices you have made that have led you to where you are. I bet if you look at your friend then you’ll see that their choices were different – of course you’re not on the same path, but that doesn’t mean your path is any less interesting or exciting. Your unique, original journey will take you places your friend has never dreamed of – embrace it, it’s what makes you special.
Stay connected. Stay creative.
Got a question? Email JBR at [email protected]