I find myself having the same conversation with friends, and most especially friends who are in the entertainment industry, over and over. It is a conversation that makes me a little uncomfortable, because I’m not a huge fan of giving out advice. (Mostly because I don’t think people generally want advice!) However, it has to do with an area that I’m quite well-versed in personally, and thus I feel responsible to give my two cents on it when it comes up.
It is what I call the “getting unfrozen” conversation. Here’s how it goes:
A friend feels stuck. They grew up with a strong sense of direction surrounding their dream profession. They were probably the first (or at least most passionate) of their peers to have a definite answer to “what do you want to be when you grow up?” They had, and have, a calling. That calling has dictated a thousand important decisions in their life. More than likely it has decided where they live (often far away from people they love), what they studied in school, how they’ve spent their time, what relationships they fostered, what they’ve had to let go of. Most people that have a career that is also a calling devote nearly every inch of themselves to it. It takes a strong sense of devotion and often a lot of sacrifice.
It’s very, very, very hard to be so devoted to something that you’ve let it dictate every facet of your life… and feel like it isn’t working out in the way you’d hoped. This is where the feeling of being frozen creeps in.
Do you know what buzz phrase that’s often said to young aspiring creatives that I hate the most? It’s a pretty hard list to top, because there are some real doozy’s thrown around in this arena, especially by people who’ve never even attempted to pursue a career in the arts!
But the phrase I hate the most is: “if you could see yourself doing anything else, you shouldn’t be an [insert actor, singer, writer, filmmaker, et cetera here.]”
This phrase is profoundly damaging on many levels. First of all, I’ve never met a person in the arts who wasn’t skilled at and interested in a wide array of things. Being a human of the world is what makes a good artist. But what really irks me about this saying is that in the mind of someone who has a calling, what this phrase says is “don’t allow yourself to be good at/interested in/enjoy anything but your calling, because that means that you’re not meant to do the thing you want to do.” It can quickly become a self-fulfilling prophecy. That might sound crazy, but I cannot tell you the number of talented, creative people I’ve watched put themselves through years of jobs they hate, or quit jobs they didn’t hate, or even have no job at all… because they’ve been waiting for their agent to call them with an audition, or some equivalent of this. People who’ve turned down amazing offers because they “couldn’t see themselves doing anything but x, y, or z.”
This attitude makes me crazy, in part because I spent much of my 20’s clinging to it with the jaws of life. I’d get a great opportunity that I’d subsequently turn down because I didn’t want to miss out on auditions (that I didn’t even know if I would be getting!) I didn’t allow myself to explore other avenues–even inherently creative ones, like writing–because it didn’t fit into the narrative of my idea of my calling. Those were probably the unhappiest times of my life. Feeling like my world was black and white: either I’d become a successful actress, or I would… who knows? I sure didn’t. That’s an extremely unhealthy and scary way to live, I know firsthand.
For whatever reason, I realized that this attitude was freezing me in place when I was about 28. Who knows if it was my Saturn returning, or if it was just a survivalist mode kicking me in the butt. I woke up one day and decided that the only way I could be happy was to start feeling like a success in my own mind. So, I started thinking about what success meant to me. What it means to me is probably different than it is for you, but maybe this is a place to start: for me, the idea of success was continuation. To give myself the option to find a job that was outside of my “calling” so that I’d be able to have both the flexibility and income to keep pursuing my passions. The weight that finding that path took off me can’t be understated. It absolutely changed my life for the better.
I’ve talked in the past about my remote marketing work and how much I enjoy it. And it has allowed me to continue to pursue creative projects that I’m truly excited about. For example, a couple of months ago I started working on a side project with my producing partner, a podcast series about creative women and their journeys (see our first series of episodes below.) What’s interesting is that thus far every interview we’ve done has carried the same through line: the most exciting, interesting life experiences often come about out of a willingness to be flexible.
If you’re feeling frozen, my advice is to take a step back and allow yourself to look at your career and life as a journey rather than a destination. I guarantee there are lots of things that you’re great at, a million different avenues to get you to where you want to go, and the only “trick” to it is to just keep moving forward with an open mind and heart.