Most people don’t know this about me, but a very, very long time ago, I was an
actress aspiring actress. I performed in plays during high school and while in college. Then I graduated and decided to just keep auditioning and acting until I “made it.” Whatever that means.
I didn’t have a job lined up for me as I traipsed across the stage with a diploma in my hand. But that was okay because I had a plan: get a job waitressing in a really cool place about 3-4 nights a week where people throw money at you, spend days auditioning, land agent, nab break-through role, make lots of money, live happily ever after leaping from compelling role to compelling role.
Good plan. Here’s what actually happened:
I moved into a cockroach-infested single apartment above what is now Figaro Café on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz (the coolest neighborhood of the late nineties). I did not get a job at the Dresden Room because they only hire old ladies who will never look for another job. (The manager told me, “You’ve got a degree from UCLA. Someday you’ll want more than this place. We want people who will stay.” While this was true, I told him I was an actress and would likely want nothing more than “this place” for a very long time. He was not convinced.) I didn’t sign with the only agent who was interested in me because he made me feel icky. I poured all my graduation money into head shots that sucked, and horrible acting classes. I did not land a single compelling role. Not one. Instead, I temped 3-4 days a week and barely made enough money to pay for the rice and frozen corn dinners I made nightly.
I thought this was being an artist. When things weren’t going as planned, I told myself I was “building character.” And all that time I had to go on auditions and perfect my craft? I pilfered it away so worried about going hungry, I could barely make a plan of action. Once I accepted my lot as a starving artist, I became so wedded to the idea I resisted getting a real job for fear it would “tie me down” and prevent me from doing the work I really wanted to do: my art.
I was 22 years old and had a lot to learn about life and art and the way creativity works. I set myself up for failure by refusing to give myself security.
There’s this guy, Abraham Maslow. And he came up with this theory called the Hierarchy of Needs. It goes like this: our needs must be met before we can achieve “self-actualization.” Meaning, we need the basics (food, water, air, shelter, clothing), then safety, then love and belonging, and then respect. Once all these needs are met, we have the freedom to achieve our highest potential. Maslow said,
What a man can be, he must be.
And I agree.
Eventually, I packed up and left that tiny apartment and acting behind. (I really loved that little place, despite the cockroaches. The light coming in the arched windows was just… *sigh*) It wasn’t until I was eating regularly again that I was able to look back and see I could never create in that space. I was too overwhelmed with fear to create anything meaningful.
I resisted getting any kind of regular job. In my mind, a regular job = death. But this is not true at all. Creatively speaking, a regular job = freedom, experience, life, and if you open up to it, flowing creativity. Tweet that! Marie Forleo calls them “bridge jobs.” And bridge jobs, she says, give you “the confidence to take more risks in your business [or art].”
I know for me, I was able to try some unconventional things and then I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I’d be able to feed myself. I knew on account of my ‘bridge job’ if I took a risk and it failed, sure, I’d bruise my ego, but I’d still have a roof over my head. – Marie Forleo
That roof-over-my-head thing is so, so important.
Turns out, acting wasn’t my art at all. I love story-telling and simply got confused about the medium through which I was meant to share. I’m a writer and eventually accepted the pen as my chosen art form. But the lessons I learned as a poor actress have given me the wisdom to think differently about how I live as an artist.
I’ve got a day job now. And it rocks. Why? Not because I like it or because it’s in my chosen line of work (both true), but because it allows me to feed my family and keep a roof over my head. All day ideas tug at my heart and mind. My day job rocks because it gives me the freedom to follow those ideas at night after my boy has gone to bed, to see where they will lead. It rocks because I don’t have to worry about the basics; I can move along to the “self-actualization” part of Maslow’s theory and do the stuff I am meant to do.
So, Artist, I am speaking to you when I say, your day job is fantastic. It’s not embarrassing, burdensome, or degrading (unless, of course, it is – in that case find a new one). It is the roof over your head, it is the food in your belly, and the paid electricity bill that allows you to work. It is the gate through which you bring your art to life. All you gotta do is walk through it.
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