Pursuing the Dream: What They Don’t Tell You [Part 1]

As I alluded in my first post, this transition hasn’t been solely an array of sunshine and butterflies. For all the ups there are inevitable downs, and my story is no different. Every moment of exhilarating empowerment comes with it a moment of doubt, fear, or frustration. There weren’t many concrete details when I embarked on this journey except that I was doing it, it would be an adventure and that it was going to be a steep learning curve. With that latter part in mind I have a feeling there will be more posts similar to the theme of this one, hence the presumptive addition of “Part 1” to my title. However, nearly two months into my quarter-century mark, here’s what I’ve gathered thus far about what they don’t tell you when you decide to take full ownership of your life…

You are ultimately alone. After the high of taking the leap diminishes and the congratulations and well wishes quiet, you are ultimately alone; left with yourself and your dream. Although I am fortunate enough to have a wonderful support system and am definitely not lonesome, I acknowledge this venture is entirely self-driven. Despite having connections or representation I cannot rely solely on others to make my dream a reality. My dream is not their dream and vice versa, thus our ultimate motivations differ. Outside connections are valuable resources, but it’s up to myself, the boss, to decide how to cultivate those resources. As I assert myself as my own boss I am completely responsible for steering myself toward success. That offers a lot of freedom, but also a lot of ambiguity and stress as I craft my day-to-day goals to achieve my overarching goal. I’m learning to become protective of my time. I have to identify and set my priorities. I have to achieve balance within my days, between work time and free time. I drafted my very own work schedule, with non-negotiable work times to ensure I am constantly building my career, and I mentioned this schedule to my friends and family to enforce boundaries during my workdays. I leave gaps within my schedule to allow free time or break time to prevent me from obsessing over my career and guarantee I give myself the necessary time to relax. Pursuing a passion is addicting and exhilarating but can potentially burn you out if you let it consume you. I am simultaneously responsible for pushing myself while also recognizing when I need time to recharge. Establishing and following my own schedule requires an extraordinary amount of self-discipline and it is difficult and exhausting to personally set a professional rhythm.

You are forced to be extremely honest with yourself and your habits. Where are you devoting your time? What are your professional struggles? Where do you excel? Who and what make up your surroundings? How do you react to the ups and downs? How do you talk to yourself? Are you making excuses for yourself? Self-awareness is essential for me in my career, but also for anyone’s venture through life. You must know how you operate. This self-acknowledgment instills a great, indisputable strength that helps you advocate for yourself, both professionally and personally. It provides insight to how you measure your success. Once you know yourself, you can trust yourself.

I discover more about myself as I am tested daily to stay encouraged in a field with thousands of hopefuls just like me. I’m assessing my life and my surroundings with an honest perspective, noticing what’s working and what’s not. I’m taking note of any negative perspectives I possess and try to make them positive. I’m refining what influences me, disconnecting from people, places and tendencies that don’t leave a positive mark on my life. Making those honest realizations becomes quite challenging, especially when longevity becomes a factor. However, understanding that I have the power to decide what influences my life and how is amazing.

Be prepared to network anywhere. I now understand the necessity of self-promotion and recognize promoting myself as a business is a full-time job. And when I say networking can happen anywhere, I mean ANYWHERE. In your front yard, at the grocery store, in a public restroom, in the club, at the train station, just about anywhere you encounter people lies an opportunity to connect. And yes, I’ve made connections in all those aforementioned areas plus more. Be ready and be prepared to network at any time. I heard this advice once before but remember thinking “Surely they don’t mean ALL the time.” They do. Potential connections are everywhere. For instance, by simply updating people at church about my life, I learned a member of the congregation babysat Cindy Crawford and still remains a family friend. At a recent wedding I attended I told a guest I was pursuing acting/modeling and he told me about his work as a crew member for “Empire.” You never know when you’ll make a connection with someone who might be able to offer advice or a lead for you. Now I bring my business cards with me everywhere!

Your phone will drive you crazy. When I began this career change, I had no idea my phone would affect me as drastically as it does. This small, rectangular electronic device determines so much of my day and I despise my newly formed addiction to it. Full disclosure: in the writing of this post alone I have tapped my phone and refreshed my email after every 3-4 minutes. Disgusting, I know. There are days where it doesn’t stop buzzing and there are days where it remains fully charged at 100% because nothing comes through for me. I could spend hours emailing and submitting for auditions or photo shoots and not hear a peep from my phone in return. I keep it close to me at all times in anticipation of a phone call or email for a project but there are also times where I try to trick the universe and separate myself from my phone in the hopes that a project will come through while I’m nowhere near my phone. After all, a watched phone never rings, right?

The ever looming financial fear factor. Despite my low, monthly expenses I can count more money-centered freak-outs in the last month than in the last year. Any artist will tell you the difficulty of making ends meet so I anticipated this to an extent. I’m constantly rotating between being an employed and unemployed actor/model; employed when I’m booked for a project until completing said project and finding myself technically unemployed. When I was out on my first few projects or auditions, instead of enjoying the opportunity to do what I love, I found myself mentally crunching numbers of how long one job could tide me over. That’s not what I want my career to be about and not only does it make me grouchy, but it also inhibits my ability to perform. A wise mentor of mine urges me to stop focusing on the money, “Follow your passion and the money will follow.” Definitely easier said than done, but he highlights the power of mentality. If you don’t make money a concern, it won’t be. Invest in what ignites you and the money will figure itself out, somehow it always does. Our society aligns success with a dollar sign. I’m learning success is relative. It’s personal and while you need enough cash to get by, I realize I don’t need a six-figure paycheck to measure my success. I’m tired of finances ruling my life. Going forward, I’m restructuring my mentality to focus on the art within each project and how each project provides me with a sense of fulfillment and purpose, the best payment I could ask for.

Taxes are more confusing than before. This I did not expect nor think about until I booked my first gig. With normal jobs, portions of your checks are automatically withdrawn and once a year you get all your materials in the mail and file accordingly. I currently have money coming in from multiple sources, from gigs booked by my agent, from gigs I book myself, from an encyclopedia I’m writing for, and proofreading work. All those paychecks come directly to me without taxes withheld. (Please, no one report me. I’m figuring it out, I promise.) Furthermore, I am tracking all work-related expenses, such as mileage to and from auditions or any wardrobe purchases I need to make. I was always told of the difficulty of making money within the arts, but never instructed about what to do with it when it actually started appearing, as far as taxes are concerned. Do I file quarterly now? Or can I still file annually? Can I do that with TurboTax or do I need an accountant? I have yet to find a good guide for this portion of my career and it’s proving to be one of the more frustrating parts of this transition. (If there’s an accountant out there reading this, can you lend me some advice? Please and thank you.)

Self-doubt is persistent and powerful. No matter how confident, driven or self-aware I become self-doubt never leaves completely. It searches relentlessly for any crack in my foundation and seeps in the instant I entertain it. It’s less prevalent than before, I’m proud to say, but I know it will always exist in varying degrees. As an actor/model I’m no stranger to rejection and criticism; that’s part of the industry. You’re told that day one. From these past two months alone, my skin is thicker thanks to a whole new slew of criticisms. Most recently, I met with a director about modeling for a jewelry catalog’s upcoming collection. She was eager to add in a red-haired model and thought my look would be a great fit. When I met with her in person she kept looking at my arms and eventually expressed her concern about my freckles, afraid they would be too distracting for the shoot or create too much work for the editor to eliminate. Needless to say I didn’t get the gig. I left her office shocked. I love my freckles and always considered them an asset and never thought they would hinder my career. I ruminated over that director’s comment much longer than I should have thinking, “Are there other traits of mine that I love that will hold me back?” With that thought, I created a small fissure in my confident foundation. (Remember what I said earlier about knowing yourself and your habits? Allowing scenarios like this to replay in my mind tends to be one of mine.) I foolishly allowed one woman’s opinion take root in my mind and affect how I viewed myself.

There are times I feel terrified by the path I’ve chosen; afraid I won’t succeed, afraid I won’t be enough, doubtful of my own abilities. To combat this tendency of self-doubt is a lifelong mission and requires a strong, positive mentality. I tackle it by envisioning myself in two different settings. First I imagine what my life would be like pursuing an alternative career path, as a teacher, writer, director, anything. I can create the picture but it’s fuzzy and doesn’t feel quite right. I then envision myself acting or modeling, creating an image that comes effortlessly and vividly, electrifying me. That distinction and recognition assures me that despite every fear or criticism that causes me to doubt myself, pursuing this path is the right choice for me. Regardless of any hiccups or frustrations in my plan thus far, I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. I have the privilege of chasing my dreams and I know any struggles and learning curves I face only place me one step closer to success.

With all that in mind, it’s onwards & upwards! Stay tuned for Part 2!

Taking Charge

One day after my 25th birthday, I found myself lingering at the kitchen table sipping a cup of black coffee and taking stock of my life. At a quarter of a century, I am essentially unemployed and still living in my parents’ house in a bedroom that hasn’t changed much since I was 14. Ironically, I could not be more excited by my current position.

Now I understand it’s not an ideal or glamorous scenario. Trust me I am craving my own place, but by the tremendous generosity of my parents I am living at home rent-free while I map the landscape of my new career. Let’s rewind and fill in the gaps on how I found myself here.

A year and a half ago I gained employment working at a company within my field, which as a drama major renders quite the sense of accomplishment. I got along with my coworkers and was generally happy with my position. After six months I accepted a promotion for a full-time position with the company, ecstatic that I was working full time within the arts. However, despite my greatest balancing acts and attempts to devote time to developing my own career aspirations as an actor/model, I lost focus of my dream.

I found myself settling. At the young age of 25, I allowed myself to get comfortable and knew if I continued coasting along, making countless excuses for myself and my ambitions, I might never see my dreams come to fruition; a truly devastating thought. I felt like a fraud, teaching and encouraging my acting students to chase their dreams while I did the opposite. I inadvertently allowed every voice throughout my life that told me I would never become an actor ring victorious because of my own complacency and fear. The time I spent daydreaming as a child of the stories I would tell the world through my acting would prove to be in vain. I felt an overwhelming need to reclaim my life and reset my course in life to ensure I give my best effort to making my dreams a reality. I refuse to find myself in the crippling position of regret many feel later in life as they realized they neglected their dreams.

Thus, I resigned from my full-time position without having anything concrete lined up to support me.

Just to clarify, this career change decision did not happen overnight. My passion for performing first developed when I was 4 years old and I’ve been chasing that dream ever since. The idea to leave my job and finally focus entirely on performing sparked a couple of months prior to the actual execution, and from that moment I began strengthening the foundation for launching my dream career. Luckily I have many financial factors working in my favor which helped with the decision process: I live at home, I don’t have any student loans to pay off, I’m not married and I don’t have any children. My parents taught me to practice frugality and stick to a budget to help manage my small, monthly expenses such as car maintenance and a cell phone bill. From those insights, it was full steam ahead as I made as many preparations as one can possibly make when breaking into the entertainment business: I invested in new headshots. I recorded a new voice-over demo. I started taking networking seriously. I revised my resume. I consulted my mentors. I researched agencies, casting calls, production companies, auditions and the best cities to live in for film and theatre. I made a demo reel. I applied to freelance proofreading and copywriting jobs to help keep me solvent. I made spreadsheets of theatres and their upcoming audition dates and wrote dozens of cover letters for agencies. Miraculously, one day before my last day of steady income, an agency responded and told me they would represent me.

What a whirlwind! Of course, acquiring representation doesn’t offer a tremendous amount of job security, but it offers a starting point. I was bursting at the seams with excitement, basking in the first ray of success by having the courage to give myself a real shot at my dream. Naturally I experienced a myriad of other emotions as well, not all of them positive which I will elaborate on in a separate post, but for the purposes of this first post, let me focus on the initial and the strongest emotions felt when taking charge of your life. I felt total empowerment and a rush of adrenaline as I let my heart take control and act as my guiding force. I allowed my imagination to run rampant, feeling for once the hopes and dreams in my mind were not as unattainable as I previously thought. I grew determined and confident, ready to take the world by storm, hungry to create and share my art with other creative individuals embarking on the same mission. I felt ready.

I’m taking a risk. Correction, a huge risk. For an organized, meticulous planner like myself this is a BIG deal. Although big risks often yield big rewards, the chance for big losses becomes just as probable. Too often we ignore encouragement by teachers, leaders, mentors and society to take a leap and discover what one is truly capable of accomplishing. Instead we opt to play it safe. Follow the safe path, wait for the right time, gather more savings and simply make excuses for ourselves while we “wait” for the right opportunity. But I am tired of playing it safe. Despite any fears and doubts I may have, I am ready to take the risk.

I contemplated the big crossroad in front of me for a considerable amount of time before, like Robert Frost, ultimately choosing the road less traveled to give myself this chance. I am making the choice to advocate for myself and ask the world for what I want. I may get it and I may not. No matter the outcome, I have already succeeded because I chose to try. I owe myself this chance, as I believe everyone does. I will never find a perfect time to pursue my aspirations, and that realization propels me to try now.

Despite any moment of doubt or criticism, of congratulations or applause, whether from others or myself, I believe we can all agree that my choice will lead to a great adventure. And at the end of the day isn’t that what everyone wants?

So, here’s to a quarter century & here’s to adventure!