Tomorrow is big for me. Huge in fact. Because I’m not only starting a new job: I’m starting a new career.
From age 4 I always knew I wanted to be an Actress. I diligently went to all my dance and drama classes for 14 years and educated myself on what it takes to make it in the performing arts industry. I never had any doubt as to the path I was taking. It was just a simple fact – I am going to drama school and I am going to become a professional actress. These classes I went to throughout my childhood and teen years were often the only places that I felt safe from my peers at school. I could express myself and be creative without fear of ridicule. I felt free. And the passion that I felt for performing was all consuming. Through the years I had too many people to count telling me that I would “need a backup plan, just in case things don’t work out” and every time I would smile and say “Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing”. They didn’t get it. I didn’t need a backup plan because there was nothing else that I wanted to do – I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was my calling. I would find a way to survive on little-to-no pay. I would find a way to deal with the rejection I would receive on a daily basis. As long as I got to do what I was passionate about, I would be happy.
Needless to say my hard work paid off and I got into a world famous drama school in my first year of auditioning. I attended this school for three years and graduated with top achievements and grades. While I trained, my passion and drive never wavered. There were peers around me that struggled with the pressure, some who didn’t make it to graduation, some who doubted their career choice and themselves. But this never seemed to happen to me – or if it did it passed too quickly to note. I was as prepared as I could be for graduate life as an actress.
And then my sister died.
And suddenly there was no joy in what I did. It all seemed like the most stupid and fickle thing I could possibly be doing with my life. She was always one of my biggest champions and believed without any shadow of a doubt that I would make it. I felt as though without her here to see it, there was absolutely no point. My voice closed up. I could no longer sing like I used to. Suddenly everything that had always been so effortless and natural to me took so much work. If anyone I went to drama school with reads this they will probably be surprised to learn how much I struggled. That’s because it’s always been my nature to guard my emotions closely. I never cry in public. I never show that I’m struggling. My coping mechanism was to pretend that I was absolutely fine. To the outside world it looked as if I was dealing with everything really well. Maybe I was, but it didn’t feel that way on the inside.
After graduating I spent a year not really doing much. I got a day job in a Bookshop. I attended singing lessons to try and remove the block on my voice (which never truly left). I went to a bit of therapy. I submitted myself for a few auditions and never got any replies. Everything I did was half-hearted and I felt like a failure. A failure before I’d even begun. People say that time heals all. They’re wrong. Time doesn’t heal, but it does teach. Over that first year I learned how to cope with my loss. I learned how to begin living with it. And finally I was ready to make a real go at my career.
The year after that was significantly better. I got an agent who really believed in me. I started going to auditions. I got a few jobs. I met new people and made new life long friends. I finally got to do a bit of what I had been training my whole life for.
It wasn’t enough.
I still felt as though I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I spent more time waiting to be graced with an audition from the mighty casting gods than actually getting to do what I loved. I tried doing my own projects and taking charge of my own career. But it just wasn’t fulfilling. I could spend months waiting for any sort of audition. And even then I never got close to the auditions that I really coveted – projects I really wanted to be a part of. I spent a lot of time angry. Angry that I wasn’t even being given a chance to fail, let alone succeed. I had poured my entire life and all my energy into something that wasn’t giving me anything back. Because even the moments I was performing, it wasn’t worth the months and months of turmoil and waiting and hurt. And if I’m being completely honest with myself – the spark of passion I felt for this career went out with my sister.
For half a year I slogged on in a career that was making me miserable. Because I felt an obligation to keep going with the thing that I had dedicated my entire life to. Because my parents had paid disgusting amounts of money towards my education. Because everyone was rooting for me. Because for the largest percentage of my life I had felt more certain than anything this was what I was supposed to be doing.
Meanwhile, throughout all of this I had continued to work at my bookshop. I had slowly worked my way up the company and was now running the Children’s section within one of the largest bookshops in London. I went from being someone who was actively adverse to reading, who watched the film of every book I was supposed to read for English in school – to an avid reader and a lover of all things books, particularly Children’s books. Although I wasn’t a reader growing up, I still had a childhood that was full of stories. I loved rediscovering and working with all the books that I had enjoyed as a child. And the feeling I got when I would match a child up with a book I knew they were going to love was a really special thing. But every time I was given a promotion or new responsibilities at work I felt guilty. I shouldn’t be good at this, it was only supposed to be a day job to help pay my rent. But as time went on I couldn’t deny that I was beginning to become more interested in the world of books and publishing than I was with emailing what felt like the 600th casting director that month. I was more excited about a particular upcoming book release than a new show coming to the west-end. More likely to go to a book convention than the theatre. It is something I grappled with for months. Something that made me feel incredibly guilty and very confused about what I wanted to do in life.
The second I made the decision to put acting to one side and try to get a job in publishing I felt as if a weight had been lifted off my chest. I felt relieved and settled. I put myself out there and created a LinkedIn account. Within a week a Recruiter, who had the perfect job for me within a publishing company that was so prevalent in my childhood, approached me. I interviewed and got the job. It was all so fluid and effortless that it felt as if this is exactly what I was supposed to be doing at this time. It’s as if the universe wanted it so.
This does not make me a failure. I didn’t fail at acting. I didn’t give up. I simply decided to stop putting my self worth and my future into the hands of total strangers that didn’t care about me – and move on to pursue another path that I felt equally passionate about. This also doesn’t mean that I am no longer an Actress. Changing career doesn’t take away the years of training that I did and it doesn’t take away the talent that I have. It will always be there should I ever decide it is right for me to go back. I’m not running away scared, on the contrary, this is the bravest decision that I have ever made.
I hope that anyone who may be grappling with the same thoughts that I was gets a chance to read this and know you are not alone. You are not weak and you are not a failure. It’s your damn life and you have a right to do with it as you want. You do not live for others. Do what makes you happy, what makes you passionate and what keeps you driven. You are not obligated to spend your life doing the thing you’ve been trained in. Life is long and there is plenty of time to have all the adventures you want.
I start my new journey tomorrow – and I can’t bloody wait.