You are more than your job
With everyone sitting at home day after day it occurred to me that some people may be feeling what I was feeling a few years ago when I voluntarily left my job. I questioned my worth if I wasn't in the rat race. I felt worthless for a while after changing directions. So I hope my experience can benefit someone else. Here's a blog I wrote about finding self worth as an actor.
I felt like shit. I tried to say positive, but I felt like a worthless bum. It was 8:00am and I was walking toward the park for my morning exercise. This was my new routine. Getting up at 6:00, working out, exercising, eating and then going to walk the park. Almost everyone else was rushing toward the subway. Many had coffee, wet hair, and kind of unhappy looks. They were going to work. They had jobs. I didn’t. I had voluntarily left my job as an ESL teacher in Japan and decided to return to NYC and build a career as an actor.
I made that decision a year earlier. While still living and working in Japan, I decided to close out one chapter of my life and try to open a new one. I was no longer going to be a teacher. I was going to be an actor. I was actually going to return to NYC for the second time in my life and build a career as an actor. The first time I was 23. I chickened out when the financial going got tough and settled for a corporate job. And after 13 years was laid off. There’s a lesson there kids. Don’t settle for a job you don’t have passion for because it might be taken away someday and you’ll feel like you wasted time being a coward.
In late summer 2012 I told my company that I would not be seeking a new contract with them. I waited until the last possible minute to make my decision to throw my life up in the air and see where it landed. I finished my contract, going through the motions, and spending evenings watching Youtube videos of former VP of Casting for HBO Amy Jo Berman. I had never heard anyone talk like her. She seemed to mix practical audition and career advice for actors with information about the right mindset for an actor. It sounded a lot like The Secret which I had read a few years earlier. So I watched all of her videos and my confidence to step into the life of an actor grew.
A few months before I had to leave Japan, I was offered a place to live when I got back to New York. A furnished, affordable, beautiful room in my friends apartment conveniently located between a subway station and the park where we played tennis all the time. Perfect. I slowly emptied my apartment in Japan. I contacted an acting school in New York and signed up for classes. I gave away most of my things. I left Japan with a backpack and a laptop. I kind of had to travel light. I was stopping in Italy for a week as I was moving from Japan back to New York. That was for my dual citizenship paperwork which is another story. But it was hard, and more than a bit traumatic, to leave the life I had built over the last decade and take the biggest chance of my life in my forties. But it really seemed like once I made the decision, everything started falling into place. And I believe that the universe responds to courage. It assists.
A few months later I was walking to the park in the morning, in the exact opposite direction of everyone else. They were going to work. I was going to walk the park and listen to my iPod. I felt like a crumb. I felt worthless. I wasn’t raised that way. I was raised to work hard. I was raised to work every day. I was raised to do everything my family has always done. I wasn’t doing it. Why do I feel bad? I know I’m doing the right thing for myself, for my heart. So why do I have these negative feelings about myself now? The reason was because I hadn’t reset my internal value. I guess for my whole life I had tied my value to the number of hours I worked and the amount of money I made. When I was a kid our school gave out prizes for perfect attendance. Consistency and showing up every day mean I’m valuable. Only now, I had no where to show up. And I wouldn’t have anywhere to be unless and until I could get something moving in my acting career. I had to get some auditions. And as you know, that in itself is a job. I had to create my own content so I started writing, shooting ,editing. And between that and my classes, I started to feel like an actor. Then something shifted.
I remember the first time I said “I’m an actor” in response to “what do you do?” Turning point.
I became aware that the lifestyle of an actor was something that I would struggle with. Actors work sometimes and then they don’t work for a while. Then maybe they work again. Maybe not. I was going to have to find a way to be emotionally stable, physically stable, financially stable in the face of a sporadic work schedule. I was accepting a lifetime of instability. I examined how much my self worth was tied to winning the rat race. And it really was. I was bummed. I had already faced so much fear by leaving my job and moving back to NY that I didn’t know how I was going to become comfortable with only working sometimes. I wasn’t in the rat race anymore and it was disorienting. And noticing everyone race to the subway in the morning was the first step in building my self worth as an actor.
I still struggle from time to time and it’s taken a while to value the new me. I now see myself and my value much differently than I did when I was working 9 to 5. I often feel now that if I can make people laugh during the day, then I’m successful. And if I can do it during an audition, even better. And when I get paid for it? Well, all the fear was worth it.
Now when I walk to the park in the morning and see everyone else going the other way - toward the subway, toward their jobs - I don’t feel less than. I don’t feel worthless. Now I feel brave. Now I feel strong. I feel like I’m on an adventure.
The other thing I’ll mention, which has helped, is that I started my own business when I returned to NY because I knew I had to control my schedule and finances in order to control my acting career. So that was difficult because running a business was never something that had never occurred to me. I had to learn a lot about business. I found mentors and online help and my business has grown yearly. And I can see the parallels between running a business and running an acting career. I think I’ll spend the rest of my life chasing the next customer and the next gig. Someone cleverer than me coined the term ‘actorpreneur’ and I like it. It’s what we have to be.