Deep Thoughts: Careers
A’ight, you guys. Thanks for giving me your blessing to proceed with posting my Deep Thoughts. In fact, I created a special category for these posts on my blog, so you know right away when shit’s about to get all contemplative up in here, and you can read on/navigate away to Selleck Waterfall Sandwich accordingly.
But first: an update! Remember how I was going to audition for a show, and then it snowed and the audition was canceled? And then it got rescheduled, and I was shitting my frilly little drama pants with nerves about the new and improved audition? Well, I ended up not making it to THAT audition either, because (GUESS WHAT) it fucking snowed again that night too. BUT: as I have worked with the fine folks producing this show before, they gave me a call and asked me to read at the callbacks. Score! So I sloshed downtown amidst the snow and ice and gave a reading. SO much fun, and I was so glad to have the opportunity to get out and audition again, because I am a massive nerd. Fast forward a few days, when I got a call telling me I got the mothafuckin’ PART, yo! It’s a small part, but it is by all accounts an awesome show, and I cannot wait to get started in April.
This update actually segues quite nicely into this Deep Thoughts entry, because today I’ll be talking about careers.
a.k.a. CAREERS: IM DOIN IT RONG
Like most young kids, I had some grand ideas growing up about what I’d want to do for a living. Thanks to a Dr. Seuss-themed “All About Me” book that my parents still have, there is hard and fast proof that I gave some serious, 8-year-old thought to being a flight attendant or a veterinarian. But I would be remiss not to share with you my very first career goal, which I remember coming up with after watching a “J is for…” segment on Sesame Street:
(In my defense, jaguars are badass. And in hindsight, this career goal was probably more attainable than my chosen path of “actor.”)
I liked school, and good grades came easily to me. It wasn’t until junior high and the advent of Algebra that I started to struggle in math (a struggle that would result in me earning a D in Trigonometry despite having two private tutors), but despite this I was still on the honor roll.
I remember having an ABSOLUTELY ABSURD “four year plan” meeting with my parents and a counselor in 8th grade, during which everyone discussed my grades and the counselor asked my parents to help me decide on a fucking CAREER PLAN so that I could focus my upcoming high school years accordingly. I distinctly recall my Dad being all “She’s in 8th grade, jackass,” to which the counselor responded with a long, pre-rehearsed speech about how important it was to have direction during these years and blah blah blah better take Calculus. My parents told me afterwards not to stress out about knowing what I wanted to do with my life that very instant, and I was relieved. And then I probably went to a yearbook staff meeting or got a perm or whatever the hell it was I did when I was in 8th grade.
The career-related shit only got more intense when I entered high school. My school was very academically competitive; it wasn’t uncommon for each graduating class to have several ivy league-bound overachievers, and I’m still impressed when I think about how many of my classmates are doctors today. There was significant pressure to enroll in college placement (AP) classes, and I felt a certain amount of shame in the fact that the only AP class I took (because it was the only one in which I knew I’d have a chance at getting an A) was AP English.
Even though – as it turned out – I suffered through term papers about Cry, the Beloved Country and Beowulf only to get to college and realize that I didn’t need an English credit in my major, which rendered my fucking AP credit useless. WEEEE!
My insecurity about AP classes (and my ineptitude at math) aside, I did well in high school. I had dreams of becoming a lawyer early on (for no other reason than it just seemed grown-up, I think), which morphed into dreams of being a politician (based on a weekend trip to DC which spurred fantasies of working in all those fancy, columned buildings), but pretty soon I settled on art and theatre. I felt a little strange when I compared myself to my AP Calculus and AP Biology friends who seemed so casually confident about their medical school goals (I make the same good grades! I’m just as smart!), but I knew in my heart that I didn’t want to go in that direction. So off to theatre school I went. And I got cast in a show immediately!
Being a theatre major was a lot different than my academically-charged high school environment, naturally, but there was that same underlying optimism, that feeling of being able to achieve and succeed if you just worked hard enough and got good grades. After all, benchmarks of success aren’t hard to come by in school: getting an A on a test, earning a part in a play, being praised for creative thinking in class – it’s everywhere. Why wouldn’t you think the world is at your feet?
At the beginning of my junior year, I had a very uncharacteristic moment of uncertainty about my major. It was mostly due to my mother’s constant worries about my post-graduation plans (“Why don’t you switch majors to Arts Administration? Then you’ll be able to find a job!” “Because I’m an ACTOR, Mom, GOD!”), but I panicked and decided to take up a minor…in Communications.
Yes, Communications. The degree second only to Theatre in its vagueness and uselessness. This was my safety net.
A week into my Communications minor (long enough for me to have sat through two horrifically boring two-hour evening classes about…something. Communicating? I don’t know), I dropped it. Feeling flaky and aimless, I made an appointment to talk to my advisor, who was also my very favorite director and acting teacher, Russell.
Our conversation went like this:
Me: I think I need a back up plan.
Russell: What in God’s name for?
Me: Because…I might need a job?
Russell: You have a job. It’s being an actor.
Me: I like animals, and there’s a two year veterinary tech program at [college two hours away]…
Russell: You’re an actor.
Me: But –
Russell: You like animals? Go get cast in a show where you play a veterinarian – maybe some James Herriot adaptation or something. That’ll get it out of your system.
Me: What if –
Russell: YOU’RE AN ACTOR.
And Internet, I knew he was right. I definitely had other interests – astronomy, Egyptology, even fucking equine management, for Christ’s sake – but there was only one thing I really wanted to do for the long run. Just like my friends who knew their skills = doctor or scientist, I knew my skills = actor, and that was that.
I’ve already written at length about what happened after college, and while I’m mostly at peace with where I’ve ended up acting-wise, sometimes when I re-frame my life in more traditional terms and realize that I do not and most likely will not ever have an actual career…
Bear with me here, Internet, because this is where my thoughts get very disorganized and rapid-fire and hard to communicate.
These attacks of OMG NO CAREER hit me every 6 months or so, and are usually brought on by something like, oh, asking to book travel for someone at work. Someone younger than me who has a Ph.D. Someone who wanted a career in whatever discipline, then went to school, worked for it, and achieved it. And then I think:
- I could have done that.
- But I didn’t.
- But I didn’t want to.
- Did I?
- Or I guess I DID, but then I dropped out.
- I blew my chance.
- BUT I WANTED TO!
And then I realize that part of what’s rankling me is my hurt pride. I wonder if the person I work for looks at me and thinks I was probably just not smart enough to do anything other than this job; that I had no other ambitions. I feel desperate to let them know I’m just as capable as they are, that I can probably spell better and read faster and think more creatively. I just didn’t feel the drive to put my skills to use in a way that would win me a high powered job or a lot of initials after my name. And it’s obvious the person who has the biggest issue with this is me, not them.
The obvious solution, then, would be to just fucking suck it up and GET a damn career already, right? If it’s such a fucking big deal to me? But Internet, as I admitted to Brad a few weeks ago, even if you told me I could go to school for any degree absolutely free of charge, I can’t think of a thing in the world I’d actually have the drive to study. Sure, I’d like my MFA just because it bugs me that I didn’t get the first time around, but it’s not like I’d actually DO anything with it. I don’t want to teach, I don’t want to uproot my family to act, I just…I don’t know. I don’t think I want anything career-wise, and I don’t know what that says about me.
Most days, I’m OK with this. I’m OK with my very ordinary office job (the only kind of job I have the experience to get), because it allows me to act and pay the bills. But so help me, I can’t help but wonder if my high school friends – all lawyers and doctors and scientists and professionals – look down on me. Feel sorry for me. Although, like the situation with my coworkers, chances are I’m probably just doing those things to myself.
My mother and I had an argument in the car (always the best place for unsteady emotions) one day during The Year That Will Live in Infamy. I was complaining about the office job at the bank that I’d taken in order to save up for our wedding and grad school (HAR HAR HAR). I’m entirely confident I was being unreasonable and overly dramatic, but I felt like such a sell-out. Working as a glorified receptionist after four years in college being a SERIOUS AC-TOR was, like, SO humiliating, Mom, GOD! So, yeah, I can understand why my mother had little patience for fucking Meryl Streep over here, but I felt so trapped at that job (even though it was always just a temporary arrangement). I felt like the world was seeing me as someone I wasn’t, someone I never, ever wanted to be. I pouted and wailed about how this job WAS SO NOT ME, and my mother told me to suck it up (as she should have). Internet, sometimes I still feel like I am that annoying, petulant 22-year-old, whining in the car to her mother when it comes to my work situation. Except I’m 11 years older. Holy shit, if 22-year-old me could fast forward 11 years and see that I was still working an office job?
So here’s what I want to know: people who are dentists and doctors and lawyers and such – those jobs that take years of studying and commitment and preparation – did they always just know they were born to drill teeth/examine unsavory body bits/use words like “tort”? Some of my high school friends have been on the medical school track since age 15. Now, I’m pretty sure we all change pretty drastically in the years between 15 and 33…
…so how is it that they managed to forge ahead through all those radical personal changes and pursue the career they wanted back before they could legally drive? Because I don’t understand that shit. Are they just more determined? Genetically predisposed to not having changing tastes or aspirations? Just really, really stoked about having to probe strangers’ no-no parts?
But for every friend I have who’s managed to sail smoothly along in a single career track, I have another friend who, like me, still doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. And because I was alive and had ears in the late 90s (and especially because I was graduating from college at around that time), this reminds me of that annoying Sunscreen Song. You know, the one that sounds like a commencement speech set to a Casio keyboard, and trots out the old “Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don’t.”
(Also: how much do I love this photo? LOTS.)
Anyway, I guess I take comfort in that particular quote…but then I feel immediately pathetic for doing so. Because doesn’t that quote just reek of defensiveness? I can’t help but feel pretty damn sure the person who first uttered those words did so between sobs as he watched Judge Judy in his stained bathrobe at 3pm on a Tuesday.
I don’t know, Internet. What do you think? How do you feel about this? Any of you have one of those fancy careers I’ve heard so much about? Do you love it? Is it worth it?
Sometimes I feel like I wasted my potential, and that I owed it to my family to force myself into a successful career of some sort (no matter if I liked it or not) because they worked so hard to make my life so nice and to send me to college to earn a degree. I think about my parents and grandparents, whose main concern in life was not following their dreams, for fuck’s sake, but securing a steady job and providing for their family. They worked hard so that I could have the luxury of having and pursuing dreams, and I…fucked it up. Would I have been more successful with less opportunity? With less choices? Would I have been a more successful person if, like my parents and grandparents, I had fewer options when I graduated from high school? Is anyone out there still following this COMPLETELY INSANE line of thought?
I don’t really know how to wrap this up, except to say that – regardless of how much this career thing eludes and frustrates me – I think I’ve made the right decisions in my life when I look at where I am and who I’ve got there beside me.
*Do you guys remember Jaleesa? And Whitley? And Freddie?! They all seemed SO OLD AND MATURE to me back then, but in looking back at production shots from the show, they are BABIES, you guys. Sunrise, Sunset. Dwayne, Wayne.
Entry filed under: Deep Thoughts.