As you may have seen last week, I’m working on a series of posts dedicated to young creatives. There are so many things I wish I had been told as a young creative (and so many things I was told that weren’t helpful).
Today I wanted to talk about the feeling I had when I was younger that if my goals changed, it meant I was a failure.
When I was 15 I decided I wanted to become a professional Stage Manager. At a young age, I started to craft my entire life around this identity. I transferred high schools so I could concentrate more time on this (to an arts school), during the summers I worked minimum wage jobs and saved as much as I could so I could participate in national theatrical conferences between school semesters. I made sure my GPA was stellar so I would be able to get scholarships to respected private arts schools post high school graduation. And all of the dominoes fell into place when I won a national scholarship contest and got into my ‘dream school’ with the understanding that I wanted to follow a path to becoming a Stage Manager.
My first semester in college I was able to take all kinds of creative courses alongside my general studies- art and design, art history, theatrical history, a practicum in the technical scene shop. And I loved all of them! I told my faculty advisor that I was interested in trying out all kinds of things during my four years at this school and their immediate response was resistance. They told me that I should only be concentrating on this one thing (becoming a professional stage manager) and that my time in college should be dedicating to building those skills, not exploring other things. On top of it, they made me feel guilty and began insinuating that the only reason I’d received the special scholarship from their program was because they needed people interested in Stage Management.
I felt ashamed, embarrassed, and deflated.
The rest of my time during school was a struggle. I was paying a HUGE amount of money I didn’t have (thanks student loans!) to finish a program I now resented on some level.
After I graduated, I moved to NYC and started working professionally as a Stage Manager and Production Assistant. But I was lucky enough to have friends who encouraged me to try all kinds of other things with my time too, from directing to making visual artwork to writing grants to training in physical theatre. And even though I really enjoyed all of those things, I felt like I wasn’t allowed to change my goals because if I did, it would mean in some way I had failed.
I mean, wasn’t that what the faculty had said to me in college? And didn’t they know better than I did being ‘accomplished’ and in their 50’s and me just being a dumb 21 year old?
Fast forward a decade or so to my move to Chicago when I finally joined AEA, the Professional Union that represents Stage Managers and Actors and I started doing touring Stage Management with a respected professional theatre.
I had made it, right?
Truthfully, those were some of the loneliest months of my life. I realized a few gigs in that I really hated travelling for work. I hated being responsible for decisions that other people made (like if an actor decided to party all night and miss a flight, somehow that was on me). I hated having to sleep somewhere new every other night. And it was emotionally exhausting to make so much small talk at each venue with each new crew we encountered. (FYI it took me another 5 years to figure out I was an introvert….!)
Deep down I knew this wasn’t a good fit for me, but I felt ashamed.
This was what I had been working towards since I was FIFTEEN. This is what all my mentors and advisors had told me I was good at. This was WHO I WAS.
At this time I was doing some more Production Coordination work and began to transition out of touring. I thought oh good, this will be the big change I need!
Wrong. Even though there are lots of parts of my new position in the theatre I enjoyed, I started to have this nagging feeling like I was supposed to do something else. But I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone, and even if I did, what would I do?
I hated working nights, I wasn’t making enough money to get out of my school debt, and I was on call 24/7 because I was coordinating the travel of a number of theatrical touring companies.
But because it was such a prestigious position at a really well known venue, I convinced myself that if I left that job I would be a total failure. That my friends would think I was worthless. That I wouldn’t be interesting anymore.
I was lucky because the decision was made for me–my position was eliminated.
And at that moment I made a pretty rash decision to relocate back to Vegas. I’d avoided thoughts of moving home because again–my goal had always been to live in a big city far from the west coast, and if that goal changed, I thought of myself as unsuccessful.
But in losing my ‘dream job’ I had a taste of freedom and I wanted more.
When we moved home to Las Vegas I spent a few months still working in theatre. But it felt terrible. This was also about 4-5 months into my sobriety.
One night in a bout of personal desperation I just said Fuck It.
If I could move to Vegas, if I could be sober for the first time in 15 years, I could do something different.
I worked odd jobs here and there, and then was given the unforeseen opportunity to manage admin for an art gallery.
Why not try?
Since then, I’ve been working in visual art administration in various capacities. And I have to say I’ve never looked back.
My work schedule is MUCH better. I have time and space for a family (which I never had when I worked in theatre). I make better money. I don’t have to travel for work, I can travel for fun. I don’t have to worry about whether an actor was going to make their flight or not, or if a venue is going to have the right kind of juice in their green room for someone.
I feel like I can have hobbies again!
Why did I resist this change for so long?
Because I thought that if I changed my goals, I’d failed.
The more space I get from my other career and the more I reflect on why I was afraid of change, the more I wish someone had told me that a change in goals is healthy.
We SHOULD want something different than we wanted at 15. If we don’t, then we haven’t grown!
And that’s not to say if you’re out there and happy with your lifelong goals that you’re wrong. Not at all.
But I think there are so many of us that feel trapped in the person we were when we were younger and don’t allow ourselves the space to change for fear of judgment from others about our ‘success’.
I guess if you’re out there and need to hear the words I needed when I was young but no one said to me, I want to tell you this.
Your goals change change.
You’re not a failure if you want to try something new.
Leaving behind something that doesn’t make you happy anymore does not mean you didn’t succeed.
No one actually cares as much as you do.
That last one was really important for me because I felt like I was letting ‘someone’ (like an imaginary someone, I’m not even really sure who?) down if I changed my life path. But the truth was–no one cared. And that’s a really beautiful kind of freedom.