Planning, Reflections

Unexpected Changes

This past weekend, I made a pretty big public announcement: I’m pregnant!

While this new development isn’t a complete shock (without going into too much detail, Ryan and I have been in a “not trying, not preventing” stage during this sabbatical), it was a bit unexpected … to be expecting (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

And though I shared this big news with the world recently, I have obviously known about for quite a while. One of the first things that crossed my mind when I found out — what does this mean for my sabbatical?

No plans are set in stone (nothing really is), but here are a few early thoughts:

It may be even longer until I go back to work full time

I know this seems a bit counterintuitive — “you have a baby on the way, you guys need to bring in more income!” And to a certain extent, there’s a lot of truth to that sentiment. Babies are expensive. And on top of that, there’s the whole health care issue.

But here’s my counterargument: If I was willing to take time off for myself, to explore my passions and what’s the right path for me, why wouldn’t I do the same thing to spend time with my child? And why would I rush back to a full time job I don’t love and put myself in that miserable state again. Not too be too hippy about it, but I don’t want that negative juju around my baby.

But I might be more focused about my career exploration

Not long ago, I was writing about my doubts on interior design. I had found that I wasn’t dedicating as much time as I thought I would to my class projects. I took that as a sign that I wasn’t passion enough about it. I doubted whether or not I would continue my studies, and I was ready to flitter to the next career path.

But a switch got flipped as soon as I found out I was pregnant. I focused my time and energy to my classes and found that, when afforded those mental resources, I really did enjoy my interior design classes. And on top of that, this program provides a great foundation on knowledge and a clear pathway to make connections and enter into the field.

I’m not saying that I have 100% chosen interior design as my new path and given up on the other possibilities. I’m just determined to spend more time, energy and focus to this exploration (as well as any other future paths) before giving up on it. So, I have already registered for summer and fall classes.

I’m determined not to let this derail me

It’s a common tale: plans get put on hold when you have a baby. And what we really see all too often is: plans get put on hold indefinitely when you have a baby.

I will tell you this now — I am NOT giving up on finding that career path I’m passionate about. Yes, it might be a slower and longer journey than I anticipated. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw my hands in the air and just go back to the same old boring marketing work I was doing before just because it’s the safe and secure decision.

Because more than owing to myself, I owe to my child to set an example for them. To show them what it means to live a life of passion. Of fearless exploration. Of hopeful risk. Of audacious dreaming. Of determination and ambition that refuses to be shackled by the “normal” path, social expectations, and practicality.

Reflections

Small Victories

I was straightening up my bedroom yesterday and going through a pile of old stuff when I came across a tiny notepad.

Now, I have a penchant for collecting small notepads and journals, so I expected this to be yet another blank one I had yet to use. But when I cracked it open, I was surprised to find there was already some writing inside.

I peered down in amusement at the pages of bulleted notes, and quickly I remember what I had used this notepad for.

At the beginning of 2018, I made a number of New Year’s resolutions. I kept them small and manageable; things like “do Duolingo lessons every day”, “read a little from a book every day”, “no electronics after 9 pm”.

And another resolution was to write down my accomplishments for the day, each night before I went to bed. They didn’t have to be big things. They didn’t have to be anything life-changing. They didn’t even have to be things that others would consider accomplishments. They just had to be the things that I was proud of.

There were big(ish) things like:

  • Did a long walk at Point Isabel.
  • Organized all of the jewelry, purses and accessories for my Out of the Closet donation.
  • I did a mortgage loan application and got pre-approved for more than I thought.

But there were also the small things:

  • I took the recycling out by myself.
  • I called my dad.
  • I put together a nice outfit.

Like many of my resolutions that year, the exercise didn’t last long. I don’t quite remember why. I probably just got busy. I perhaps forgot to do it one night and the habit was broken.

But I do remember that when I was documenting these small victories, I felt good about the day I had just gone through. It was a peaceful, positive way to end the day. And it’s got me thinking that it might be a good activity to resurrect.

There have been weeks during this sabbatical when I felt like I didn’t accomplish much. Like I haven’t made progress and I’m no closer to discovering the path that’s right for me. I mean, it’s not every week you work on a film shoot or launch a podcast.

People say it’s a good idea to write down the things that are worrying you or stressing you out, right before you go to bed (and yes, I should probably take up that practice, too). But I think there is also a benefit to reflecting the things I’ve accomplished that day – big or small.

These things won’t always be related to my sabbatical. In fact, there will likely be quite a few days when my accomplishments are solely centered around personal, family or creative goals that have nothing to do with my career exploration.

And yes, there might be days when I forget to do this exercise altogether. But I don’t want to let that derail me from taking more time to sit back, reflect, and appreciate the small victories.

Reflections

Milestones

This is my 52nd blog post. And having published two posts each week since the start, that means I’ve been on my sabbatical and keeping up this blog for half a year!

This achievement got me thinking of other milestones I’ve hit during this sabbatical:

But in addition to looking back, milestones are also a good time to take stock, look ahead, and think about how I want to continue on in this journey. Some new things I want to tackle in the next six months:

  • Do an internship or part-time work in one of the careers areas I’m exploring, in order to get real-world experience.
  • Take on at least one freelance gig so that I can better understand that process.
  • Put together a business plan for at least one of the many entrepreneurial endeavors I have in mind.
  • Create my acting website.
  • Overcome technological limitations to plan, shoot and edit my first full film.

Another big change moving forward: for the time being, I’m going to scale back my blogs to once a week, every Friday.

I find that I’ve gotten to the point where my exploration of careers is now more in-depth and drawn out. This means I don’t always have new discoveries multiple times a week, and I’ve often found myself digging for blog post ideas. I hope that by switching to once a week, I can dedicate the time to writing more thoughtful and meaningful posts.

So with that … see you next Friday!

Reflections

Workspaces

Yesterday, I went to go work at my husband’s shop. Well, not work for them, but just to use their space to get some school work done. This is the large warehouse where I filmed the Christmas presents DIY video. I had a couple projects to work on for my interior design classes, and I wanted a bit more space and better surfaces to work on than what is available at home.

The drafting table at my husband’s work was perfect for my floor plan assignment.

It got me thinking about workspaces. What do I want in a new workspace? I definitely have thoughts and opinions about what I don’t want, based on previous offices. Ironically, it seems the higher I went up in my career, the worse the workspace got.

When I first got started as a development assistant at a nonprofit, I had my own cubicle. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was nice having walls and a lot of desk space. It helped me concentrate on the tasks at hand. But as I continued on in my career, I found myself more and more in open office spaces.

Open offices seem to be very trendy, especially in the tech world. Companies tout bullshit, like: they are trying to foster an open culture. But really they’re just trying to save space and money. These workspaces make it very hard to concentrate, and at my last job, I found myself often booking conference rooms or finding a quiet corner just to have some peace and quiet.

I really loved working at the shop yesterday. I was comfortable and got a lot done. The day really flew by! Part of it was probably the type of work I was doing. I was working mostly with my hands and not so much on a computer. But I think it is also the environment. First, I had large workspaces where I could spread out my supplies. Secondly, I was surrounded by creative projects — sets here, props there. I could feel the energy of creativity and imagination.

Obviously, my future workplace will depend a lot on the type of work I choose to do. But I think I will want it to be something different from the traditional office workspace. Much like I hope to have variety in the type of tasks I do, I hope there is a variety in the workspaces I use. Maybe I work at a standing drafting table for some of my tasks, then I move over to a larger craft table for other assignments, and then maybe I’ll move over to a traditional desk for some quick computer work. And it would also be nice to change up locations every now and then.

All I know is that I don’t want to be just stuck sitting at a desk all day.

Reflections

Update: Sabbatical & Career Exploration

In reality, I don’t really have a — just more of a general direction (or directions!) I want to head in.

It has been almost six months since I started my sabbatical and embarked on this pursuit to explore nine different careers that have always piqued my interest. I wanted to take some time to reflect on my experience so far.

Thoughts on Careers

Video Producer

I had quite a few opportunities to learn more about video production. I worked on a full film shoot and got a great filmmaking 101 overview. I even tried my hand at making a couple of videos on my own; however, limitations with technology prevented me from completing the projects.

In general, I find it more energizing working on these videos projects as part of a larger team. Doing the video shoots on my own got a bit overwhelming and eventually became a slog.

There were also pieces of filmmaking that I discovered I really enjoyed — writing and set dressing. I’d love to see how much opportunity there is (at least in this market) to specialize in those areas.

I don’t think becoming an independent video producer is the path for me. However, I could see myself enjoying working as part of a larger video production team.

Web Developer

Web development was the first thing I tackled during this sabbatical. I already had a little background on web development through my past jobs, and there are a ton of free online resources to learn more about the craft.

I went through training on freeCodeCamp. While I found the lessons helpful and easy to get through, when it came to the end-of-unit final projects, I found I didn’t have much motivation to get them done.

I just don’t think that web development provides the creative outlet I’m looking for in my work. While I could see myself doing it for a portion of my job, I don’t think I would find it energizing doing solely web development work.

Content Creator

This is the area of my exploration that has been the most varied because content creation can cover a wide array of media and outlets. While I initially put this career on my list with video in mind (inspired by my favorite YouTube channels), it’s actually been the podcast and this blog that has given being the most insight into the full lifecycle of a content creator.

I look forward to continuing on with the podcast. Once again, it’s been really energizing to work on that project because it’s a team of us. While we all have our special focuses, we always pitch in to help one another and do what it takes to get the job done.

I’m also interested in continuing my exploration of writing. I want to look into some more freelance writing work, particularly freelance blog-writing work. I think the tone of blogs better fits my writing style over more formal, business writing.

Furniture Upcycler

I have not yet explored this career path; it’s definitely the one that will require the most resources, both time and materials. However, through my exploration of interior design, I’ve already been thinking of expanding and/or pivoting this from furniture upcycling to furniture design and production.

There is a market out there for custom furniture, and it can be quite lucrative. My husband and his colleague have the resources and skills to build the furniture, while I could help organize the business, marketing and sales side.

Real Estate Agent

I also haven’t touched this career yet. I have doubts about how much this career would fit in my lifestyle because the schedule could conflict with my theater schedule.

I do like the flexibility the career could provide, and I do think I would have the talent for it. I’m not ready to remove it from my list just yet, but I don’t feel like I’m in a rush to get into it.

Interior Designer

For the last few months I’ve taken a couple of interior design courses, and I’ve learned a lot about the industry. There are so many paths within this field that one can follow. I’m not convinced yet that it’s the career path for me, but I’m definitely motivated to keep exploring.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I think getting some real-world experience in this field — through an internship or part-time work — will be key in helping me determine how energizing I find the work.

Major Gifts Officer

I haven’t gotten to this career yet either. I know that I would likely want to be a major gifts officer for an arts organization, and in the Bay Area there may not be as much opportunity as in markets like New York. Much like real estate, it stays on my list, but I don’t find myself in a hurry to prioritize this one.

Theater Executive Director

Now, this is an area I’m really interested in exploring. As part of my sabbatical, I’ve had the opportunity to be much more present in my own theater gigs, and I’ve also had the time to see more theater as a patron. I love the energy of being in such a creative world.

I would probably want to be an Executive Director (or Managing Director) of a small to mid-size theater so that I would still have a connection to the artistic work and not get too bogged down in just the business side of things.

Actor

I’ve had some off and on exploration of acting as a career. Obviously, I’ve done theater for years, and while it comes with a stipend, it is by no means a way to make a living (at least at the level, I’ve been doing).

I have done a little bit of paid video work, and I do want to pursue that more. I’ve also been considering bringing my theater work up to the professional level and pursuing equity status.

Other Thoughts

I’ve confirmed that, in general, I find it a lot more energizing to work as part of a team rather than independently.

I have also really loved how much more time and energy I’ve been able to give to my theater work during this sabbatical, and I’ll be looking for a line of work that allows me that same space.

Lastly, I will lean toward work that allows for some flexibility in the schedule and/or opportunities to work from home.

There’s a lot more left to explore!

Reflections

StandOut

I love taking personality assessments. I think a lot of people do. It goes to our desire to explain and understand ourselves. And it’s nice to find a category we fit into.

Back when I was working at Facebook, we all took this test called StandOut, which is designed to identify your strengths. During the assessment, you select how you would respond or react in a number of work and life hypothetical scenarios.

Based on your answers, you fit into various “strength roles”, and the results give you your primary strength role and your secondary one.

When I initially took it, I got:

  1. Stimulator: You are the host of other people’s emotions. You feel responsible for them, for turning them around, for elevating them.
  2. Provider: You sense other people’s feelings, and you feel compelled to recognize these feelings, give them a voice, and act on them.

At the time, I thought these descriptions accurately described the way I worked in the office and the type of things I gravitated towards.

However, the thing with this assessment is that your results can change based on changes in your own personality and how you work.

I was curious if my strength roles had changed since going on my sabbatical, so I took the assessment again. Here are my results:

Primary strength role: Influencer

You engage people directly and convince them to act. Your power is your persuasion.

When I first took the StandOut assessment, Influencer was actually a very close third when it came to the rankings of my strength roles, so it’s not too much of a surprise to see it up top.

Here are some interesting bullet points from this strength role that resonate with me:

  • You are, in general, impatient; but you are especially impatient when you know that a decision should be made. You see what will happen if we don’t act. You see around the corner, and so it burns you to think about what inaction will cause.
  • You are driven by the feeling of progress, and are acutely sensitive to momentum. You sense when it’s building. When it’s peaking. And when it’s gone.
  • You can be a charmer, and are good at winning people over so that they like you. You do this because you know that people are willing to do more for those they like. Liking is a powerful (though not the only) precondition for getting the other person to make a decision.
  • People sense your desire to move forward, and it comes across as self-assurance. Even confidence. Occasionally as arrogance. Sometimes you might even put others off by challenging them more than you should–meaning “more than they would like to be challenged.”

Secondary strength role: Advisor

You are a practical, concrete thinker who is at your most powerful when reacting to and solving other people’s problems.

I don’t remember where this ranked the first time I took the assessment, but when I read the description, I can definitely see parts of this that align with the things I like to do. For example, I’ve helped a number of friends talk through important career decisions.

Here are some of the bullet points that I felt most connected to:

  • You are a problem solver. You are not fazed by complex situations, because, when faced with a challenge, you break it down into its component parts. You are a sequential thinker, someone who excels at “delayering” problems, “unstacking” them.
  • You ask lots of questions because the answer can be found in the details of the situation. You are intrigued by the detail of other people’s plans, problems, lives. You are not voyeuristic–voyeurism is too passive. But you can be nosy.
  • You like distinctions between two things that seem quite similar. These distinctions help you know how to choose which path to take–“Take this one, not that one.”
  • You like being seen as the expert. You like being needed in this way. When people say to you, “You have such great insight. You give me such a useful perspective on my situation,” this is the highest of praise.

My ideal career?

Well, this is what the StandOut report said about my ideal career:

You are a superior salesperson, and the more competitive the field, the better. Outwit, outplay, outsmart: this is your motto at work. You will excel in any role where there is freedom, change is the order of the day, and where what you did yesterday is fast forgotten. For example, in law, you are the defense attorney. In finance, you are the market maker, the stockbroker, the “money gatherer.” In media, you are pitching the idea, selling the show, or even investigating the story. In real estate, you are the agent. In business, you are the entrepreneur, the one we send to the venture capitalists to secure the initial funding. Wherever you are, you are making rain.

It’s interesting because I have been in sales. I also have real estate agent and, in general, entrepreneur on my list of careers to explore.

Obviously, assessments are not the answer to everything, but it’s interesting to see patterns in your own behavior, how you react to things, and what types of things drive you.

Reflections

Resisting Comfort

In my last post, I talked about embracing fear. It was about attempting the things we usually talk ourselves out of before we even try because they seem too hard or we aren’t confident we’ll do them well or we’re worried we’ll fail altogether.

I think the companion to that tactic is resisting comfort. By that I mean avoiding the things we try to talk ourselves into because they are familiar or easy. These are things we gravitate toward because they are predictable and we know we can accomplish them. But many times, opting for the things that are comfortable comes at the expense of trying the things that scare us.

I’ve been getting a lot of ads lately for job openings at Facebook. And my friend also recently sent me a link to a marketing job at the start-up she’s working at. Shockingly, I found myself tempted to read more about these jobs that were in the same field I just fled!

Even after five months of leaving a career path I found unfulfilling and a work environment I found draining, it was almost like a knee-jerk reaction to consider these openings. And the thought that went through my head? “Yeah, I bet I could do that.”

Not “Oh, I bet I’d enjoy doing that.”

During this sabbatical, I’ve felt freer, lighter, more energetic, and more inspired. I’ve learned a lot about what invigorates me and what drains me. But I guess muscle memory is hard to shake. For so long, I pursued opportunities that I knew I could get or easily do, regardless of whether or not it was something I’m passionate about.

But you know what? I didn’t click on those links. I didn’t even want to tempt myself with the comfort of the safe and familiar.

No longer do I want to resign myself to, “Well, I have the experience and knowledge, so I guess I should just do that.”

I’d rather say, “I’m not sure I’m qualified, but it seems like I would really enjoy doing that, so I might as well try.”


Reflections

Do the Things That Scare You

I sit on the couch in the audition green room, silently gripping my music book. The other two auditioners nonchalantly browse their phones, as we wait for the auditors to return from their break. I try to calm myself, but familiar thoughts start flooding my mind:

“Why did you sign up for a singing audition? You should have just done two monologues — your acting is much stronger.”

“It doesn’t matter how much you’ve practiced. You’re going to get nervous and screw up like you normally do.”

“I bet those other auditioners are much stronger singers than you.”

A little background — I got my start on the stage doing musical theater. I did it throughout high school and a little in college. And when I moved to the Bay Area and decided to get back into theater, I did musicals.

My very first play in the Bay Area – Oklahoma! Jud, Laurey, & Curly

But I almost always get nervous during singing auditions. I suddenly lose my confidence, drop all my support and slip into bad singing habits. I also get so preoccupied with how I sound that I forget to actually act during my audition song.

I would consider myself a decent singer, but not amazing. And I am definitely a much better actor. So, quite a few years ago, I made a conscious decision to shift my focus to straight plays.

I will always love musicals. And I do enjoy being in them. I love singing. I just hate singing auditions.

But one of my big rules during this sabbatical is to do the things that scare me. If there’s a choice between the familiar, something I’m comfortable with vs. something new and a little scary, I am determined to pursue the latter. Because if I don’t, there will always be that nagging thought in the back of my head: “What if?”

So, whether it’s producing a podcast even though I had no experience or taking interior design classes after being out of school for over a decade, I want to embrace it all.

And the little mantra that helps get me through it: It doesn’t matter how well you do it. The accomplishment is in doing it.

So, as I sat on that couch, doubts and fears bombarding me, I took a breath and just reminded myself that I will succeed as long as I go in there and just do it.

And that’s what I did. It wasn’t perfect. I definitely sang it differently than I had practiced. I didn’t have the proper breath support for some of the notes. And I could have acted a little bit more. I don’t anticipate being called back for their musicals. But it was also the most relaxed I’ve been for a singing audition in a very long time.

And when I left that audition and hopped into my car to head home, I couldn’t help but crack a huge smile. Because I had done it.

Reflections

Shedding the Mask

Tonight is opening night for the newest play I’m in, Sojourn at the Pear Theatre. I portray an astronaut on a one-way mission, and the show dives into the psychological ramifications of this type of isolation. This play has forced me tap into some pretty intense emotions, has pushed me as an actor, and has really made me grow as an artist.

Sojourn at the Pear Theatre. Photo by Michael Kruse Craig.

I’ve been reflecting on whether or not I would have been able to do this role justice, if I had never quit my job and gone on this sabbatical. For the past two shows I’ve done during my sabbatical — both new works, both requiring me to do some wild emotional and physical gymnastics — I given more of myself and grown more in skill set than I’ve done in probably my entire acting career.

And it’s not just the fact that I have more free time to rehearse and develop my character. It’s also not solely the fact that I now have much more mental energy to be present and and give my all during rehearsals and performances. I think an equal contributing factor has been the fact that during this sabbatical, I have found myself being more open and vulnerable.

I think a lot of us experience this — we have a “work self”. The version of you that is a little watered down, buttoned up and guarded, especially when you are in a corporate environment or just a more conservative workplace.

Now, I’ve always prided myself in being pretty open, honest and quick to speak my mind, even at work. But there was also a lot I kept to myself. It’s one thing to be the passionate theater kid in the office that is quick to voice her opinion on a project, but it’s another thing to admit you’re going through serious things like anxiety and depression. It was always calculated and measured outgoingness, with a lot hidden beneath the surface.

But what I didn’t realize, until this sabbatical, is how much I kept that mask on outside of work. I spent so much time being guarded and shielded in the office, that it actually spilled over into my everyday life — even theater! I was always cordial in social situations, but never really animated and open, unless it was with people I was really close with.

It’s been amazing and a bit shocking to see this change in me since the sabbatical. I am more relaxed, open and raw. And I’ve been able to bring that to the rehearsal room and on stage.

Audiences might think that acting is all about wearing a mask. You’re playing a character that’s not you, so you’re hiding yourself behind this role. But, in a lot of cases, it’s actually the opposite. As an actor, I tap into real experiences and emotions to portray the feelings of my character. It is actually one of the most raw and vulnerable things one can do. It’s opening yourself up and giving a little (or big) piece of yourself to the audience night after night.

When I do find that next career path, I hope it’s one where I don’t need to wear a mask. One where I don’t have to be so guarded and cautious. I want to remain open and honest … and yes, even a little vulnerable.

Reflections

Tracking Progress

In early December, I starting dieting and exercising regularly in an attempt to lose weight and get in shape. I figure I should take advantage of this free time to not only focus on my next career path but also on personal goals like my health and wellbeing.

I’ve taken on this challenge many times in the past. The two most recent successful attempts, I had something big to work for, that helped me stay on track — one was a trip to Hawaii and the other was my wedding.

Both times, I used an app to track my calories. I regularly weighed myself and took measurements to track progress. It was nice seeing hard numbers to gauge my success, but it was also frustrating when I had a week where I didn’t see the numbers go down or, even worse, when I saw the numbers go up.

And the problem was — once I hit the big milestones I was working toward, I no longer had anything to motivate me, so I would fall off the wagon and slowly gain the weight back.

This time around, I’m not working toward a specific event; this is a long-term — nay, lifetime goal. Once again, I’ve tracked my calories to make sure that I stay within my limit for the diet. And I’ve set various exercise goals. But I haven’t been weighing or measuring myself. Success has solely been measured by how consistent I’ve been with staying within my calorie limit and with how I feel.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I was (embarrassingly) running low on clean clothes. It was a busy time, and I hadn’t done laundry in a while. Facing the possibility of donning heavily Febreezed jeans, I remembered that I had a box of old clothes from the last time I had lost a lot of weight but had since outgrown. I was convinced they’d still be one size too small but I thought I might as well give it a shot.

I pulled out the first pair of pants I could find, and braced myself for the disappointment of desperately trying to pull together that top button and hole, only to find that they don’t quite reach. But to my surprise, they buttoned and zipped with no problem. They actually fit!

Without really tracking and paying that much attention to progress, I had gotten back down to my wedding size. The feeling was nothing short of elation and a renewed, stronger sense of motivation.

It served as a good reminder that sometimes, if you’re just looking at the day-to-day, it’s hard to see that you’ve made much progress. Because day over day, or even week over week, that change can be small. But when you look at a larger period of time — say, a few months — suddenly you can see a huge jump in progress.

And it was made me reflect on how much progress I’ve made in other parts of my life, in these five months I’ve been on a sabbatical:

  • I figured out a career — web development — that I now know that I do NOT want to do.
  • I’ve launched a podcast!
  • I’ve worked on a couple of short films and written even more.
  • I learned to improvise and pivot and not be so obsessed with everything going perfectly.
  • I’ve grown leaps and bounds as an actor, taking on two original roles that really pushed me.
  • I kept up this blog! Two posts a week, without missing a single week. And I’ve written over 40 posts.

I don’t need to see big gains every day or even every week. A lot of accomplishment can be felt in just setting my mind to something and following through. And with that diligence, the progress will reveal itself — even if it takes a few months to do so.