Reflections

A Sabbatical Christmas Carol

A Sabbatical Christmas Carol - now with cats!

On this chilly Christmas morning, all cozy in my holiday pajamas while watching a pre-recorded yule log on Netflix, I think about the classic tale, A Christmas Carol.

If the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future visited you, what would you see?

A year ago, my visits may have looked similar to Ebenezer Scrooge.

The ghost of Christmas Past would have shown me the Christmases of my youth, happy and full of wonder, surrounded by family. And even into my teenage years and early adulthood, Christmas would have marked a time before the new year, full of hope, when anything was possible! But eventually, I would have been brought to Christmases full of stress, thinking of all the work that still needed to get done back at the office.

The ghost of Christmas Present would have shown me, forcing a fake smile and going through the motions as we opened presents, all while dreading going back to work the next day.

The ghost of Christmas Future would have revealed a grim sight. Someone who has hopped from unfulfilling job to unfulfilling job. Perhaps, I would have been disconnected from friends and family, as I’ve taken my misery out on them.

Bah humbug, indeed!

But the point of A Christmas Carol is that Scrooge learns from these visits and is able to make a change before it’s too late. Before he goes the way of Marley.

And now that I’ve made that big, drastic change, it’s uplifting to think of how different my visits would be.

The ghost of Christmas Past would, of course, show me the same memories. But this time, I’ll just shake my head and instead of lamenting wasted years, I’ll look back at them as tough lessons.

The ghost of Christmas Present would show me today – lighter, more rested, more connected, and bursting with creativity.

And the ghost of Christmas Future would show me a life where I wake up excited for the day. I have a happy balance of work and creative pursuits. I prioritize art and exciting experiences over possessions and material things. I am surrounded by people who inspire me, respect me, collaborate with me, and support me.

Oh and Tiny Tim is there. But he’s a cute little kitty cat. Because cats are cool.

Merry Christmas!

Reflections, Uncategorized

Not Alone

It can seem like a lonely path

When I decided to blog about my sabbatical, my motivations were two-fold. First, I knew it would be a good way of documenting my own thoughts and experiences as I explore these new careers – a type of record I could look back on. Secondly, and more importantly, I chose to make my journey public as a way of holding myself accountable to actually following through on my plan.

But something else, rather unexpected, has come out of sharing my sabbatical adventure with the world: an outpouring of not just support but people telling me, “I’ve been there.”

There are the people who have taken similar types of sabbaticals in the past. Their experiences have provided a lot of good lessons and tips for my own sabbatical. And a lot of those people took pretty long breaks from work, which has encouraged me to really take my time and not rush back into something until I’m confident it’s the right path for me.

Then, there are the people who are currently taking a sabbatical! It’s been great to swap stories, share strategies and act as each others’ cheerleaders. These are the people I can turn to when I have doubts or are worried about not working because they’re going through the same thing.

And finally, there are the people who’ve reached out to me privately to tell me that they are feeling just as unfulfilled in their jobs but don’t have the means or are not in the right place to take this type of sabbatical. And surprisingly, some of these people have been people I worked with, who always seemed so happy and successful in their job. I guess a smile can hide a lot of things. Their stories are heartbreaking, and I feel a little guilty that I have the privilege to take this break from work but so many don’t.

While it’s been comforting to know I’m not alone — that I’m not crazy for feeling this way or deciding to make this drastic change — it’s a little concerning just how prevalent this dissatisfaction is among my peers.

Is it something about work these days? Or does it start earlier than that?

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I fell into my own path. Growing up and even into early adulthood, I never gave myself the opportunity to really think about what I wanted to do with my life. In school, it was all about getting top grades. But for what? And once I was out of college, I just knew I wanted to make a decent amount of money and have a good job title. But was that really what I wanted or just what I thought I should want?

So many of us grow up with a specific path laid out for us: You work hard in school to get into a good college. And then you get out of college and get a job and start working your way up the ladder. But is it realistic to expect a 22-year-old to know what they want to do for the rest of their life?!

If it wasn’t obvious, that question was rhetorical. Oh sure, there are people who know exactly what they want to do, which makes the rest of us feel like we should know what we want to do. So, we fake it. We talk ourselves into a career path.

But what’s the rush? Why is it so important to know so early? Shouldn’t we go out and experience the world, first? Try different things. Meet different people. Form our own opinions. Forget college internships. We need adult internships!

It’s too late to change the path I’ve already taken. But now, as I stand at yet another crossroads, realizing that not only am I not alone but these crossroads are quite crowded, I’m wondering how we can all band together. How can we all help each other to get out of this mess?

I don’t know if I have an answer yet. I’m not sure if I ever will. But I think a good first step is just sharing our stories, being open and honest about what we want, not being afraid to ask for help. And in turn, when we see the opportunity, we can offer help, dish out advice, connect others with the right people or just lend an ear.

So, let me start by offering myself. If you need to talk, want to ask advice, would like an introduction to someone I know, are looking for some training on something I have experience with, just reach out.

We are not alone, and we don’t have to do this alone.

Reflections

Don’t Give Up Before You Start

A lot of this sabbatical has really been about changing the way I think — what matters most to me in life? What is my idea of success? What are my priorities?

It’s also been about freeing myself from thoughts that have held me back for so many years. Heck, it’s been about realizing these self-limiting thoughts even existed and how prevalent and consuming they were.

One bad mental habit that was particularly rampant: talking myself out of something before I even tried.

“If you tried to be an actor full time, you’d have to take shitty acting gigs just to make money and you’d end up hating it.”

“If you start your own business, you have to worry about your own insurance and are always hustling to make money. You’d be so busy dealing with that, you’d be miserable.”

“Only a small percentage of people actually make money doing that.”

“Oh, you have to have connections to break into that industry. There’s no use even trying.”

Changing the status quo is scary, so we give up before we even start something new or different.

But doing this sabbatical has forced me to have a brand new mindset and push myself to at least try things, even if I have my doubts. And this new way of thinking doesn’t have to be just about major life changes — it’s a philosophy that can permeate your everyday life.

Last month, I talked about co-writing a movie for the Four Points Film Project, a competition where you write, shoot and edit a film all in one weekend. All teams are given the same character, prop and line of dialogue that they need to incorporate into their films; however, each team is given different genre assignments.

We were assigned two genres to choose from: Coming of Age and Musical. Immediately, we eliminated Musical. It’s the dreaded genre that no team wants as it’s extremely difficult to try to write songs in this short time period.

But after a lot of ruminating and brainstorming, we just kept coming back to the genre. “Oh, I wish Musical wasn’t so impossible to do, we’d be able to do so much creative things with it!”  And then we realized, it didn’t hurt to at least explore some options and solutions. And soon enough — we were doing a musical! Sure, it meant staying up until 2 am writing lyrics and adding a whole new element — recording the songs — to our schedule on the day of the shoot.

In the end, though, it all came together in a funny, but poignant film.

And you know what? That film ended up winning the Best Use of Genre award!

Best Use of Genre Award

And that’s not just best use of the genre Musical; it’s best use of any genre. Out of over 100 films and all the different genre assignments, the judges deemed that our team used our genre to its best potential. The genre that no one wants to do. The genre that was just going to be way too hard to use. The genre that we had almost given up on before we even tried.

And just like that, you realize that those little thoughts that hold you back are just that: thoughts. Not facts. They are pessimism’s dirty little lies masquerading as truths that prevent us from making the changes that we desperately need.

But you know the saying: it doesn’t hurt to try. Because even if it doesn’t turn out as you hoped, you probably learned something useful along that way.

And sometimes, it just works.

Presenting to you once again, winner of the Best Use of Genre — Four-Part Holiday:

 

Reflections, Uncategorized

Tech Week

I’m in the middle of tech week and coming off of the Thanksgiving weekend, which means my schedule has been pretty hectic and I haven’t had much time for career. And no, I am not referring to some conference where the newest smartphone or VR device is being announced.

For those unfamiliar with theater, tech week is the period leading up to the opening of a play, so-called because it’s the time when we finally have all the technical aspects in place – lights, sounds, props, costumes, etc. It’s also the period when everyone inevitably freaks out and realizes, “oh shit, we’re opening in less than a week!”

And while my nights are filled with cue-to-cues, costume fittings and dress rehearsals, my days are filled with reviewing my lines, figuring out my hair and make-up and buying last-minute supplies for the show. So yeah, not much time on the career exploration front.

So, in honor of tech week and the impending opening of my new play, I’d like to talk about how acting — particularly stage acting — and how those techniques actually extend beyond the stage.

Can I list Stanislavski as one of my job references?

For years, I’ve reflected on the fact that I’ve been able to many of my skills as an actor and employ them in my day job, in many cases actually excel in those jobs because of them.

And as I look at the list of careers I am exploring, I can already see how my experience in theater will help me in those fields. Yes, there is the obvious — a comfort with public speaking; and I will admit that this skill has serve me well in the past (particularly in sales and training roles) and definitely transfers to many of the careers on my list.

But there are other skills you learn as an actor that can help in your day job:

#1 Understanding your character

When you take on a role, you aren’t just there to memorize lines and move about the stage. A lot of work goes into understanding your character. Where is she from? What was her family like? What happened to the character right before the start of this play? How would she react in a certain situation?

Even if it’s not explicitly explained by the playwright or laid out in the text, an actor will do a lot of work creating the character’s backstory and motivations. Essentially, this is theater-speak for putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

And it’s clear how this skill can transfer over to many of the careers on my list. As an interior designer or real estate agent, I would need to understand my client’s lifestyle and what would work best for them. As a major gifts officer, I would need to understand what motivates a potential donor to contribute.

#2 Listening, listening, listening!

A good actor doesn’t just wait to speak. She listens and really takes in what her scene partner is saying and how they are saying it in order to inform how she will reply. Did your scene partner angrily yell that line to you? Well, then it probably doesn’t make sense to give a happy-go-lucky reply.

Listening is a vital skill in any client-facing or customer service role. When I was in advertising sales, I had a templated sales pitch, but I always adjusted that as I took in the potential client reactions: Were they delighted or skeptical? Were they interested in having a personal connection or did they just want the facts and figures?

Many of the careers on my list are client-facing careers: video producer, web developer, real estate agent, interior designer, major gifts officer. Being able to listen, and respond accordingly so that the client feels heard is what will help put me above the competition!

#3 Taking direction

A big part of being an actor is taking your director’s vision for the character and story and translating that into your own performance. And I’m not just talking about following instructions – it’s not about someone telling you “move your hand this way and then turn your head to the left and say your line that way”. Well, some directors will actually work that way, but we’re just going to ignore them (and avoid working with them!).

I’m talking about understanding the big picture of what your director wants. Knowing the end goal. Picturing the desired final product. And then giving yourself the agency to dictate how you translate that and get there.

I know this is a skill particularly useful in web development, where clients don’t always have the vocabulary to outline the technical specifications of their request. Instead, the web developer needs to understand to overall goal of the project: What are you trying to achieve? What do you want this site to do? What problem are you trying to address or need are you trying to serve with your website? Then, it’s up to the web developer to translate those needs into the actual code.

#4 Accepting rejecting

Ah yes, the unavoidable part of any actor’s life – rejection. This is definitely one of the hardest and most painful lessons but also one of the most powerful skills if you can master it.

You will not get every role you audition for. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. Because probably more than half of the time, not getting a role is less about your talent and more about the fact that you don’t fit the director’s specific vision for the role. And there’s not much you can do about that.

So, this is all about focusing on the things that you can control. Gleaning learning experiences even from the roles you don’t get. And accepting rejecting as a form of strengthening your resilience.

Whether I become a video producer and have to deal with a company opting for another production company or I become an interior designer and need to cope with not landing that big client, being able to accept rejection, learn from it, and move on will serve me well.

#5 Finding your light

Ok, this last one is going to be a bit more metaphorical.

As a stage actor, you are always told to find your light! What does that mean? Well, much like it sounds, it means that the lighting designer has focused the lights to hit certain areas of the stage for your scene, and you as an actor, need to make sure you place yourself in said areas and not in the dark. However, much to the chagrin of the creative team, this seems to be difficult for some actors. (Yes, you theater techs are all snickering right now)

Finding your light is about feeling that warmth on your face, looking around you and making sure you’re in the brightest spot.

And I think this is what I’m trying to do with my sabbatical. I’m trying to find my light. I’m trying to find that career path where I feel that warmth, where I know I’m in the right spot, and where I can shine!

Reflections

Thanksgiving

As I wake up this morning from my turkey-induced coma, on this raining day after Thanksgiving, I reflect on the things I’ve been thankful for.

With regards to this sabbatical …

I am thankful for my circle of family and friends who have been so supportive, never doubted my decision, and boosted me with their words of encouragement.

And I’ve been particularly thankful for that special set of people who have been so generous with their time in helping me with my career exploration.

I am thankful for the financial situation that I’m in that gives me the freedom to take this sabbatical, and I do not take that for granted.

I am thankful that I live in a time when I have so many free resources at my fingertips that allow me to research, learn and explore my varied list of careers.

I am also thankful that I live in a time when I can so easily share my sabbatical journey with my network of supporters.

I am thankful for those of you who have reached out to me to tell me your own stories of taking a similar type of sabbatical or those of you who have let me know that you’ve had the same feeling of unfulfillment in your jobs. You’ve helped me feel like I’m not alone in all of this.

*****

And as I explore the next step in my career journey, it has been helpful to reflect on what I’ve been thankful for in my past jobs:

I’ve been thankful for jobs that allowed me to work on creative projects and flex my artistic skills.

I’ve been thankful for jobs where I’m in contact with people.

I’ve been thankful for workplaces where co-workers care about me on a personal level and I’m able to make some true friends.

I’ve been thankful for jobs that let me give presentations or lead conversations.

I’ve been thankful for jobs that allow me to organize social events.

I’ve been thankful for jobs where brainstorming is an important part of the work.

I’ve been thankful for jobs where I can work together in a team but still be independent in completing my piece of the project.

I’ve been thankful for jobs where I am respected and my contributions are acknowledged.

*****

And finally, I am thankful for all of you who have followed my blog. Not only does this blog allow me to document my career exploration and think through my feelings on each career, but it also helps hold me accountable to following through on this exploration.

Sometimes, I fear I haven’t done as much as I should have during my sabbatical so far; but then I look back on this blog and realize I really have conquered a lot.

So thank you for giving me a reason to keep this blog going!

Reflections

Appreciating Detours

I’m two weeks into my self-imposed, self-sustained sabbatical — SISSS™ — and I’ve been beating myself up a bit. Sure, I’ve made decent progress going through the online lessons on freeCodeCamp to try out web development. And I’ve regularly posted blogs here, which contributes to my exploration of content creation. But I’ve had this nagging voice in my head, berating me for not doing more.

When I put together this plan, I imagined packing my day with online courses and interviews with people in the field and blogging 3-4 times a week. I pictured myself bouncing around three different career areas, balancing an even and rigorous exploration among them.

Read the paper, calculate things, write a note, check my email and update my app … all while having a flawless manicure. How hard can that be?

Instead, so far, I’ve really just focused on web development, and that has been limited to the freeCodeCamp lessons. And on top of that, I don’t dedicate my whole day to those courses.

So, you can see where I might be disappointed with myself.

But the question is – what have I been doing my time? Yes, there’s been the occasional Netflix binge and a minor crafting detour for a last-minute Halloween costume. But actually, the majority of my non-careeer-exploration time has been spent on my long-time passion – theater.

I’ve done theater, as an actor, as a regular hobby outside of work for pretty much the whole time I’ve lived in the Bay Area – so, about 10 years. And I should note that hobby isn’t really the right word for it. It’s more like a part-time job (aside from the whole making money bit).

Being in a play means you are dedicating 5-6 weeks of rehearsals – 5 days a week, 3-4 hours each evening. And then, there’s the actual run of the show, which can be anywhere from 3-6 weeks, 3-5 performances each week. And that doesn’t even take into account all of the time you dedicate outside of rehearsals to exploring your character, memorizing your lines and rehearsing your scenes.

Production photo of Five Women Wearing the Same Dress
Wait, you work all day and then go rehearse for 3 hours that night .. 5 days a week?!

And when you do 2-4 plays a year, while also having a full-time job, it can get exhausting. So, it has been so refreshing to have this extra time during the day to spend exploring my character and working on my lines for the play I’m currently rehearsing. It’s also been a welcome change  to actually have the time and energy to prepare for auditions and callbacks. I feel like I’ve been able to bring so much more to rehearsals and give much more depth to my character because of all the extra time I’ve had, not to mention the extra energy I have.

Crimes of the Heart product shot
Yea, that’s pretty much how I look after a week of rehearsal plus a full-time job.

And I think the fact that I’ve set theater as a priority during this sabbatical time is just as informative as any of my career exploration work. It tells me that whatever career I end up pursuing, having the time and energy to still do theater (even if just as a “hobby”) will be a top priority.

So instead of punishing myself for deviating from my sabbatical plan, I’ve challenged myself to really reflect on why I’m making that detour. Because it’s probably not due to laziness or lack of ambition. It’s more likely a signal to what I’m passionate about, what fulfills me, and what is a priority for me, not just in a career but in life.

Reflections

A Note on Privilege

When I announced my sabbatical, I received a flood of support and praise. Two particular words were so graciously thrown around: brave and courageous.

But today, I want to focus instead on two other words: privileged and lucky.

In my first post, I noted that this blog is not meant to be prescriptive in any way. That is because I am abundantly and humbly aware that not everyone would even have the means to take a sabbatical like this.

I have been privileged to secure high-salary jobs that allowed me to save up as much money as I have.

I was lucky to find an inexpensive, rent-controlled apartment when I moved to Oakland — and probably privileged to have my rental application approved despite a low credit score.

I am privileged to be leaving a company who is so generously continuing to cover my health care plan for a little while longer after my departure. And even after that expires, I am privileged to have multiple health care options available to me and the means to afford them.

I am privileged to have the equipment I need — computer, internet, phone, car — to do this type of career exploration.

And I am so lucky to have a network of people who can lend advice, support, tips, and encouragement; who can connect me with the right professionals; and who can even offer support services for free.

I am not sure if it was courage, or just plain desperation, that sparked my decision to take this sabbatical. But it was privilege that allowed me to follow through on that decision. And I do not take that for granted.