A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding an old document where I had answered a number of prompts meant to suss out the type of work and projects I was passionate about. I’ve always loved doing these types of exercises. It’s a great, guided way to do some self-reflection and help organize your thoughts and feelings.
At the beginning of the year, my friend Vera gave me a journal call An Inspired Life, which includes a lot of these types of prompts. The journal contains a wide range of questions that encourage you to think about your passions and strengths, your fears and hopes.
Having just hit a major milestone in my sabbatical with the launch of the podcast, it feels like a good time to stop and reflect about how I’m feeling today. What are the things that drive me? What am I most passionate about?
I’ve gone through the journal and picked out a few prompts that really resonated with me and this sabbatical journey:
If my future self came to visit me today, I think she’d tell me to start:
These are some of the most important mistakes I’ve made in my life:
These are some old patterns and behaviors I’m beginning to question:
This is how I would describe the person I have chosen to become:
Here are some things I’m afraid of, but I want to try anyway:
I’m going to reflect on these prompts over the next few days and jot down my thoughts. Looks out for my answers in my next post.
How would you answer any one of these prompts? If you’d like to share, leave a comment below.
I’ve been thinking a lot about decision-making lately. Whether to take or pass on an opportunity. Whether or not to tell someone something. And, of course, for this sabbatical — what do I focus on next in my life?
And it has me pondering on the various ways we all go about making decisions.
There’s, of course, using our brains. What’s the logical thing to do? We look at the pros and cons. We weigh the advantages and disadvantages. We calculate the risks and rewards. We do all this work to figure out the rational decision to make.
Then, there is following our hearts. What are our passions urging us to do? We think about how we would feel going down one path or the other. We sometimes laugh in the face of reason and make the most illogical decision because it feels right.
And finally, there is going with our gut. What’s our instinct telling us? We tap into something primitive, survivalistic even. These are often our snap decisions. The decisions we make without too much analysis or reflection.
So, what method to use?
Oh yes, that’s right, we need to decide how to decide. How meta.
Of course, the answer is — it depends. For financial decisions, we might use our brains more. For personal relationships, we might follow our hearts.
And for me, a lot of times, I’m using a combination of these various decision-making organs. Take theater, for example. It is my hobby — my passion, really — but I approach it like a job because it requires the same hardwork and discipline (and time commitment!). And I have to make a lot of decisions — from choosing what to audition for, to accepting or declining a role, to opting to do one show over another.
I find that I first do a gut check. What’s my first instinct? Then I use reason to weigh my options. Does the timing for this play work for me? Will I grow from this role and gain new skills? Will having this credit on my resume help get other work? This is the stage where I’m often using others as a sounding board. But ultimately, I feel like I solidify my decision with my heart. How will I feel if I accept or decline this opportunity?
Yes, sometimes conflicts arise when our brain, heart and gut point us in different directions. But again, I think that figuring out the best approach to take depends on the type of decision.
And then there are the decisions you make where you know neither outcome is great. These can be draining decisions to make, and I find I usually just go with my gut or follow my heart.
Oh, and of course, there’s the fear. The absolute terror that we’ll make the wrong decision. But that’s where I think it’s good to recognize how I’m making the decision. It’s the thing I can point back to when I’m having doubts.
Now, things get even harder when looking at much bigger decisions, like … oh, I don’t know — what new career path to follow! But I think the key for me will be breaking down this massive resolution into micro-decisions along the way. And I’m sure I’ll have to use my brain, my heart, and my gut.
Last weekend I decided to do a little organizing — digital organizing.
Between working on my blog, drafting assignments for my interior design classes and collaborating with folks on the podcast, I’ve been using my Google Drive a lot. And it was driving me crazy how unorganized all the files were!
So, I took the time to go through each loose file and either delete it or place it in a folder. Now, I’ve been using Google Docs and later Drive ever since it was in beta, which means I had a lot of documents … and a lot of old documents.
Going through these files was a fun little excavation into my past self. There were old job resumes and cover letters. It was humorous to see how much I needed to pad my resume as a young professional first starting out. I had also forgotten how many different jobs I’ve applied for over the years.
It was interesting to look back at those old documents and reflect on how much I’ve changed over the years. I’ve gained more experience and skills. I can speak more confidently about my qualifications.
But was what surprising was uncovering many old files that revealed how much I really haven’t changed.
There’s the document from 2010 where I listed content ideas for a blog I thought about starting — Fashion, Food and Frugal Fun. I had even drafted a few possible posts for the blog.
There’s the file from 2014 where I brainstormed ideas for articles I could write and submit to online publications.
And then there’s another document from 2016 where I drummed up more content ideas and even listed different formats — blogs, videos, podcast, tutorials — that I could explore. I wonder if 2016 Laura even remembered that 2010 Laura had also dreamed of blogging and had even already written a few posts that never saw the light of day.
And then there is a questionnaire document from early 2016, back when I was still working at the ad agency and more than a year before I started working at Facebook. The questionnaire included a number of fill-in-the-blank prompts meant to help you surface the type of work you were really passionate about.
Here were the questions:
If I could choose one friend to trade jobs with, I’d choose _____ because _____.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do _____. It’s interesting to me because _____.
If I had the right education or skill set, I’d definitely try _____ because _____.
If I had to go back to school tomorrow, I’d major in _____ because _____.
My co-workers and friends always say I’m great at _____ because _____.
The thing I love most about my current job is _____ because _____.
If my boss would let me, I’d do more of _____ because _____.
If I had a free day that had to be spend “working” on something, I’d choose _____ because _____.
When I retire, I want to be known for _____ because _____.
And here were my answers:
If I could choose one friend to trade jobs with, I’d choose Kirin (television producer) because it seems like she gets to travel and work on new and interesting projects.
I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do travel writing. It’s interesting to me because you don’t have to work in an office, you have flexibility in your schedule and you get to talk about your opinions.
If I had the right education or skill set, I’d definitely try video production because you get to constantly work on new projects, you’re not chained to a desk, and you get to be creative.
If I had to go back to school tomorrow, I’d major in theater/acting because I love acting and I’ve learned that studying it in school can put you on a good path for a career (at least in theater).
My co-workers and friends always say I’m great at being creative because I’m resourceful and good at DIY projects (e.g. Halloween costumes, handmade invitations).
The thing I love most about my current job is presenting our capabilities because I like presenting and also explaining things.
If my boss would let me, I’d do more of market trips/in-person meetings because I like to travel and socialize.
If I had a free day that had to be spend “working” on something, I’d choose a DIY project (either home or fashion related) because I like creating, and doing something physical is easy for me to keep doing without my ADD kicking in.
When I retire, I want to be known for creating some type of art/entertainment because I like being creative and the idea of having some type of product at the end of it (e.g. a video).
When I came across this document again this past week, almost three years after I did the exercise, I gasped at my answers and shook my head. These interests and passions are the same things I’ve highlighted during this sabbatical. The blueprint was there three years ago, but it would take me another 2.5 years and a whole new job and company before I finally worked up the courage to pursue these interests.
I try to look back and think — why didn’t I start that blog back in 2010? What would have happened if I had? Why did I go into another marketing job in 2017 when I so clearly articulated a year before that I was craving something more creative, that got me out from behind a desk?
Of course, I know some of the answers. I was afraid it was too late to make a change. I talked myself out of it before I even tried. Pride and ego and caring too much about others’ perception of me soured me on the idea of having to start at the bottom again.
Uncovering these old documents, seeing the black and white evidence of dreams deferred just reinvigorates me during this sabbatical. It reminds me that if I’ve always wondered about doing something, I should just go out and do it. It pushes me to take advantage of this opportunity to explore and try new things and not worry about rejection.
Because as many popular sayings go: I’d rather regret the things I’ve done rather than the things I haven’t done.
At the end of December, I started the couch-to-5K program, a regimen that helps people with little experience get into running. Through the program, you slowly build up the amount you run each week, with the goal (as the name implies) of being able to run a 5K at the end.
Now, I’ve started this program a few times in the past but have always given up part-way through. I’ve either gotten to a point where I felt I couldn’t do it anymore or my schedule just got too crazy. This time, though, I was determined to see it through.
During the first week, you run/jog for 60 seconds, walk for 90 seconds and do six sets of that. Week 2, you move up to 90 seconds running, alternating with 2 minutes walking. And so on. You complete three sessions each week.
I started out strong. Week 1 was a breeze. Even Week 2 felt pretty manageable. For me, Week 3 was the first test of my endurance. During this week, you jog for 90 seconds, walk for 90 seconds, and then jog for 3 minutes, walk for 3 minutes, doing all of that twice.
Something about moving from 90 seconds to 3 minutes seemed daunting. And the first session of that week was definitely tough, but I got through it. The second session felt a lot easier. But then, before I could complete the final session of Week 3 … life got in the way.
I had to go out of town for my grandmother’s funeral. And then, when I returned, it was raining non-stop. I had already gotten sick from running in really cold whether; I wasn’t going to chance it by running in the rain.
Once the weather got nice again, I was back at it. Now, I probably should have gone back and started at the beginning of Week 3 again, since it had been almost two weeks since I did any running. But I’m someone who hates to backtrack, so I decided to just do that final Week 3 session and move on.
Yesterday, I started Week 4. If Week 3 was daunting, Week 4 seemed terrifying. The regimen during this week is 3 minutes running, 90 seconds walking, and then 5 minutes running, 2.5 minutes walking, completing all of that twice.
Going into that session, I already had my doubts. 5 minutes just seemed insurmountable. That’s longer than most of my running songs! But I knew I at least needed to try.
The session started out well. Getting through that first 3 minutes was surprisingly easy — I didn’t look down at the timer once. I steeled myself for the first 5-minute jog, found a long song with a good beat and took it easy. I did pretty well. I only looked down at the timer once and powered through to the end.
But by that halfway point, I was feeling pretty tired. The second 3-minute run came up, and it took everything I had to get through it. I was winded and thirsty and hot. Right before the last 5-minute jog segment came up, I paused the workout to try to collect myself. I continued on, but I could only run for about a minute before I had to stop.
I was devastated and discouraged. All that work, and I had hit a hurdle I couldn’t get over. Negative thoughts flooded my brain:
“See, this is why you’ll never be a runner.”
“This is probably where you quit last time.”
“All that work down the drain.”
But then, a friend brought up a good point — “where you are today… could you have done this like 3 weeks ago?” Of course, the answer was “no”. I had built up to that point. Those weeks prior had led to significant progress. I had simply hit a bump in the road.
I tell this story because I think it will be a good perspective to have during my sabbatical and career exploration. I will inevitably hit a point where something doesn’t go to plan or something doesn’t work out the way I thought it would. I’ll probably hit that point many times!
But instead of looking at what I couldn’t do, what I didn’t accomplished, I need to focus on what I have done and how much progress I have made. And it’s ok if I have to go back and do something over again, or if it takes just a little longer than I expected to get where I want to go.
And you know what? I’m going to go back and repeat Week 3. I’m going to build up that endurance again. I’m going to get myself to a point where I am better prepared to tackle Week 4. And I am not going to give up.
Last week, my maternal grandmother passed away. This past Saturday, family and friends all came together to remember her and celebrate her life.
It’s funny how little we know about our parents and grandparents until we become adults ourselves. Growing up, my grandmother was just a sweet old lady who was good at sewing and lived on a farm. It wasn’t until I got older, that I heard more stories about her life.
And on Saturday, as I listened to my Uncle Tony deliver the eulogy and talk about my grandma’s journey, it really hit me what a strong and inspiring person she was.
A life of resilience
My grandmother was born in Henryetta, Oklahoma in 1931, right in the midst of the Great Depression. She was the oldest of five children and had all the added responsibility that comes with being the oldest child (as an oldest child myself, I can attest to that!).
She excelled in school, making top marks in her classes and lettering in basketball. She even wrote an award-winning essay about the freedoms granted by the First Amendment. Her teachers urged her parents to send her to college, but this was a time and place where you didn’t send many of your children to college, especially not the girls.
But my grandmother was determined to get out into the world! After graduating high school, she got hired as a flight attendant for American Airlines. But at the last minute, she was disqualified from the job because at 5’7”, she was one inch too tall.
And so, like many women of that time, she got married. And in these first years of her adult life, she would face heartbreak. She had her first child, Debbie, who died six days later. By the time she had her second child, Christopher, her husband was out of the picture.
Christopher had cystic fibrosis, a disease that was just beginning to really be researched at the time. My grandmother recounted that everyday she would need to rub his back to clear his lungs. Tragically, at 4 ½ years old, Christopher died.
My grandmother married her second husband and had my mom and my uncle. This husband was also in and out of the picture, so my grandma was often full-time caretaker and breadwinner, cleaning houses and picking up work as a seamstress.
A knack for entrepreneurship
She would later put her sewing skills to good use when she opened her own dress shop with a friend. My grandmother ran the shop and did a lot of custom dresses. Eventually, though, they couldn’t get enough business from the small town, so they closed the shop.
My grandmother then worked at a large corporate construction company, where she learned bookkeeping. Shortly after, she married my grandpa, who was a marine. As with most military families, they had to move a lot, but my grandmother was always able to find bookkeeping positions.
When they settled in San Diego, my grandmother worked as a bookkeeper at a CPA firm. One of the clients was so impressed with her work that he poached her to be his bookkeeper year-round! And then the business owner’s partners hired my grandmother to do their books.
Soon enough, my grandmother had her own bookkeeping business. She would often be hired by small businesses to set up their bookkeeping system. The business was so successful that when my grandfather retired from the marines and they were looking to move, my grandmother was easily able to sell her business.
Defying norms and the odds
My grandmother had already defied many social norms at the time. She twice ignored the threat of social stigma and had the strength to divorce men who didn’t treat her well.
She not only worked, but owned two businesses!
And in the mid-1960s, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer. A disease that still claims the lives of so many, my grandmother fought breast cancer and won.
When my grandpa fought in Vietnam, my grandma had to play the role of mother and father. My uncle fondly remembers my grandma taking him hunting and attending every football game.
A writer at heart
After my grandpa retired from the marines, he and my grandma moved from San Diego to Oklahoma, for a quieter life, with more space. They built their own house on a large plot of land, and my grandpa raised cows for years.
It was during this time that my grandma returned to one of her earliest loves — writing. She took a night class on creative writing and really enjoyed it. She wrote and submitted articles to magazines, many of which ended up being published, including a couple in Reader’s Digest and one in Mother Earth News about how they built their barn.
Then, her local newspaper, the Bristow News, needed a part-time writer to temporarily cover for one of their reporters who was going out on maternity leave. My grandmother got the job and learned a lot about journalistic writing. When the reporter decided not to come back to work, my grandma was hired as a fulltime reporter. So much for retirement!
My grandmother covered everything from local news to state events, even once meeting the Governor. The sheriffs would call her out to crimes scenes so she could get the story — sometimes in the middle of the night!
She also learned how to take photos for the newspaper and became an accomplished photographer. One year, she won 2nd place in a state-wide journalism photography competition.
Inspiring my own journey
I look back on my grandmother’s life and am inspired. She had far fewer opportunities than I do and accomplished so much. She refused to do things the way they are “supposed to be done”. She found strength in loss and rose up to challenge after challenge.
And as I reflect on her life, these are a few things that I’ll hold close, as I go through my sabbatical journey:
Forget about social norms
Take advantage of surprise opportunities
Always come back to the things you are passionate about
When the time comes and people are looking back on my life, I hope they see the same determination, courage and strength that I see in my grandmother’s life.
With 2018 coming to a close, it seemed like a good time to look back on the first 2 ½ months of my sabbatical and reflect on what I’ve experienced and learned.
This fall, I mainly focused on careers related to the online and digital space:
My exploration was mainly self-led, relying on free online resources, as well as training from friends. I enjoyed having the flexibility to own my schedule and to jump between the different career areas. However, I did find there were certain weeks where I wasn’t as productive as I’d hoped.
I completed all of the lessons in the Responsive Web Design certification area. However, when it came to the sample projects, I had a hard time getting through them. I found I hadn’t retained that much information and constantly had to go look up how to do things. But more than that, I just didn’t find the projects very fulfilling to work on. I found myself just doing the bare minimum requirements to get the project done and wasn’t inspired to go above and beyond with set-up or styling.
I do think it’s useful to have basic web development knowledge, and I could see myself doing some part-time web development work. However, I don’t think I would get enough creative fulfillment out of being a fulltime web developer.
I had the chance to work on a film shoot, as well as try my hand as producing my own video. I also got a great filmmaking 101 lesson, where I learned everything from pre-production and planning to using a camera and editing.
It’s been interesting — and at times surprising — to see which elements of the video production process I’ve particularly enjoyed. For example, I found that I have a talent for and really like script-writing; since the Four Points Film Project (for which I helped write lyrics), I’ve written two short-film scripts. I also loved set dressing, which I suppose shouldn’t have been that surprising since I do have interior design as a career area of interest.
I definitely need more hands-on experience, and I’m excited to continue to explore video production, even if it ends up being just a hobby. My next steps here are to continue to get more production experience and to build up a portfolio.
This has been the area of career exploration that has been the most varied because there are so many different outlets and media for content creation.
When I first listed this career, I was focused on video content creation, so obviously there’s a huge overlap with my exploration into being a video producer. I analyzed my favorite YouTube channels, picking out elements that I particularly liked and would want to include in my own videos. I even started working on my very own video, which is currently on hold as I wait to upgrade the storage on my computer so that I can start editing. And I’ve created a plan for a whole series of food-related videos, the first of which I’ll be shooting this weekend.
I also worked on a content medium I didn’t expect to when I first started this journey – podcasting. After volunteering to help a couple of friends produce their new movie-themed podcast, I learned a lot about putting together and managing a project plan for the podcast launch. In fact, we are recording our first episodes starting in January, aiming for a launch around the Oscars. I’ve really enjoyed working with a team on this creative project.
Finally, I’ve kept up this blog! I’m proud that I’ve been able to regularly post two times each week. There have definitely been a lot of learnings and a lot that I could do better. But at the very least, I’ve reaffirmed how much I really do enjoy writing, when it’s a topic I’m passionate about.
Even if I don’t end up being a fulltime, paid content creator, I think this will be an element or at least a side project of any career I pursue. For example, if I end of being an interior designer, I could see myself also having a blog or video series about home decor and design tips.
I will continue to explore video production and content creation because, as I mentioned above, even if those don’t end up being careers, they are hobbies I really enjoy.
However, this winter, I see myself shifting into the home-related careers:
Real Estate Agent
I’ve signed up for a couple of courses through Cañada College’s Interior Design Certificate Program, and I’ll be starting classes in mid-January. I’m excited to go back to school again! This will be a much more structured approach to career exploration, and I’m interested to see if I get more out of it.
For furniture upcycler, I’ll probably try my hand at giving new life to existing pieces we have or free furniture we find. I think this could also be a good overlap with video production and/or content creation, as I can create a video or write a blog about the upcycling process.
I’ll need to do a little research about the best way to get a taste of the real estate world. This may be a career area where interviewing people in the field could be the most fruitful first step.
And that’s actually a good segue for another big sabbatical goal in 2019: connect with and interview more people who work in the various career areas I’m interested in.
It’s been a great first few months. I’ve learned a lot — not just about the careers I’m exploring, but also about what I really want to prioritize in life and what fulfills me. I’m excited to continue this journey in the new year!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
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!