Recently I was listening to an episode of the podcast Acting Inspired and they were talking about getting to a certain age where you lose a bit of your mojo. This really resonated with me because I turned 30 last year and all around me were actors (and other artists – directors, designers, dancers) who were asking, Do I still want to do this?
I want to be honest with you. There will be a point, probably in the few years after you hit 25, where you will have this experience – let’s call it a quarter-life crisis – where you lose your youthful spark and you question why you even wanted to work in the arts in the first place. I want to be honest with you about it, because I want you to understand what it’s really like in the arts – but I promise this is not just a whinge post. I have some concrete steps for you to take to avoid this, or help yourself out of it if you’re currently in the middle of it!
It is a very real problem in the arts industry, this quarter life crisis. Perhaps it’s the same in every industry, I don’t know… but certainly the constant rejection, the lack of stability, the competition, and the general lack of respect for the arts from the rest of the world tends to wear a little thin after a while. When you’ve been hustling for about ten years, you start to wonder whether you have it in you to hustle for another ten, let alone the rest of your life. You long for the stability of a ‘normal’ job. This is where most people tend to chuck in the towel and leave the industry.
When you’re young, you have so much energy and determination. You feel like you can have anything you want. Sometimes I wander the halls of WAAPA and feel a kind of angry jealousy because I know they’re all flitting about in the prime of their lives, having the time of their lives, getting ready to take the world by storm. And I understand now why so much of 30 Rock involves Liz Lemon talking about ‘having it all’, because now I know you can’t have it all. Or maybe you can, but not all once. (I feel SO OLD talking about all of this. Also FYI sometimes I have to be at WAAPA for meetings or I go to see their shows… I don’t just go there for the purposes of wandering around with my rage face on. Anyway…)
So what’s the answer?
Well, I don’t know if I have one exactly, but I can tell you what I’ve learned from going through this experience and helping my friends and peers through this experience.
- You need to have a life outside of the arts. A substantial non-artistic pursuit, ideally something where you give back to the community. You’re going to need concrete evidence that you’re a decent human being that contributes to society, and not just with your art. At some point all the reasons you had to explain to your family about why acting is a legitimate career choice will just seem flimsy and lame and you won’t even be able to convince yourself any more. And without other pursuits, your world will become very small and isolated and your creative side will have nothing to feed on. And no one wants to see artists making art about making art. Seriously. No one wants to see that shit.
- You need to set very clear goals. This might seem really obvious, but I can tell you firsthand that the older you get, the fuzzier your dreams become. You need to get super clear about what you want, write it down and stick it on your wall. If you’re under 25, you’re probably rolling your eyes at me right now because this seems so obvious, but just you wait… in three years you’ll suddenly realise three years have passed and you haven’t written down your goals for ages, and you’re only vaguely certain about what kind of acting you really want to be doing.
- You need to find your own way of balancing your life. I was just explaining to a friend of mine today how I’ve FINALLY realised that I am most effective (and happy) when I don’t have to split my focus between a million projects and jobs. Most actors are juggling so many things at once, there’s that constant feeling of keeping dozens of balls in the air at once. I was describing to my friend how I am trying to balance my life by throwing up one ball, catching it, putting it down, then turning to another ball and doing the same. Just one at a time. And he said, “Oh that’s funny, I think I make it work by throwing up a heap of balls at once and just saying – don’t worry about that one, you only have to catch that one in September”. Whatever your method is, at some point you will realise that you can’t do everything all at once, and you will need to find a way to balance all the things you do so you don’t go crazy. This is not only about keeping you sane, but also ensuring you make progress. Pursuing too many things at once is a fast way to get nowhere.
None of these things mean you have to give up on your dreams. You just need to be self-aware and proactive, and a decent human being. Pretty sure you can manage that. Now go out and enjoy feeling like the world is your oyster.