Careers. Shall we discuss?
For some the end goal has always been in sight. From early aspirations to the necessary education, training, those first steps on to the ladder and the subsequent climb, there are those in the world who have known what they’ve wanted to do from an early age and have gone on to achieve it. Their career path has been an invariably straight and well thought-out line.
For others (dare I say the majority?), the path is considerably more wobbly. This group of people may go to university to study a subject they enjoy but don’t really know what they’re going to do with; they go on to take jobs that they didn’t necessarily expect to, and end up switching careers a number of times before settling on what they finally realise is their vocation.
And then there are those who don’t really have a career as such. I’m not talking about the unemployed or the work-shy, but those for whom ‘career’ is not the be all and end all. They work to live, earning what is necessary in order to do what they really want to be doing, be it raising a family, travelling or learning etc.
Why am I blathering on about this today? Well, in a couple of months I turn 30. THIRTY. That’s fully-fledged adulthood, a milestone birthday and a new phonetic to get my tongue around the next time I’m asked my age. I have to admit I’m one of those weirdos who has looked forward to turning 30 since I was old enough to count. I was a mildly precocious child, and believed that 30 was the Pinnacle of Life™. Now it’s nearly here I’m surprised to find myself pretty horrified at the prospect of leaving my 20s behind. (And at the two grey hairs Paul has recently plucked from my head in the last couple of months.) I’ve achieved much of what I’d hoped to have achieved at this age: I’m married to the love of my life, we own our own home and have a lovely, if perpetually obnoxious cat, I have a wide circle of brilliant, interesting friends and an active social life, I’m the slimmest I’ve been since I was 15 and I’m certainly the tallest I’m ever gonna get (5’4″ and a half, yes!). But there are also goals that haven’t quite been met and aspects of my life that I’ve perhaps spent too much of my twenties fretting and procrastinating about; my career being one of them.
I love meeting new people, but I’ve always dreaded the question ‘so what do you do then?’. If asked now I would start by simply saying, ‘I work in weddings‘. I imagine this would suffice for some people, but for those who are interested I could elaborate further: ‘I have a wedding planning business and I also work as a stylist in a rather nice bridal boutique’, for instance. I find it bemusing that I can look back at that sentence now and not feel remotely embarrassed, but ask me five years ago and the conversation would have been entirely different…
Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: So what do you do then?
Me: Erm… [lowering my voice so that none else can hear me]… I’m an actress.
Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: [Mildly impressed] Oh right, been in anything good?
Me: Oh, bits of telly, nothing big…
Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: [Jokingly] You been in Eastenders?
Me: I have actually-
Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: Have you?!
Me: Just one episode. It was ages ago, it wasn’t a big part…
Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser: So what you doing now then?
Me: Er… just auditioning, you know. I’m not working at the minute.
[Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser looks disappointed.]
Me: …Well I am working but just in a call centre. To pay the bills. It’s for Weight Watchers actually, it’s quite interesting…
[Man at party/taxi driver/hairdresser looks even more disappointed, verging on disgusted. Conversation ends.]
It’s not something I’ve ever really spoken in depth about before, but eagle-eyed readers may have spotted the ‘actress’ reference here and there. In truth it was my whole life and raison d’être from the age of 16 until about 26. A decade of working towards one career goal… until I started planning my hypothetical wedding, subsequently dipped my toe in to the wedding industry and my enthusiasm for the acting world inevitably began to wane. Of course, the fact that I was beginning to get less work and the elusive ‘big break’ was seemingly out of reach were major catalysts in this career evolution, but the move in to my late 20s certainly made me question where I was going with this acting lark, and whether a new career path could bring more success and better quality of life.
You may be surprised to know that despite the sombre note, my acting career was actually reasonably successful. It’s a tough old business, the acting one. Many fall at the first hurdle (securing a decent agent), and only very few go on to make a real career of it. Following a drama degree and then drama school, I did manage to bag myself a decent agent, and I had a slow but promising start with roles on Eastenders, Doctors, The Impressions Show and Being Human, to name a few. The latter was my closest to a ‘break’- a semi-regular part in the very first series which led to me receiving fan mail (yes really) and being invited to sign autographs alongside Patrick Stewart at the UK’s largest sci-fi convention. (Ok, I wasn’t actually sat alongside Patrick Stewart; I was at one end of the stadium at Milton Keynes while he was at the other, more popular end, but he was there. As were a multitude of daleks and jedi knights.)
The highs of being a working actress are brilliant and- particularly in TV- undeniably glamorous (anyone claiming otherwise is a liar), but the lows are stupendously low. Rejection is tough and something you have to become immune to, and the periods of silence and waiting for the phone to ring are long and thoroughly miserable. Looking back over the four years I truly considered myself a ‘working actress’, I probably only physically ‘worked’ approximately 28 days out of 1460. That’s excluding the countless auditions, letter-writing and free bits of theatre I did here and there, but for me it simply wasn’t enough. I was 27 years old, approaching the end of my twenties quicker than I could say ‘Welcome to Weight Watchers, Sama speaking‘, and I wasn’t anywhere near achieving the kind of success I’d aspired to. I loved performing (and always will) but perhaps, just perhaps, it wasn’t the career for me.
My retirement from acting was long and drawn out, and played out through a series of small but defining steps. The first was leaving the call-centre for a job at Blackburn Bridal at the beginning of 2011. The second was undertaking a wedding planning course with the UKAWP at the end of that year. The third was obtaining my first client and the launch of Utterly Wow in 2013. The fourth was reaching my target of summer 2014 bookings. And the last, most momentous and finite step was the email to my agent to call it an end a mere two months ago. My heart was no longer full for acting and I wanted to begin my thirties with one career goal, not two. I cried hot, hard tears for days once my decision had been made, but the subsequent relief and freedom I felt was palpable.
I’m immeasurably proud of what I achieved as an actress, but funnily enough I’m actually more proud of what I’ve achieved so far with Utterly Wow. I may not be earning the kind of money I hoped to aged 29 and 9 months, but I know that Utterly Wow will get bigger and better, and I have lots of plans up my sleeve within this industry that I hope will see this little business of mine grow and flourish for years to come.
The moral of the story? Well, there isn’t one really, except that a career path doesn’t have to be straight in order to bring success. And that 30 is most definitely not the Pinnacle of Life™ when it comes to a vocation. When I eventually have children I will tell them that whilst going to university is an experience that is brilliant beyond words, the subject they take and the subsequent degree they achieve is not the be all and end all. Oh, and to ignore their school ‘Career Advisor’- they haven’t got a clue. It can take an awfully long time to work out what you want to do with your life, and perhaps there are those of you reading who still don’t really know, but ultimately I believe that if you can find your passion, identify your strengths and work hard to merge the two, your vocation will eventually find you.
So now I’d love to hand over to you. I know we all like our anonymity in this blogosphere of ours but I’m fascinated to know what you lot do, and indeed if you’re doing what you thought you’d be doing 10 years ago? How long did it take you to forge a career, and are any of you about to embark on a new one? What’s the dream??
Go on, it’s good to talk…