A few years ago, I had a long hard conversation with myself about where I was headed professionally. I had worked in a corporate office for almost five years and saw limited opportunities for advancement. The economy was still getting back on its feet after the financial crisis of 2008 rocked the workforce, and nothing seemed sustainable at the time. I knew I had other passions and capabilities, yet I had dedicated very little time developing those skills. So what did I do? I packed everything up and moved to France.
Okay, this may sound like the premise for another Eat Pray Love book, but actually, it was the moment when I finally decided to follow my passion for photography and the performing arts. I took a very early sabbatical year to teach English in southern France, then moved to New York City to finally enroll in acting school and to continue to develop my documentary photography skills. How was this all possible? I’m still not quite certain, but quite simply, I took a leap of faith, and I couldn’t be happier at the moment. I’ve been performing throughout New York City for the past two years and am working on developing a show of my photography. While all this sounds romantic, I want to remind you that when the first of the month comes about, and bills and rent are due, I am the one who pays them. I don’t come from a wealthy background, nor is there anything exceptional about my income, but I have made certain choices that have allowed me to follow my passion and still pay the bills.
Taking a leap of faith isn’t easy for anyone. It requires a certain level of courage and strength to know that the road ahead won’t necessarily be easy, but you do have the capability to weather the storm, and you will land on your feet in the end. The crisis of 2008 for example, caused layoffs en masse, and for many who had just graduated at the time, the future was a bleak one. However, most of those who had the courage to fight through the employment maze came out just fine. People had to get creative with the ways in which they sought out new employment or in how they marketed their skillsets. I should preface this by saying that my degree in Architecture didn’t necessarily prepare me for a career in the performing arts, but it did contain transferable skills that I use to help pay the bills! A good friend once told me that things don’t happen TO you, they happen FOR you. In hindsight, looking back at the struggle in 2008, I realize that she was right.
Staying open is the best asset you can possess. Recognize that while your four-year university prepared you for one career, the days are gone when you can join the workforce, stay with a company for thirty years, then retire. It still stands true that some people may have six careers in one lifetime, but in your case, you may have six jobs at once! Okay, that may be an exaggeration, but the point is you must stay open to the opportunities that come your way, and understand how they benefit your financial stability. Also, realize there is not one prescribed way to stitch together your life, but you must do what it takes.
Understand your strengths and what you bring to the table.
Knowing your strengths in the workforce will benefit you tremendously, and learning how to capitalize on your skills sets will keep your bank account balanced and out of the red. I no longer work for an architectural firm, but I now have several private clients whose apartments I am redesigning and managing construction for. When I first landed in New York, it was easy to pick up a serving job at a high-end French restaurant. Now, I’m using my foreign language skills to do foreign language voiceover work! Learning how you monetize your skills takes time and a bit of planning, but it will help you find freelance work that supports your passion and the roof over your head.
Understand taxes and what it means to freelance.
Like many artists, you are probably freelancing on several different projects in varied capacities, which means you are probably receiving a 1099-MISC as being self-employed or an independent contractor. Understanding the tax rules and deductions is essential, so you do not owe big when tax season kicks into gear. It’s best to pay quarterly taxes (a.k.a. estimated taxes) by the assigned deadline, and not hold off until the end because you may be penalized you if you underpay your estimated taxes. Also, consider the option of incorporating. If you are working as a consultant, then there may be some tax savings you discover while incorporating. Don’t forget that there are a number of deductions that will be made available to you. Research is key!
Save some for later.
You’ve taken the leap to follow your passion, and you don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck. Taking the leap is definitely a financial risk, but if you have a cushion on which to fall, it makes for a less stressful ride. Even if you are putting away a small amount each week, it makes a huge difference for that time when you need to take time off work to audition, study, etc. It may seem nearly impossible in cities such as New York or San Francisco, but I’ve lived in both cities, and I know that it IS possible.
Put in the footwork.
I definitely wish it was easy to be discovered, but certainly, this is never the case. Nor is it the case that someone will always be there to support you financially. You have to put in the effort to go out there and market your skills in a way that will support you financially. It’s a never-ending balance between focusing your time and energy on your passion and ways to support your endeavors, but if you’re lucky, your means of support will be sympathetic to your initiatives. Don’t be afraid to talk to your boss about what you do and what you wish to do. I learned that the more I talked about what it was that I wanted in terms of acting, the more people supported my efforts, including my boss.
You’ve taken a risk, and you’ve found a job (or several) that helps to support your dream. Now the important step is to not forget why you left everything in the first place. I see many cases where people become “caught up” in the hustle of day-to-day survival and often become discouraged. Never forget your end goal, and never forget that you have all the capabilities possible to succeed, it just depends on your plan and your efforts. It’s not an easy venture, and there is no reason to sugarcoat the road ahead, but it wouldn’t be worth it in the end if it were too easy right?