Every now and then I struggle with choices I’ve made career-wise. A few years ago I was laid-off and accepted a job that shifted me into a slightly different field. The pay and hours are a significant improvement, I get to keep working creatively, can support myself and my husband financially, but I’m no longer working in theater. I’ve struggled internally with the idea that I had become a “sell out”.
I had left theater to work in television. From many people’s perspectives I probably am a “sell out”. But it’s more complicated than that. Here’s the thing. Even in the full-time position at the theater, I was barely making enough to cover bills. And this was after three years of working as an intern (working way too long of hours and making a criminally low wage) and already taking a job that was not my dream job, but paid enough to cover the bills. I could go further into the how unbalanced and unfair the pay can be in theater, but I’ll save that for another post.
While the “starving artist” might be romantic. It sucks. All I did was work, or go drink with the people I worked with. If Ryan and I hadn’t worked together, I probably would not have met him because I never socialized outside of work. When did I have the time or finances? And there was always the threat looming over me of some financial disaster. And I was luckier than most, I already had some money in savings and made it out of undergrad with no student loans. Still I worried that if my car died or I had some major medical accident I would struggle to make it work. I lived in an apartment with far too many people, and could just barely afford it.
When I started working in television, the starting pay was more than enough to cover our bills and start putting money into savings. Soon I not only had health insurance, I also had a retirement plan, actual vacation time, and the finances to actually afford a vacation. I finally was able to start making plans for the future. Ryan and I could move into an decent sized apartment (where our taller friends didn’t risk concussions just walking through the front door)
Suddenly I had the time to pursue passion projects, like vlogging and volunteering in smaller, local theaters. And I had time to discover tabletop RPGs and actually play with people.But still, that little voice kept sneaking into my head every few months and calling me a “sell out”.
I think some of this comes from comments I heard in college when I decided to major in theater. People close to me (who I’m sure meant well) kept relating the skills I was learning to more “grown up” jobs, like managing an office. Suddenly I found myself in a job that wasn’t in theater, sitting behind a desk almost all day, and wondering if I had given in and conceded to a “grown up” job.
Truthfully, if I had been single when I found myself laid-off, I probably would have found another job working for a different theater company and moved wherever I need to. But I wasn’t single, there wasn’t just me to consider. Ryan had finally gotten his foot in the door teaching and I doubt any jobs I found would have been able to support both of us. And if we moved, it would mean Ryan would have to start all over again trying to get a chance to teach. I made an adult decision, to take a step sideways career-wise to help propel our life forwards.
In the last month I’ve heard a few performers talk about the idea of “selling out”. I watched a Patton Oswalt’s stand up and he has a great bit about selling out. He acknowledges “When I was 25, all I did was just scream, “Sellout! // I look back on it and I realized, “oh, I was screaming ‘sellout’ because nobody wanted to buy what I was selling.”” And today Anna Akana posted a great video on the topic. And the points they make really got through to me. I want to make a living doing something I enjoy and I also want to have the time and resources to pursue passion projects no matter if they are paid or volunteer. This job allows me to do both.
So that’s what I’m going to keep reminding myself if and when that internal voice comes back; that I’m not selling out, I’ve made an adult decision to put my family’s future first and to give myself the time and resources to be more than just one thing. I’m still a stage manager. And someday I may even return to stage managing as my full-time career. But for now I’m happy being a researcher/stage manager/producer/writer/vlogger/wife/gamer/friend.