Making a Career Transition from the Performing Arts (aka – Why it’s OK that you don’t want to do that thing you’ve done FOREVER).

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In my current role planning major conferences across the country and developing membership and marketing strategy for a major association, colleagues are always shocked to learn that I:

1) Have a degree in theatre

2) Danced for over twenty years and was also a teacher/choreographer

I was no means a Broadway Star, but I was a performer my entire life and found enjoyment in my successes. After college I moved to Los Angeles, did a few gigs to earn my SAG card only to realize a short year later that “the business” wasn’t for me. There were several things that brought me to this realization some in my control, some not, but ultimately I knew that I wanted life to feel more expansive, rich, and er…stable. As the ole cliché goes, I didn’t know what I wanted to do per se but I knew who I wanted to become. Being successful and respected on my own terms, managing a team, and being in a role that allowed me to bring ideas to the table were a few things I longed for in a career.

For both myself and a lot of other artists who have made the leap, you usually don’t wake up one morning and say “I want to be something else now!” For many, the decision to no longer pursue a career in the arts comes with shock, sadness, and a grieving of a life that feels like it has all but ended. I wanted to start a new chapter in my life, but not knowing what direction to go in was scary and I had more days than not that were deeply sad during this transition.

Something I once heard author, Elizabeth Gilbert (you know, Eat, Pray, Love) remark that our society tends to reward “jackhammers” or people who focus intensely on one thing their entire life. She went on to say that hummingbirds, those letting curiosity lead them from one interest to another, can actually end up more fulfilled. You can read her full commentary on this here.

Maybe you thought about being a hummingbird, experiencing the sweet nectar of more than one flower but are afraid to fly because you do not know where that next flower is. I began to pursue a corporate career eight years ago. It takes time and a lot of the journey is just trying shit on for size. Here are a few bits of advice I picked up along that way that I hope helps you as you grand jeté into new territory.

You DON’T have to know what you want to do, but you DO have to keep doing things that bring you joy. If you hate your job, find the nuggets of joy in the work that you like. Rarely is a job 100% awful, if you make gravitate to the things you like in  your job you can eventually grow those skills into your perfect position.

Know when a job is a good catch because of the growth it will afford you later. I once took a job at a startup as an Executive Assistant because in the interview they said that while the position was administrative, I could eventually grow into whatever I wanted to do. I was able to dive into several departments within the company and it was the main catalyst to get me my dream job. Sometimes a title might not be attractive, but read between the lines as to what that position will offer you and how you might be able to market yourself in the future.

Trust your worth. It’s one thing to know your worth but to trust your worth takes far more courage.  Performers inherently know how to self-market, perform under pressure, and give presentations, we are savvy people. In my mid-late twenties, I was racking up a few too many entry level jobs because I didn’t believe that my degree could get me anywhere else. I was angry at myself for feeling “stuck” in positions that no longer served their purpose. This made me resentful of my job and my relationship with my managers suffered. Only take a job beneath your skill set if it will provide you growth opportunities in the future, give you office experience, or get your foot into the door in an industry you want to be in, but know when it’s time to GTF out. A lot of it comes down to self-confidence. Using my arts background helped me throughout my career.

Don’t Limit Yourself. Just because you are paying the bills with a job unrelated to your passion doesn’t mean you need to give up that passion. I recently got headshots printed because you never freaking know. Want me to plan your next major conference? Hell yeah. Want me to perform in your play? Fuck yeah. This year I even I joined a dance company for dancers who have 9-5 jobs. I see shows when I can, oh, and I write. It’s just another extension of who I am now, I call on my art to infuse happiness and joy into my life.

Just because your business card may say something different doesn’t mean you are defeated or change who you are on the inside. You are still and actor, dancer, singer even if your business card says the contrary.

Namaste Hummingbirds!

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