An excerpt from Exit Stage Right: The Career Change Handbook for Performers. A partial version also appears in Game Plan.
There are a whole lot of people out there (and talk shows and magazines and, yes, self-help books) telling you to Do! What! You’re! Passionate! About! – and that’s lovely, inspiring even. After all, no one takes the leap to become a professional performer without incredible passion. But the follow-your-passion proverb can create an enormous amount of pressure. If your performance passion has faded, a lack-of-passion attack is only going to block you from discovering what’s next.
Here’s the thing: passion changes. What we loved to do when we were younger may have served us then, but a dynamic life involves growth and evolution. Does a wonderful, even life-defining early experience necessarily have to dictate your entire professional career?
Some passions simply don’t translate to careers. Many people are passionate about being parents, but that certainly doesn’t mean they must become professional nannies. What it may mean, however, is that their ideal job allows them to spend meaningful time with their kids, to make the money that will allow that time to be minimally stressful, and to be able to leave work at work so they can be fully present as parents.
You don’t necessarily have to do what you love professionally. Your foremost passion does not have to be your entire career or how you spend every day. I know this goes against everything everyone has been telling you, especially if you’re American, were born within ten years of the eighties, or have ever watched Oprah. If you love your children, does that mean you must be a stay-at-home dad? If you’re crazy about tennis, will you be on the court at Wimbledon next year? Will someone ever abandon me on a yacht with only Rioja, Cheez-Its, and SVU reruns? (Please?) We have to dig deeper than the things that infatuate in order to discover those things that can give you a life you love.
Here’s the other thing: passion develops. While turning your passion into your career definitely has its benefits, it may take some time to get there. Your first non-performing job may be a breath of recovery but not the exact thing you were always meant to do, and that’s okay. Similarly, many people transform an ok job into a wow! job once they’re in the door and figure out how to make it their own.
The inherent reasoning flaw in the “make your passion your career” notion is that not every passion is a sustainable career. The point is to get to the heart of why you are doing what you are doing, and be true to what you need to get out of your job in order to be a healthy, happy, well-functioning human being. There is nothing stopping you from infusing any job with passion, creativity, and perfection.
Recent studies show that the common thread between happy people of all walks of life isn’t how much they like their jobs. It’s the strength of their relationships. Knowing this, isn’t it much more important that your career allows you the capacity to build the relationships that are meaningful to you? Or that the hours you spend at work are with coworkers whose company you enjoy?
Happiness is also a choice. Take pleasure in the little things, the unexpected moments, not just the standing ovations. Focus on the amazing experiences you’ve had as a performer, and be grateful for your incredible talent and drive. It really is true that attitude is what determines your experience, and you can choose to see your time of career transition as a dramatic horror story or as one that is exciting and full of potential.
Whether you continue as a performer or transition to a new career, understand that every job in every industry has pros and cons. And like performing, even the careers that seem the most glamorous on the outside have their own set of struggles once you get in. The point of this book is to discover which pros of a potential career are vital to your happiness, well-being, and success, which cons will destroy your will to live, and which things are just details that fall somewhere in between.