Owning Your Creative Career
A few years ago a friend said to me “I’d never pass up on an opportunity to perform.” At the time I thought – “Oh crap. I’ve definitely passed up opportunities to perform. I’ve even DONE shows I wish I’d turned down. What does this mean about my commitment?!”
Years later I realized – oh, I don’t need to do things her way at all.
I wanted to start off this post with that so I can be clear – anything I write here might only work for some people and not every one. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my creative career it’s that there is not one way to do it. No matter how many teachers tell you there is. (Even though each teacher says something different. Coincidence?) Creative careers are fickle – you have to find what works for you.
With that being said: here are my top 6 tips.
1. Don’t prioritize it.
Weird right? All signs point to that you should. That’s a trap.
I spent years making my career the end all be all and I was hella miserable. I took a year off making it my priority and guess what? I booked more and was way less stressed. Think about it. A creative career is filled with wonderful feels but is also met with daily rejection. If you’re prioritizing your creative career, you’re prioritizing the rejection that comes with it. Don’t do that to yourself! Now I bet you’re thinking – “but Kelly, I want to be on Broadway, I have to tirelessly submit to every casting director, practice till my voice hurt and hit every audition I can to make it!”
Uh okay, but could you maybe prioritize your health first? Getting a good night sleep? Don’t miss your morning meditation? Hit the gym? Or maybe prioritize your friendships? Agree to see your friend the night before your audition instead of staying home running your monologue for the 100th time? If you make your career your everything – you have a much higher chance of walking into that opportunity desperate as all hell. Trust me, I’ve been there. It looks a lot like this:
Instead, I prioritize my health first. My fitness goals. My journaling. My meditation. It’s something totally in my control and sets me up for success in all other areas of my life. What’s something in your control that you love dearly? Put that first.
2. Put yourself out there
This one I struggle with in the networking sense, but it is very much true that, it’s not only about who you know – but who knows you. I know this can be a hard pill to swallow, but I try to think of it this way: going to my friends shows is networking and if I introduce myself to someone who I admire and I don’t vibe with them well – I don’t put the pressure on myself to further that relationship. A lot of people would and have said otherwise. “Know and work with everyone you can!” What a load of bologna.
Try to make it fun. I only go to events that spark an interest in me – but I must admit, networking is my biggest hurdle. I’m a huge home body and my generalized anxiety doesn’t help the situation. That’s cool – we can work on this together!
3. Create your own work
Not only do you have to do this, it will save your creative soul. Writing my own shows and producing my own work has been a life saver for me. For one thing, you don’t have to audition or pitch for an-y-bo-dy to make it, and maybe it will turn into something amazing and you can send off the finished product to a film festival, improv fest, art gallery, blog sites, whatever! Or you can produce a show/film/dance/concert. Get whatever rights you need, book a space and DO IT. Film a stupid short and put it on YouTube. I blog and have a YouTube channel and I write sketches and shows. That’s what I do in between auditions and the like. It will bring you so much joy, a sense of accomplishment AND it might lead somewhere.
4. Avoid talking about your creative career with ummm…non creatives (cough YOUR FAMILY)
Sorry mom and dad. Unless your family comes from a long line of artists in some way shape or form, they’re not going to understand the grasps of your career. They don’t know how hard it is. They never can and they never will. That’s not their fault and it’s not their fault that they want to hear about all of your endeavors and whether you’re doing anything big or exciting. They just want the best for you and what you’re doing is brave. At the same time though, it hurts to say “no I’m not booking” or “I’m taking some time off” or “It’s dry out there, no opportunities.” These are all real scenarios! To be honest, whenever I get asked questions like that, I say the quickest response such as “Yep, it’s going well” and change the subject. Sometimes I don’t even tell people the big things that happen because, I really don’t want my whole being to be all about my career. This one’s a toughy. Everyone’s situation is different. To sum it up though – if it hurts to talk about your career, you don’t have to and it doesn’t make you care any less.
5. Take time away from it all.
I’m going to quote the great Mick Napier here:
Take a break occasionally. From it all. For perspective, sanity, life. You and what you bring to the stage will benefit from your actual life experience. My own life has been a series of wonderful hobbies.
Friends, I implore you – take a break. I did and it’s been so cathartic for me. So cathartic, that I’m now using the word “cathartic” in my vocabulary. I know what you’re thinking:
“If I stop I’ll lose my edge! People will forget about me! I’ll die!”
Get over yourself – taking a break IS an edge because most people don’t do it.
Everyone is too wrapped up in their own shit to forget about you because they’d have to remember you to begin with. They’ll pick back up when you return, don’t worry.
Well if you do die, you’ll die stress free….like Reese Witherspoon. Does anyone else think that woman looks so relaxed all the time?
6. Practice – but for the fun of it
Practice your craft. The oldest trick in the book. Whip out a new monologue. Write a short. Play your guitar. Paint the sky. Do something for even just 10 minutes a day, or 1 hour a week even! You don’t have to get all fancy and turn your bedroom into this big practice space. It can be simpler than that. I remember reading acting books from the greats like Stella Adler and Lee Strasberg (ENEMIES by the way, I’ll save that for my biography on them) and they’d urge you to rearrange your entire apartment to fit the character! Practice for 2 hours day trying to feel this orange or the snow or a dog! BE THE CHAIR!
Like okay? What if I just study the script interpretation of this play and pet my cat? Sound good?
Do what is FUN. Don’t worry about all the bits and bops, as is my phrase for when something is quite frankly, nonsense.
Oooo I can hear Uta Hagen shouting at me now.
Hey – if the big intense stuff is fun for you, then hell yeah.
You be that chair girlfran.
Anyways, I hope this was helpful. I’ve spent so many years living through the painful parts of being a creative that I completely lost sight of my love for it. Finding the joy in what I do and taking a step back from all of the shoulds gave me a fresh perspective. Try one of these tips over the next few weeks. Let me know how it goes!
And remember, your career is not who you are. You are a person first. Just like Dr. Burke…on Grey’s Anatomy…Season 1
Damn…I wish I could find a GIF for that…
Self care, self flare.