Since the tender age of four years old, I’ve always had a clear vision of what I wanted to be when I grew up.
I always, without a shred of doubt, wanted to be an actress.
Many of my earliest memories involve performing staggering renditions of “Twinkle, Twinkle” and Natalie Cole songs to strangers at various restaurants. My first role on stage was as a Villager in Treasure Island at around age 8. I had the first line in our angry villager song (“Bring a dish of boiled fish and bring it right away!”) and in each of our performances over that weekend I was ecstatic to shout it out to my obviously adoring fans.
Performing on stage gave me, the little girl who had always felt like too much, a place to feel just right. I wasn’t too loud on stage, I was projecting and my vocal power was impressive. I wasn’t exaggerating when I was acting, I was being animated and making bold choices. I was never too much in the theatre, I was right at home.
Acting, being an actress, was one of the first things I ever felt really, really good at.
So naturally, I fell in love with it. It was all I really wanted to do. While other kids were memorizing pop songs and obsessing over Hollister or American Eagle, I would learn every lyric to Stephen Schwartz musicals and peruse Discount Dance for new leg warmers or Capezio heels.
I was in school play after school play, was in so many shows at my local community theatre I probably should’ve paid them rent. I landed my first professional gig at 17 and was on the exact track to not only be voted ‘Most Likely To Be Famous’ (which I was), but actually achieve it.
The dreams didn’t stop in college either, but grew and grew and grew. I double majored in theatre and music and over the course of 4 and a half years, racked up not one, not two, but over 20 different roles to my name. I had regional credits, community credits, the educational credits.
Everything on the surface seemed to be lining up for me to go into that magical big ocean that is the acting world and take it by storm.
But that’s the thing about the surface. While it might be time-stepping and smiling with a full face of stage makeup on the outside, that doesn’t mean that it’s accurately portraying what’s bubbling on the inside.
The thing about theatre for me, and the dreams that trailed along with it, is that it without question made me happy. Musical theatre to this day punches me in my gut and electrifies me like nothing else in this world can.
But being happy and being fulfilled is not the same thing. Not at all.
So while I was happy because I was living my quote-unquote “dream”, I admittedly wasn’t fulfilled. Everything about that life was my dream, absolutely.
Until it wasn’t.
Being a performer made me indisputably happy, yes. But there was always a part of me that failed to feel fully satisfied from just being an actress.
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I’m a very analytical person. I love solving problems and organizing things and figuring out not only how things work, but how to make them better. While singing out Stephen Sondheim lyrics was thrilling, it wasn’t challenging in a way that made me feel whole.
I may not have been able to pinpoint exactly what it was at the time, but I recognize now that I always felt like I wasn’t fully stretching myself and pushing myself by solely pursuing acting.
It all came to a head when I moved to a big city after graduating in order to pursue the dream I not only had, but it seemed like everyone who knew me had for me. I was doing it. It, being living the romantic life of living in a converted one bedroom apartment so I could have a roommate and taking hour bus rides to auditions and staring at backstage.com on my computer that didn’t work unless it was plugged in.
I remember vividly the day I knew I was over it. I had booked a callback for a show I was probably perfect for, the director was ecstatic about me, it was a paid gig. Everything on paper was amazing and I should have been wildly thrilled with the opportunity.
But I just wasn’t.
There’s an old, well-known saying in regards to creative careers that if you can do anything else, you should. That if you don’t love it with your whole heart, you shouldn’t keep doing it. That if you don’t fully want to commit to that life with your whole heart, you should stop.
So I stopped.
I boxed up the tap shoes and the character shoes, filed away my sheet music, recycled the headshots I no longer had use for, and to put it bluntly, quit. For the first time since I was a kid I didn’t have an answer to the question, “What do you want to do?”
The thing about dreams and aspirations that can be difficult to understand is that when they start to control your life, they’re not actually a good thing. When you become so focused on pursuing this one thing, this one dream, it can be way too easy to ignore everything else that’s around you. Your singular dream shouldn’t be hindering you from living a dynamic life.
For me, that’s what was happening. I was growing past theatre, but continuing to be in it because I felt like I was “supposed to.” I would think about the expensive headshots and the college classes and all of the time I spent and how proud my parents were of me and I felt like I had to do this not because I wanted to, but because I was expected to.
I was sticking it out not because there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do, but because I felt like all eyes were on me and wanted me to make it. And in doing so, I was completely ignoring that there were other things I could do with my life and be not only happy, but fulfilled.
But at 25, after quitting the career of my dreams and instead watching the first essay I’d submitted to a website go viral, I had a realization.
Your dreams are allowed to change. Your aspirations are allowed to evolve. And you are allowed to grow with them.
There’s absolutely no way of knowing what would have happened if I would have stayed in the theatre world. And I’d be lying if seeing shows on Broadway doesn’t make me feel a twinge of nostalgia and a little sadness that my days are no longer filled with harmonizing and monologuing.
But if I would have stayed in that world, I would never have found the world I’m in now. A weird world online where most of my co-workers are in different states but I not only feel fulfilled with what I do, I feel exceptionally good at it.
I’ve found a path where I get to not only utilize my creative side every single day, but I’m also constantly flexing that analytical more technical side of myself that had been dormant for so many years. It’s because I gave up my dream, that I was able to find another.
The thing I think we have to understand as we navigate the bizarre aspect of life that is growing up is that following your dreams isn’t necessarily going to be a linear process. It’s filled with twists and turns, and sometimes a complete derailment. But that’s not a failure on your part. It means you know yourself well enough to listen to what your gut is telling you and trusting yourself.
And that’s something worth dreaming about.
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