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Acting as a Career... Is it a Real Job?


Arthur Miller had this to say about salesmen in his autobiography Timebends: "These men lived like artists, like actors whose product is first of themselves, forever imagining triumphs in a world that either ignores them or denies their presence altogether. But just often enough to keep the game going one of them makes it and swings to the moon on a thread of dreams." The job of acting isn't really seen by most like a "real job" at all. To some, it's a phase that you go through because everyone deep down has wanted to be an actor at some point. To many, until you "make it," you are always aspiring because chances are you're working another job to pay the bills.

But what about those white-collar jobs that society deems so much better? People tend to encourage and push you in that direction because white-collar jobs are assumed to be more stable and provide a comfortable living. Experience in both worlds has taught me that they are not so different as perceived.

I discovered this to be true when I landed my first professional job right after college. I had managed to finish college in two years, not because I was exceptionally smart, but because I knew afterward I could pursue acting (my family had forbidden it before). Months before I was set to graduate, I was already nervous about landing a job that would pay well so that I could go back to school. Would I save up enough to go back to school in a year? How could I even find a job without a car? With no savings, I ended up buying a car all on my credit card, hoping to find a job afterward. It was the biggest Hail-Mary I'd ever taken before, considering I didn't even have enough to pay the minimum monthly payment.

My panic soon subsided when I ended up finding a job in outside sales. It was more about sales than the product, life insurance. I felt reassured, seeing upon my very first day how the men wore sharp suits and the women had perfect manicures. It was a far cry from the acting world I was working toward, but for the time being it was acceptable. It also promised to pay between $40,000 and $60,000 the first year. Motivated and ready to work, I felt so happy knowing that at least for this one year, I would know what it feels like to have money, stability, and independence.

Such dreams quickly began to fade. Working on straight commission, I often felt unemployed. There were times I would see clients all day and sell nothing. When you are an actor, you, at least, know you'll make something even if you work as an extra. With this job, the only guarantee was that I would definitely spend money putting gas in my car and paying my huge phone bill for calling clients. Appointments weren't even a guarantee for a family to show up; one out of every two times, they would fail to show. In acting, even if someone slammed the door in my face at least they were there to slam it so I didn't waste time driving there!

Week after week I was a nervous wreck, yet determined to keep the job because I was more naïve than I was sensible. I continued to struggle to make money, and I never made anything more than what I needed to survive, if that. It was difficult to even get a side job because you were expected to work every day with your schedule open. Compared to some summers working as an actor, this was actually tougher. The independence I had hoped for, time to spend with family and friends was not there, and more importantly, I had to pinch money like there was no tomorrow. Eventually, I quit, knowing there was no point to work like a slave for an industry I ultimately didn't care about.

The one luxury the sales job did provide me was the flexibility to travel to New York for a week to audition for different theater schools. I got into my top choice, and I am set to begin this September. Knowing that I had experienced the sleek, flashy finance world and dealt with sharks and endless rejection, I have an even stronger sense of security that acting is as good a profession as any. Who says that acting is the only job out there that is tough? That's the "real world" in all fields of work, isn't it? Working this seemingly high qualified position made me realize that there are many professionals other than actors who struggle just the same as they pursue their careers. Best of all, I found comfort because acting became less intimidating. Simply put, there are tons of harder jobs out there that are less rewarding. There is no need for me to try or be tempted by another career. Acting is my passion, and I will work just as hard at it as any other demanding position. For me, it will more than suffice.

After all, your career is something you will spend your whole adult life pursuing. You better be sure to pick the right one.

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