As a disclaimer: this article may not be For You. I am writing from a distinctly middle class perspective to a distinctly middle class audience. I am not here to tell you that you're not working hard enough to pursue your dreams if you're taking public transport to 3 full time jobs to support 2 children by yourself. This is for the person I used to be, who constantly thought "I'm better than this" and never put in the effort to actually prove it.
When I was growing up I wanted to be: an actress (ages 6-14), a film director (ages 14-19), a tv network executive or alternately "something" in theatre (ages 18-21), a casting director (ages 21-27). At 12, I sent in an audition tape to be Hermione in the Harry Potter movies. That's a bit of an exaggeration: my parents drove me to drop off the audition at the Casting company in LA, at which point I started crying hysterically and refused to let go of the VHS, for fear of eventually being rejected. They eventually pried it out of my hands and dropped it in the mail slot, and the surely already finalized cast was announced 3 days later.
But the dream was always and only show business of some sort.
My parents worked full time, so dinners were a "whenever you can eat" proposition of toast, or fruit, microwaved lasagna or - my favorite - a frozen quiche from Trader Joe's.
The food obsession came on quickly and unexpectedly. In early 2009 I didn't know even that you had to put salt in food you cooked in order to make it taste good. In December 2009 I bought and loved an early version of Liddabit Sweets' Beer & Pretzel caramels at the Brooklyn Flea and was so excited I posted about it on Facebook. In September 2010 I was unemployed, and took an ice cream making class on a whim (basically this, but the week after Blake Lively was there). In February 2011, I made my first ever batch of marshmallows.
One month later, I got my first 9-5 paying day job. I'd been working mostly nights and weekends selling merchandise at Broadway shows, and the rest of my days had been spent at low to no-pay internships in theater or casting. When I got the day job, the casting director I had previously been interning for told me she was disappointed that they hadn't been able to find an assistant job for me in The Business. She said: "This seems like a downgrade. A lateral move at best."
I told myself I'd give it two years and then I'd quit and get back to pursuing my showbiz dreams.
I am still at that job.
The two year mark came and went. I fell in love for the first time and got my heart truly broken; I sat at my desk crying every day for the better part of a year. Playing with the idea of food for the first time, I started Fred's Marshmallows, and Fred's Marshmallows went out of business taking my life savings with it. I sat at my desk, trying in vain to convince myself that the reason I was doing no work was that there was no work to be done. I looked for other jobs, every single day, on EntertainmentCareers.net and Playbill.com. It was fruitless. For a while I became convinced that certain industry players hated me so much as a result of mistakes in my youth that they'd blacklisted me. I imagined my picture plastered all over New York, with the caption "NO SECOND CHANCES." I was bored and I was miserable, and I couldn't figure out how to break out of the funk I was in.
I went nuclear: I broke up with my boyfriend, and I moved to California.
Moving across the country with 2 dogs and a cat and a life's worth of belongings is expensive. I was lucky that my company was based in Los Angeles, or maybe I was influenced by it. I transferred to the LA office with every intention of quitting after I'd found a cool new job a few months later.
That didn't happen. Against all odds, I became good at my job. I started liking my job. What changed?
LOCUS OF CONTROL
Do you know about the Locus of Control? Picture this: you didn't get the job you applied for. Do you think well, the obvious solution is that my face is plastered on the wall with NO SECOND CHANCES written under it and I wasn't hired because someone has it out to get me or do you think well that's a bummer - I'll work on my resume and see if I can add some new special skills by taking classes and maybe I'll be better qualified for the next position that comes along.
In personality psychology, locus of control refers to the extent to which individuals believe they can control events affecting them. Understanding of the concept was developed by Julian B. Rotter in 1954, and has since become an aspect of personality studies. A person's "locus" (Latin for "place" or "location") is conceptualized as either internal (the person believes they can control their life) or external (meaning they believe their decisions and life are controlled by environmental factors which they cannot influence, or by chance or fate).
Individuals with a strong internal locus of control believe events in their life derive primarily from their own actions: for example, when receiving exam results, people with an internal locus of control tend to praise or blame themselves and their abilities. People with a strong external locus of control tend to praise or blame external factors such as the teacher or the exam.
I discovered this concept when trying to figure out what it was about my boyfriend at the time that was pissing me off so much (protip: if you find yourself doing this, end that relationship). And when I read this, I realized WHY his external locus of control bugged me:
I was doing the same thing.
I was blaming my lack of success on anything but myself.
And once I realized this I realized that at the root of my issues was my utter apathy about my day job. Because to me that's all it was, a day job. A survival job. That annoying thing I pretend to do for 8 hours a day and 40 hours a week because I need to make money to buy food and go to the movies and pay my rent. But it doesn't matter. The job was the career equivalent of treading water, and I gave it that amount of energy- until I started drowning.
YOUR WORK ETHIC IS A MUSCLE
It is pretty rare for people in their 20s with a goal in the entertainment industry to be able to survive on money they make whilst furthering their career. My highest paying internship paid $100/week in New York City. For money we waited tables, we answered calls, we showed apartments and we temped. And when we got a little older, a little less immortal, many of us took a job that was a little more serious and paid a little better. But only until the dreams came through, we said.
I used to think of my capacity for hard work as a battery: if I conserved it and used it only when needed, I'd be able to power my nights with boundless creative energy. If I wasted it by having my labor switch turned on all day, I'd be left with a dead battery before I could get to the things I really cared about.
But it's not a battery. It's a muscle. And I was spending 2000 hours a year letting it atrophy.
You can think of Work and Apathy as the Two Wolves in the popular proverb.
An old grandfather told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, and resentment. The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and bravery.”
The boy thought about it, and asked, “Grandfather, which wolf wins?”
I was letting my apathy towards my job bleed out into the other areas of my life. I don't like my boyfriend? Eh. It's fine. Should I respond to that email offering a one night job I don't want to do? No - why bother? Apathy is not the wolf you want to feed.
THE JOB IS NOT THE REASON YOU AREN'T MAKING ART
Lin Manuel Miranda recently posted on Facebook his 2004 application for the Jonathan Larson Grant, which detailed his many jobs back then:
"My continuing work on In the Heights, by fiscal necessity, requires me to take literally dozens of jobs to keep the rent paid while I finish the score on my own time. I write commercial jingles for health insurance commercials. I sing backup for children’s jazz concerts. I’m a substitute English teacher at my old high school. If your kids have ever been to a Bar Mitzvah in Long Island, chances are I was paid to dance for them."
He didn't get that grant. At the end of the day, after his dozens of jobs, he still went home and found the energy to write In The Heights. He wasn't too tired, he didn't have to unwind with a glass of wine and a mindless television show to retain his sanity (well, not every night - lord knows I'm not trying to deny you that simple pleasure).
Your exhausting day job isn't what is keeping you from writing that novel. Try to figure out what is.
For me? I think I didn't yet know that I wasn't willing to suffer for the arts. I never went home after a day's work and decided to produce a short film. I went home and baked. I had the wrong dream.
I see so many of my peers fall into this pattern - the job is hard to quit, because the drinks with friends and ability to pay the rent that we once viewed as such a luxury is now a requirement. The job becomes your buoy and your enemy, and is treated as such, with apathy, disdain and resentment. The dreams make it ok, because the dreams are who you are. The job is just the job. But you don't quit. And you get older. The dreams stay the dreams. And then what?
THE JOB IS NOT BENEATH YOU
Your job doesn't give you meaning. Your job will not magically bestow you with value (at least, not to the people who count). Your job is nothing beyond what you put in: whether it be the survival job at the software company or the job in the development office at NBC.
You are the hiring manager at NBC and you have two job candidates: Do you hire the dude with perfunctory performance, playing around in his copious downtime on Photoshop and Buzzfeed? Or the one who spent his time identifying problems, finding solutions and generally making the lives of his co-workers better by going above and beyond? Do you care that the former works at a production company and the latter works at McDonalds? Or do you hire the person who puts in the work?
I am by no means a perfect employee: I would be lying if I told you I didn't write a fraction of this post at my desk at my day job. But I care, and caring makes me better.