Over the Labor Day weekend, a photo of actor, Geoffrey Owens (most notably known for playing Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show) working at Trader Joe’s as a cashier launched a conversation about job shaming against actors.
In response, SAG (The Screen Actors Guild Union) tweeted the hashtag, #ActorswithDayjobs and invited actors to share their own stories of how they make ends meet between acting jobs. It was an effort to show support and counterbalance the shaming of Geoffrey Owens. I think it achieved more by humanizing the acting community and revealing the unrealistic expectations behind the curtain.
I read tweet after tweet of people describing how they starred in Broadway shows, commercials, movies and soap operas then went to work as administrators, nurses, baristas and an array of jobs until their next role.
I realized I had the same “Big Break” mentality. If I saw them on some show, I assumed they were now living the glamorous life of parties, shopping and expensive trips. Never did I picture them going back to answering phones in an office building. I bought into the idea that success was all-or-nothing instead of ebb and flow.
I am not an Actor. But, I am a writer.
I have always been hesitant to label myself as one despite being published and publishing my own books. I defined success as not needing another job to pay the bills or being on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Since, I hadn’t accomplished either, I felt like an imposter calling myself a writer.
I write in the late of night while the world sleeps. People jokingly accuse me of never sleeping, which can feel judgmental. I steal time to write on the train ride to an office or on a lunch break. When I am fortunate; I can take time off and live my ideal “Carrie Bradshaw” writer life in coffee shops, minus the expensive shoe collection.
I have been doing this for years because when I don’t write I feel deprived. But, I had a picture in my mind that I hadn’t “made it” until I was selling enough books to live off the revenues. And, when I mention my writing, someone always has a story of a friend who wrote a book and is now living a lavish life, whether it is true or not.
Now, thanks to this hashtag, I understand the success is in writing anyway because it makes me feel good.
I thought I had to choose one and starve the other. Indulging in writing felt lofty and irresponsible. And, I carried a low level of guilt when I gave it too much attention. But, simply working to pay the bills feels like cutting off my own oxygen and suffocating slowly.
A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke. -Vincent Van Gogh
Maybe, straddling these two worlds has always been the best way to serve myself.
I think there is no shame in pursuing your talent while paying the bills with odd jobs. It doesn’t make you any less dedicated or successful. If anything, there are many people who just let the dream die. There is tenacity in keeping it alive.