“And what do you do?”
This is a question that should make me want to swing from the rooftops. I should want to grab this person, hug them and delightedly tell them that I do the best job in the world. Ideally, I’d be doing so well that they wouldn’t even need to ask what I do for a living. So why, when facing this question, do I feel my soul shrink away along with my knowledge of economics and my desire hang the washing up?
The fact is, it’s quiet at the moment. Maybe not for you. I really hope not for you. But for me it is. I haven’t had an acting job in quite some time. Why? I don’t know. As much as I probably should, I’m trying not to look inward. I’m also trying not to look outward and blame the rest of the world. To stop myself from either screaming at the mirror or screaming at everyone else, I’ve had to come to the conclusion that no one is to blame and that it’s just ‘one of those things.’ Naïve? Maybe. Not likely to achieve in me getting work? Almost definitely. Healthier? I certainly think so.
But it got me thinking about how we cope during these quiet times. How you can stop yourself from spending every waking hour wondering where it is you’ve gone wrong? When you find yourself not able to do the job you love, how do you stop yourself from becoming a shrivelled up scrap of bitter?
One of the biggest survival tactics is making sure that you fill all this sudden spare time with good things, and that includes whatever it is that you have to do to make money. I’m exceedingly lucky that I have a brilliant job that is massively flexible and that I also enjoy. But even before then I’ve always tried to make sure that my resting job is something that doesn’t make me want to cry for the rest of eternity. I’ve found that letting people know you’re flexible for work is always a good thing. It’s meant I’ve worked on the phones at a takeaway (not the greatest job in the world but it meant free meals and also the embarrassment of accidentally calling Holborn Police Station to tell them that we were out of vine leaves.) It’s meant I’ve worked for a record label (I got more paper cuts than I thought imaginable but I did get to witness a terrifyingly music-savvy office listen to a new track and compliment it only to realise, 30 minutes in, that the record was stuck.) And yes, I’ve done call centre work but I made sure it was for a tiny company that didn’t seem set on selling my soul. The work is out there, you just have to be a little bit open about what you want to do. Basically, if you’re not selling your soul or your body (unwillingly) then you’re probably doing OK.
But you also have to make sure that you’re keeping even the feeblest grip on the job that you love. I know that some people find that working in theatres or teaching drama can help as it can make you feel that you’re still involved. Personally I find writing hugely beneficial. It keeps my brain ticking and although 99.9% of it is utter rubbish, coming up with a phrase that makes you smile can be all that you need sometimes. If I was blessed with the gift of writing plays then I would but sadly the evidence of 8,492 opening pages of things I’ve written and angrily discarded is enough to tell me that it’s not for me. Or, if writing or teaching or selling ice creams ain’t your jazz bag, then go to classes. Sometimes they can feel like pulling teeth or teaching your grandmother with a Guinness World record in sucking eggs to, well, suck eggs, but they at least make you feel like you’re doing something. Even if that something is running around a freezing church hall pretending to be a goat hiding from the Mafia.
But most of all, don’t feel guilty for indulging yourself when you need to. Being self-employed can make you feel that you need to be ‘on’ all the time. That you’ve got to be constantly looking for work and writing to people and checking emails and bloody networking. You don’t. If you find yourself on a Wednesday morning in need of 3 sharing bags of Doritos and Uncle Buck then do it. Yes, you’ll feel guilty for the first 10 minutes but rest is equally important and will ultimately make you a happier and more employable person. The other afternoon, after a morning of trawling websites desperately looking for acting roles to apply for, I found myself on the sofa in my pyjamas watching The Karen Carpenter Story. I followed that up with a nap. No, it didn’t get me any work but not feeling stressed for just a few hours is worth its weight in gold, silver and Giant Cadbury’s Buttons.
You might’ve read this blog post and thought it was all a bit self-indulgent. That’s because writing it is one of my survival tactics. Thanks.