In January I left my day job. It still sounds great to say, to think, to remember. Having been a jobbing actor now for almost 15 years there have been a whole host of ‘other’ jobs that I have done to support my career. I’ve worked in cafes, bars, restaurants, I’ve temped on reception desks, in admin teams, invigilated GCSE exams, I once read all of Anna Karenina whilst working on a fruit and nut stall on Wigan market… I’ve done a lot of different things.
The job that I recently left though had really become an alternative career. Having joined them to do twelve Tuesdays of temping back in 2015, I worked for them on and off for almost seven years and my hard work and interest had allowed me to grow in the role. (A thing that I find endlessly difficult about the acting world is that the career ladder is not a straight up thing with clear rungs that always rewards hard work and talent with career progression. It is much more like a game of snakes and ladders, with the board being massively crowded full of players, a disproportionate amount of snakes and some shoddily built ladders). This job offered me growth, stability through the pandemic and intellectual stimulation. The team was wonderful and my boss was always supportive of me balancing my creative world alongside it.
But, and there’s often a but, the need to spend more time being creative was growing and growing alongside it getting more and more difficult to switch off from the office job. I was increasingly keeping hold of the work stress and worry when I should have been reading, writing, making. The balance was out of kilter.
It was only when I heard of someone else leaving to take a few months break to do up their new house that it struck me - I could just leave. I didn’t need to wait for a theatre tour or another outside factor, but I could take that action myself. Now, obviously, a big component is money. I need financial security (as everyone does but having grown up without much money there’s a tricky relationship with it) and I’m a worrier, so despite being in an incredibly fortunate position with my living situation and a partner who earns well, I needed to build a decent safety net for myself in order to feel able to quit. I totally recognise the privilege in doing any of this, it’s taken me 15 years to get to this point and that’s with having been lucky with work through this awful pandemic and having the capability to earn in other jobs. Not everyone has that, I know.
But leaving, being able to leave, is a luxury, a dream and I now have the commodity of time. Time, that elusive thing, that nebulous thing that has been my nemesis for so many years, that has often been my reason, my excuse for not being where I want to be in my career - if only I had more time… Well, now I do.
This is week five and although I still have the panic that I’ve not used time well enough I am settling into the prospect of being able to give energy to the things that need it. I’m in the final quarter of my MA in scriptwriting and the difference in just a few weeks of having time to give to my work is significant. I’m going slower with my scripts, doing more development. I am not so focussed on the result but can delve deeper into the ideas, walk around them, observe them and watch them grow, change, see them get bigger and better.
There is also the flip side to being slower and switching from a results focussed outlook - how do you know that it’s all worth it? In the last few days I have started to think, why have I not achieved anything yet. I’ve had a month and my life has not dramatically changed, I am not yet fully in the freelancing lane with more work coming in. The critical voice is just waking up to me walking away from security, and though it is a persuasive voice it needs to not be given credence.
The time in relation to the acting part of my career doesn’t automatically equate to daily actions, though as I write that I can think of a few things - I could dust off my saxophone, practice regularly on the piano and build voice work into my routine. These things will help when the auditions come up, but they won’t necessarily create any ladders.
What I have realised, through reading Bernardine Evaristo’s Manifesto, is that time is not the only investment needed. Networking - the big boogeyman for people on the shyer side - is critical, meeting people, being part of a community and investing in personal development are all needed for growth in my career alongside the new gift of time. This learning struck me deeply, this is not just something that I can do quietly at my laptop but I need to get braver, to build my boldness muscle.
To support this, I’ve reduced the time I have without any need to earn by one month and reallocated that money to a ‘development budget’. My money worries over the years have meant that a fastidiousness has been created about what can and cannot be spent and on what - therefore, by saying I can spend it on development I will. In my early twenties an ex-boyfriend with whom I was still friends told me to keep investing in my career. At that time I was broke, living at home and working in Vodka Revolution, Wigan. He was from an affluent family and I was baffled that he couldn’t see the impossibility of his advice, but now, 15 years on, I can do that and am going to fully embrace this time off.
And what about when you’ve finished with that time as concerned people ask me, what then? Well, I don’t know. I may need to get another office job and if so, I would take on something less involved, with fewer hours so that I can ringfence time for creativity - I know that I need it, for my mental health as much as anything. But also, who knows what the future holds. Maybe the investment of time and development of confidence will lead to earning enough money from acting, writing, and teaching to keep me away from a more traditional day job. Maybe my aim of being fully freelance will happen and this time will have allowed me to make that transition, to take that leap. I truly hope so and, whatever happens, am so grateful for the ability to give it a go.