Throwing in the Towel
How long do you wait before you throw in the towel? How dearly do you hold onto a dream before you accept it’s over and move onto something new? Is there a difference between making the “safe” choice and giving up?
Whether you want a spot on a team, acceptance at a specific University, the love of a particular person or tangible success at a chosen career, these questions will come up again and again. When you’re young it’s easier to move on, to shake it off and find a new dream, challenge or person when your first choice doesn’t work out. One of the beauties of youth is that the stakes are lower and more options are available as you discover who you are, but as you age, these questions become heavier because they refer to a finite and more important collection of things – the direction of your life, your career, your spouse. Not making the volleyball team, for example, will be replaced by rethinking how you’ll make a living, and though it’s possible you’ll succeed at everything you put your mind to, never having to deal with disappointment, it’s unlikely. There’s a chance you could choose a stable, clear cut career where hard work equals success but every day those jobs become less and less likely. Even doctors are struggling to make ends meet today. Realistically, I believe there’s a much stronger chance you’ll follow your heart into a career that speaks to you but has less than guaranteed results.
As your mother I want you to be happy. I hope you follow your dreams and do what it is you want to do. I’m a firm believer in “do what you love and the money will follow” and “choose the career you want and it won’t feel like work” but I’m also a current student in the school of hard knocks and I know first hand how discouraging it feels to live on the periphery of your dreams, to be so close that you can look through the window at the buffet but be starving outside. Your father and I have a wonderful life but it’s not the one we imagine and every day we struggle to rise above the disappointment to hold on until our persistence and hard work finally pays off.
Your Dad is better at this than me. His optimistic attitude serves him well in the world of the arts. As you know, when we met we were both actors. I was part of a successful show moving from NYC to LA and he was a reoccurring role on Star Trek about to be cast as a lead in an ABC pilot. Our dreams were within our grasp. Our time was coming. When I was fired from my show and your Dad’s pilot wasn’t picked up we were disappointed but not discouraged. We understood the business. We were young, talented, hungry. We’d been down before. We’d be up again. There were opportunities ahead and every job brought us one step closer to our goals. When your Dad was cast as the lead in a CBS show just before our wedding it felt right, as if everything had lead up to this. Our life and our choices were finally falling into place. We enjoyed our honeymoon that much more knowing Sean had a full time gig when we got back. When we returned to LA to find his role had been recast by a celebrity it was a big blow to our projected bank account but also to my faith that everything would work out. Just like that we were back to square one and over the next six months I became very discouraged. I was married now. I was 30. I had certain expectations that came with those titles that didn’t match up with my reality. I didn’t want to be a bartender married to a cater waiter. It no longer felt exciting to be a struggling actress. My dream of making a career doing what I loved was drowned out by the noise of my own disappointment. I felt unhappy all the time. I became jealous (and bitter) of other’s opportunities and luck. I had no experience with failure and here I was at the beginning of new decade, the decidedly adult part of my life, unable to look at myself in the mirror without seeing a loser.
Your Dad on the other hand was able to let everything slide off his back. He never questioned his career. He was so confident that everything would work out that my uncertainty stood out in contrast. I realized if I was no longer sure of my inevitable success I was in the wrong line of work. Almost every sign in an artistic career points to “you’re not going to make it” and if you start buying into that, it’s the beginning of the end. I was no longer happy. I’d lost track of who I was. I didn’t recognize myself amidst my insecurity. I could have hung on but it wasn’t worth it. I needed a new dream.
Letting go of the idea of being an actress was like saying goodbye to the person I thought I’d be and opening my life to the person I might be. It was heartbreaking but not nearly as painful and difficult as I thought. I missed being happy I wanted to find it again. My biggest problem was I had no idea what to do. My life had been mapped out for years and suddenly I was sailing without direction. It was simultaneously frightening and freeing.
Not knowing what you’re going to do with your life is scary at any age but changing course as a full fledged adult is particularly unnerving. How do you choose wisely without being swayed by your desired lifestyle, your current bills or growing list of dependents? What if you choose poorly and have to start again AGAIN? How do you stack up against your friends? Your contemporaries? How do you not feel embarrassingly left behind? For a while I was able to hid my lack of plan in my pregnancy and early days with you. The value of a stay-at-home mom was legitimate enough to start rebuilding my self worth and temporarily negate the question of what I was doing with my life.
When I found my way into writing my life opened up. I finally understood what it meant to work with joy. I felt value in myself I hadn’t in years. I was able to use my skills again, my brain. I found I could write for hours without feeling the least bit burdened. Being an actress was wonderful but with hindsight I saw what I really loved was entertaining people, making them laugh, and I could do that as a writer without the same burdens I felt as an actress. It turned out I was better suited to my fallback career. I like being attractive but resented it as a job requirement. I’m committed to hours of hard work but like a flexible schedule. I want to be a present hands-on mom and I have a tendency to let people know exactly what I’m thinking – a detriment to a young actress but real worth to a writer. The take away being: had I not “failed” at my original plan I never would have discovered the thing that made me happier. That Plan B is ok, provided you aren’t choosing it out of fear.
Now, I threw in the towel and got a whole new life, your Dad refused to do the same yet still found his way to a new passion. Having no desire to give up acting, he realized he also was no longer happy simply trying to afford to keep up his dream. He had a family now and wanted to be a part of his life not just a visitor too busy to enjoy it. At a crossroads he took a leap of faith and opened a production company. Just as my bottom line was to entertain, his was to create, and he realized he needed to make his own opportunities rather than continue to passively wait for them to come along. Instead of abandoning his dream in search of another, he added to it. Which career takes off only time will tell.
Lochlan, I believe your future, and the future of your peers, will be a less traditional route than the past. I think they’ll be less, “I’m going to be a lawyer” and more roundabout discoveries. I believe many of you will forge your own course and find yourself in careers and fields that have yet to be created, and in many ways, I believe your father and my irregular journeys may be of service to you as you navigate those uncertain waters. It won’t be easy but your Dad and I are firm believers that it’s ultimately a mistake to make the “safe” choice. Don’t choose the “sure thing” you don’t care about over the risky thing that would fulfill your dreams. I want you to be responsible, to protect yourself and your family but never feel you have to walk some predetermined path in order to be a success. You must do what fulfills you. You must follow your heart in all things. If you’re no longer happy or want or need things you can’t achieve on your current path, adjust, but never give up because holding on seems too hard. I changed courses and found something I love. Your father held tight to his dream but added to it. Either way we’re better people and parents for liking what we do.
The hardest part of an uncertain career is dealing with the disappointment of the wait. The pain of which is only counterbalanced by the happiness you surround yourself with. In our case: family, love, friends and you. If you work to secure all the important things when the rest comes it’ll be gravy. (Gravy your Dad and I are dying for like dried up turkeys, but gravy all the same.) The point is, create a happy life and success – financial or otherwise – will only add to it. Your father and I know plenty of “successful” people who are nowhere near as happy as us and we don’t want that for you, no matter how nice their houses might be. Follow your dreams without fear. Only by being true to yourself can you find real happiness without which success, in itself, is irrelevant.
I can only hope when you’re old enough to read this, our family’s prosperity will render the above advice prolific and inspiring…
Be happy. Make others happy. Carve your own path. Success will eventually follow. I’m counting on it.
Love you forever.