Way back in high school, when the “reach for the stars” talks started turning into “where do you see yourself in five years?” talks, my friends are I started chatting more bluntly about our artistic dreams. I always knew I wanted to be an actor, it was encouraged before I was even born. My mother directed shows while she pregnant with me, before my parents could officially plant the idea in my head. But at eight, I was introduced to Tennessee Williams in my first production (I know, strange childhood), and I was hooked. There was no question after that. Until the middle of high school, I never flinched when asked about my mathematically-plotted artistic future.
Later in high school though, I started loosely tossing around another idea altogether. But I always mentioned it with an air of “I’m not really serious though.” The two paths I laid out seemed like polar opposites: I claimed I would either move to NYC and accept the life-long rush of auditioning OR I could move to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, work at a school, get to know the local theatre, and write children’s stories in the afternoon, probably while drinking a lot of tea in cotton dresses. So basically, opposite life-tracks.
And yet yesterday afternoon, I walked out the front of my school (where I started working a month ago) and realized that somehow I was pulling off both. I may not be in the middle of nowhere, but it definitely isn’t NYC. I drive to work, I am home in 5 minutes, we get welcome letters in the mail from tiny family-owned companies nearby – with signatures! And yet, when I walked outside, the petals dramatically swirling around me in the breeze from the lilac trees on campus (oh come on), I couldn’t help but think, “This isn’t too bad.”
But why isn’t this the polar opposite life that I expected? Why didn’t I have to make some huge decision one day to give up my professional acting career to move here? I think it’s because we’re lied to.
Reach for the stars, but you better know what those stars are at 15!
The guidance counselor message of the 90’s was geared toward kids who had very strong opinions on things they didn’t know a lot about. And that sounds harsh, I know. But I had the balls to believe then that I knew how to be a professional actor, and never stopped to think that MAYBE there would be other factors along the way- like a changing industry, or an economic recession, or you know, a lack of real-life experience. So how was I supposed to have these solid goals when I didn’t know how the industry, or my own mind, would look in 10 years?
By the time I moved to NYC in 2010, the pressure to make this all look easy, as everyone on Facebook had managed to do, was intense. I thought- you get a food service job, you go to auditions, you get drinks with your friends to talk about your crazy NYC lifestyle, you get into shows, and that’s that. #blessed and #actorlife, or whatever.
It wasn’t quite like that. I would go into the details, but the past four years of this blog has it all there (because as you can see, I had all of the feels). But my point is that no guidance counselor ever said, “And hey, if you get to where you planned to go and you don’t really like it, don’t freak out about changing your tactic. That doesn’t mean you’re a failure.” Yeah no, “don’t give up on your dreams” is a wonderful mantra, but it really should include that you may not know the extent of your dream yet. How could you? You are not a time traveler, and most importantly, you are young.
You’ll know where you’re going when you get there.
A few nights ago, I met two fabulous actresses, who in two separate conversations, said the same thing. They explained that they recently moved across the country, and had no idea how natural it would feel to live there until they arrived- as if they were always meant to truly be themselves in this new place. That’s how I felt when I walked out of my school yesterday. When I lived in the city, no matter how much I tried, I never felt like I blended in with the crowd. I would get home at the end of the night and spend so much time decompressing that writing was one of the the last thoughts on my mind. And auditioning? I was running around from job to job so often, planning the next day, figuring out my schedule, that auditioning was always an afterthought. When I got in an audition, all I could think about was my stress.
But I wouldn’t have guessed that my “alternate” plan from childhood would make the original plan happen. Now that I live somewhere that makes me feel more like, well me, I want to write, I want to take classes, I want to look at a real long-term acting plan. My brain has the space to do what it wants because I am no longer pretending to be who I decided I would be when I was 15.
For the past three weeks, the middle schoolers outside my office have been rehearsing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The school chooses a Shakespeare play each Spring and in addition to the auditioned cast in the full production, every student learns one scene for their class. So I have 10 versions of the lovers’ fight one day, and 10 versions on Puck’s final monologue another. It’s adorable. I have also reconnected with several NJ theatre companies, and because this job pays me (imagine that!) I am already starting to sign up for summer classes. Hallelujah! I almost cried when I registered for an Alexander Technique class yesterday. I thought that was a luxury for the trust fund babies. But what I’m saying is, I am now surrounded by theatre, just when I thought I was taking a step back.
Maybe you also need some chocolate…
It isn’t just these big lofty life goals that need this intuitive-based treatment. I’ve been realizing more and more that when I say yes to unexpected opportunities, I usually find what I didn’t even know I needed. I knew I was missing something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It’s like when you’re exhausted and can’t figure out why, and then you eat an apple and think, “Holy hell, I haven’t had fruit in a week!” Or when you want to punch the wall, but a snickers actually makes you feel better. It’s finding what you need without overthinking it, and working from your gut instead.
So no, I am not suggesting we wander through life aimlessly hoping we bump into the thing that fulfills us, but I have not had a lot of luck obsessing and calculating what I will need down the line. My real answer to that awful question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” is, “Someone who can inspire those around me, in whatever I am doing then.” My only real hope is to find a way to share the adventures and lessons, just in case they help someone else too. Is that done by following some career formula? I don’t have a clue.
I cannot control where I will be happy living in two years, or how much education or acting will be a part of my life, I do not know 30 year old Ginny yet. I know what makes me happy now, and I will continue to welcome those things into my life. But if my plans change, that doesn’t mean I am disrespecting my current goals. I don’t know everything, and if I did, that would be terribly boring.
Poll for the group:
What have you always wanted to say to the dreaded interview question, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
To get you started, Ben’s answer has always been: “Not answering this question.”