Last night I had a dream about eating a sandwich with my grandma. She passed away a little over two years ago, and had one of the best kitchens on earth for snacks and conversation. In the dream, she made me a huge but simple ham and cheese sandwich on really nice bread that she said she specifically bought for my visit–something she was known for doing. However, in real life, I haven’t been able to eat gluten recently in an attempt to figure out why I’ve been so sick. So in the dream, I start to have this huge dilemma–I’ve been so good about getting healthy. I’ve been disciplined, I’ve been taking care of myself properly. If I give in to eating this bread, I’ve gone backwards again. I’ve failed at my goal. But in the dream, I stop myself from giving my grandma the gluten speech and eat the damn sandwich. We have a nice talk before my brain drifts away into the another storyline someplace else, leaving me wishing the elusive and comforting dream had continued a little bit longer.
The significance is due to the infuriating exhaustion I’ve developed this summer. I just finished another acting class, and though the class was incredibly helpful, I still walked away feeling like I have frozen in my growth as an actor. Without a show, without the time to find a consistent project to throw myself into, I stall. Throughout it all–the juggling, the pushing, the planning–I’ve worn myself down further and further, constantly attempting to do everything that I do well. Or actually, better than well, perfectly. And yes, I have become very very good at creating stability–financial and otherwise–so good that I have ended up in the place where my art that I’m fighting for barely exists.
In my travels as a freelancer, I have come across two types of workers: those who have pursued one specific career since college and those who have either had to switch careers or work in additional jobs while pursuing their main passion. The latter group has a particular type of unenviable experience in sitting down and looking bluntly at their lives to decide what to do next– or even how to pursue something else, something disconnected from their training or their years of planning. It’s pretty obvious I fall into this category. I talk about being an actor, but if you were to compare how much work I’ve done in offices to the work I’ve managed to do on the stage, I am not an actor–I am a coffee girl, an assistant, a master of excel spreadsheets. Luckily, I know by now that we are not defined by the tasks we do to makes ends meet. However my point goes further:
When you’ve found a secondary job to support your art, a delicate balance is necessary. You don’t want to be so disconnected from what you’re doing that you watch the clock tick by in painful dismay, nor do you want to allow that job to absorb every last bit of your creative energy. Because what’s the point if you can’t actually pursue what you set out to pursue while taking this practical job? Explaining this to the first type of person in my example–the ones that have been pursuing one career their whole adult lives–is tricky. How do you explain that 50% of your energy is reserved for doing something contradictory to your personality and the other 50% is spent on desperately trying to make a second career even exist? Oh and don’t forget you’re supposed to have a personal life in there somewhere too.
Yesterday, a very kind coworker told me that I was amazing at so many things: ordering food, arranging schedules, doing paperwork, and in this moment–finding a way to save a broken coffee maker from exploding and spilling all over the floor. To this, perhaps with a little too much bitterness in my voice, I replied, “Well, necessity is the mother of invention.” In other words, I have to do this. I was shocked at myself for suddenly being so snarky when she was just complimenting me, but honestly, I think I hit the point where I was tired of being told that I was excellent at mundane things. Don’t get me wrong, of course I appreciate the encouragement and gratitude, the people I work with are by no means trying to be condescending–this is all coming from me. Sometimes I just want to yell, “I don’t want to be good at tasks that I don’t feel are impressive. Making coffee and organizing payments is helpful, that’s my job that I signed up for, I get that. But when I think about the thing I miss developing, the thing I long to actually be good at–well, then I want to drop kick this damn coffee maker across the room.”
When you come from a career where all you want to do is feel like you’re making creative progress, when you yearn for some sort of growth, getting an A+ in making coffee starts to make you feel like perhaps that’s all you’re good at, not the thing you love. Don’t worry, I’m calling BS on myself, I know this isn’t necessarily true. But it is hard to keep those thoughts from creeping up.
Anyway, back to the grandma/ham sandwich dream. I’ve been trying to get an A+ in a lot of things recently–in getting healthy, in “taking care of myself,” in my acting classes, in my job, in my relationship, in my budget, and to top it off, in society’s pressure to figure out when I’m having kids and that whole situation. And when you feel like you are capable of all of these things, but you don’t accept that they all ebb and flow, then you start to resent all of them–most of all, the thing you love the most. The wrong things get put on the back burner–like just sitting down and talking to your gracious grandmother. I’m finding there isn’t time to get an A+ in everything, as much as our society says we are lazy if we don’t. Maybe though, right now, I need to be kind of mediocre at certain things, so that the ones I care most about can get a proper amount of attention. I take being an A+ assistant and a C- actor as a red flag that something is out of balance. My health sure has been trying to tell me something.
So dear brain, if I can ask for one thing on this public forum today, it’s that you allow me to feel like I don’t always have to make the dean’s list of life. Some days I just want to give myself space to suck at something so that I don’t burn out every two months. I am so ready to focus on developing myself as an actor and less so on being a super-responsible, hold-everything-together type of person, but I currently feeling too tired to know where to start. Hopefully I figure out how to soon enough.
As always, all advice or similar stories are welcome. Have a great Wednesday:)
5 responses to “Oh good, I’m super great at the wrong thing”
Great post :). I do blogging on the side (and my day job is semi-related, but only recently – I’m an editor for a B2B magazine) and some days I do feel like this.
I totally hear ya, I think this blog has been such a savior to me during times like these. Thank you!!
Ginny, you’re a good writer. Maybe you should take your acting career into your own hands and write your own script. (ps thanks for liking my recent blog on where solo performers perform.)
Thank you!! I really appreciate that. I’ve played around with this idea and actually have a finished–but very rough–first draft of a play. it’s interesting though, I am way more comfortable with personal narrative writing than dialogue, but it’s definitely a thought for the future.
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I relate to this in so many ways.
Different ways, but ways.
I can’t do a job that I don’t feel passionate about, or nix that – that I don’t feel is necessary, or right for me at that moment, or… I don’t know. All I know is the last couple years I spent making more money than I’ve ever made, as a teacher of all things! (Which tells you how little I was making before!). And I kept telling myself… you can still pursue the things you love, and look how secure you are financially now. You can still do everything. But something had to give. First it was everything else, but then I turned towards my writing/producing/directing, and then teaching gave way. I was not being a great teacher. I was being a C+ teacher, and that hurt just as much (maybe more?) than being a C+ writer.
So I’m learning, too, how to not always be perfect. Or attempting to be perfect. And I’m learning that I don’t have to do everything, that I can actually do some of the things I want, and that’s okay. I don’t even have to apologize for it!
But I can’t live feeling so disappointed in myself – I felt that way while teaching, and I felt angsty, and so so so unfulfilled, even though (like I said) there was good money, plus there was recognition and a measure of respect, etc. It just wasn’t enough. It did nothing (very little) for me.
I’m so glad to be finally fighting for the life I really want. I don’t even know what that is, but I definitely know I’m on the path I want to be, and I’ll figure it out.
Did not plan to say all that. I was just going to say “I relate to so much of this.”