Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Time to break-up with your career?

Have you ever courageously stepped off the rutted path to leave a career that was bad for you? How many years were you trapped--like the hero in a labyrinth, or damsel chained in the dungeon?

It is hard to give up, cut losses and move on, especially if we've given time, money and effort. How many of us stay in careers and relationships for years (or lifetimes) because it is excruciating to abandon that investment.

But a promised land awaits us when we take that risk.

Three years ago, at the age of 46, I had enough. After 25 years of pursuit, I was ready to walk away from my demanding Mistress Theatre. She had taken too much of my time, money, and life's direction. But walking away, while providing a deep sense of relief, also left me psychologically mangled. While I was in pursuit of fame and fortune, I could still “succeed.” Perhaps that's why, instead of surrendering my dreams, I stayed entrenched in them and merely shifted my approach. I morphed from actress, to director, to teacher/producer, to playwright. I justified each correction with the thought that previous roles were simply preparing me for my breakthrough. When I finally surrendered my ambitions to an intractable reality, I was haunted. Had I wasted my youth on a failed delusion?

I had received some decent reviews and awards. I'd known many artists who lived off such validation for decades. Not me. My quest, from the beginning, was to make sufficient money or enough recognition to escape the stigma of “dilettante.” Unlike others, I couldn’t simply enjoy theatre as a hobby. Performing in a play was playful only in high school. When I entered college on a performance scholarship, the joy of theatre vanished into a stew of envy, competitiveness, and insecurity.

Sorry. That last sentence? Not entirely true. The hyperbole illustrates my practiced work-habit: to find the dramatic in all events.

I do acknowledge the good that Theatre brought me: a trained and powerful voice, physical agility, a youthful imagination, and curiosity. I will not have to wonder “what if?” I am grateful for my adventures and for the unconventional life I've led.

But now walking away is the right decision. I've found a new, more fruitful path. I no longer feel trapped or stuck in unhealthy patterns. Instead of a constant struggle, I am amazed by the exciting opportunities that now flow toward me.

How does one start over again? How does one recover from the wreckage of a life plan? (Oo, there's that juicy melodrama again. “Wreckage of a life plan.” Nice concept for a one-act.)

Life will always offer heartaches but will our setbacks cause us to expand or contract? If you feel stuck, the question is: are you ready to take a risk and start again?

What have you learned from your career mistakes?

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