As I mentioned before, I am volunteering for a high school here in south Florida. I was chatting with one of the students the other day, her name is Sara, about what she wanted to do when she got out of school. She said, "I'd love to go into theater, but I don't think that it is a really good decision." "Why?" I asked. "Because it's so unstable. You never know when you are going to work, so I think I will need to get a 'real' job instead."
I love that phrase, "a real job". The implication that theater, or anything in the arts, is not something that you can support yourself with. I think the idea stems from the thought that doing something that seems fun cannot be work, and therefore not real.
What makes a job a "real" job? Taking an informal poll, the responses were as varied as the responders. I have heard people say that anything that does not offer a set salary, health care, paid vacation, or retirement is not real. By that estimation, anyone who owns a small startup business, does any sort of construction, service industry job, hairstylist, garbage men, police patrol officer, etc, doesn't have a real job. Or, perhaps you are of the mindset that unless it is a 9 - 5, it is not real. In that camp falls doctors, nurses, politicians, lawyers, pilots, research scientists and chefs. Maybe it is that you need to earn a certain amount of money to have a real job. The average American Salary (according to the US Census 2009) is $53,651. So where is the line? $30,000? $20,000? Bye teachers, you don't have a real job. Nor do you firemen. Or cops. Perhaps the defining factor how hard you work? Physical labor is hard. Does that make it a real job? So accounting is not real. Or perhaps the inverse - a real job means you don't have to do physical labor. Yeah, right. Or perhaps a real job means you have to go there five days a week, forever. Give me a break.
The dictionary defines a job as follows -
What makes a job real cannot be defined in terms of time worked, money earned, or days employed. What should be considered when deciding on your career is does what you are doing satisfy what it needs to for you? Do you need to support yourself and your family with your job? Does your job need to make an impact on the world around you? Do you need to love what you do? Roughly a third of your entire life will be spent working. Seems to me you had better be doing something you like, or at least like the results of what you do. If you are lucky enough to have a career where you love what you do, and are able to make a good living doing it, that's great! But a job you love where you make $18,000 a year teaching children is no less valid than being CEO of a company.
There are decisions in life every day. Some may seem so trivial that you never realize that your entire life may be altered forever. It is up to you to make your life what you want it to be. If you want a career in theater, it is possible. Thousands of people do so, and count their blessings every day that they get to do something they love. Following your dreams is hard. Anything worth doing should be hard. That is what makes it rewarding for you.
In my life in entertainment, I have had some amazing jobs, and some pretty crappy ones. Some paid me ridiculous amounts of money, and some were not enough to cover my bills. There are no guarantees in life, anywhere. Because you have a job with a salary does not mean that you won't be downsized, and laid off. Companies go under, people lose their jobs. As the saying goes, "The only thing constant, is change." So, why not do exactly what you want? If you want to be an actress, then go for it! If your passion is painting, do it! If your only desire is to be a doctor, then by all means! Follow your bliss. Decide for yourself. Don't let other people tell you what you should do with your life. It's YOUR life.
As far as practical advice on how to have a career in entertainment, there are a thousand paths to get there. Some folks go to college, some don't. The key is NOT if you go to school, but if you learn. If learning in an academic setting is best for you, then by all means. But it does not guarantee you a job. I would recommend that you surround yourself with people who like doing what you want to do, and watch, listen, and ask questions. Somewhere in the mix, you will find a path that will make sense to you, and take you where you want to go. But learn everything you can. Work hard. Show up on time. Speak the truth. And at the end of the day, whether you are an actress on Broadway, or a chef in a diner, you can be proud of what you do. And THAT makes it a real job.