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And the Oscar goes to - Getting support for ‘risky’ career choices

Sooner or later you’re going to have to tell your family you’re not going to be a doctor. And, while they may actually be open to a ‘range’ of other careers, you just know they’ll be devastated by your plans to be an actor (artist, musician, entrepreneur, etc.).

Who can blame them? All but the luckiest artists face a lifetime of poverty, rejection, and unemployment – not to mention the endless need to prove themselves. And we all know the statistics on small business success. It’s no surprise that families balk at these choices - that they simply dismiss them as unrealistic … even immature.

So how to calm their fears and get their support? It’s a bumpy road ahead and you want them ‘on side’. After all, it’s important to stay connected. Aspiring young artists and entrepreneurs are among my favorite clients. Helping them to navigate 'the dream' and get the family support they need is often the first step. Meet Erik.

Quiet but remarkably self-assured, Erik knew he wanted to be an actor at 14. On stage in his first school play, he’d dropped the shy, awkward teenager … and came alive!

High school productions, summer stints at festivals, grunt jobs on TV sets, and (almost) a diploma in performing arts – he loved the people and the culture. But, as Erik grew more confident about a future in acting, his once supportive parents began to panic. With graduation approaching (& his parents still opposed) Erik was feeling uneasy. When he came to me as a client, he was still hooked on acting but starting to wonder what he might be missing.

As is often the case when we opt for a ‘risky’ career path, Erik had over-played his confidence, hoping to ease his family’s anxiety. Now, he needed a ‘reality check’– for his own peace of mind.

Our initial interviews and assessments supported Erik’s career choice. He had a growing résumé, a scrapbook of reviews, plenty of determination … and glimpses of talent. An avid ‘blogger’ within a community of struggling artists, he also seemed to know a lot about the ‘realities’ of the acting profession.

But there were gaps – questions he needed answered. He’d envisioned the lean years but what if he never ‘made it’? Was there life between poverty and stardom? Were there talented actors who just worked steadily and enjoyed their lifestyle? How did they do it?

Our goal became to fill in the gaps - to bring his fantasy closer to reality and come up with a plan. Then he could think about swaying his parents. They would need to see that Erik was informed, prepared and willing to work hard – and that he knew enough about the life he was after.

What happened?

We hatched a research project to help Erik ‘nail down’ the key ‘working’ components of this career - agents, managers, the casting process, networking, negotiating, the need for on-going lessons … and a healthy dose of financial literacy.

Over the next month he tracked down (& interviewed by phone) a half dozen actors of the ‘meat and potatoes’ variety – professionals who’d made a living at this craft for years. They were honest about money and generous with advice. At their suggestion, he checked out the Union of BC Performers, four local talent agencies and a money coach experienced in helping artists.

When we met to review his research, Erik was becoming more relaxed with the idea of working and growing as an actor ... even without the fame and fortune. He knew he needed an agent, an acting coach and a flexible job (preferably in the industry) to finance the journey. A plan was starting to emerge.

Time to bring his parents back into the picture - to meet their nervous questions with clear-eyed answers. Erik outlined his plan and his desire to learn a serious craft. He pointed to little known actors like Steve Ryan and David Putnam who had solid résumés and recurring roles in some of his (& his parents’) favorite shows. As they came to understand that many people (other than ‘stars’) acted for a living, they started to believe that Erik could succeed.

Finally, Erik made sure that his family knew how much he loved to act. While they might not entirely endorse it, they could respect his passion and feel at ease with his well-researched decision.

‘Risky’career paths are neither irrational nor foolhardy when they are a true reflection of your ‘purpose’ in life – those feelings that get you up in the morning. And while you may not actually follow through with these dreams, the greatest mistake (& regret) is never having explored the possibilities.

Bringing your family into the process has the dual benefit of winning their support as well as motivating you to be thorough and pragmatic in your research. In the end, you’ll make a better decision.