Please stop encouraging your children to follow their dreams. Seriously.
Because honestly, I wish my parents had crushed my love of acting and told me to focus on something more practical. Dreams are great; they don’t pay the bills. Not only was I encouraged to follow my dreams, I was encouraged to follow them at any cost. What’s 50k in student loan debt? Don’t worry, you’ll be a star! Sure it will take some hard work… what’s that? You need a high paying job in the meantime so you don’t have debt collectors breathing down your neck? Sorry, your expensive, private university degree really won’t help you.
Don’t get me wrong… I love the University of Miami. It’s an amazing school with an amazing campus with amazing opportunities. But don’t go there to study acting. Not because it’s a bad program; it’s a great program. But because paying THAT much for a degree in acting is just STUPID. Unless you are independently wealthy or can somehow convince the Friends of Theater that you are in more of a financial hardship than I was (SERIOUSLY guys?! You KNOW I deserved that scholarship), the conservatory program, while excellent, is not worth the price tag that you’ll have to face as a college graduate.
As part of this excellent acting program, I was taught to expect rejection. I got over being told I wasn’t right for parts pretty quickly. I’ve come to expect hearing that I’m not thin enough, tall enough, pretty enough or talented enough to make it in this business. I don’t buy any of that nonsense. The only thing making me question my career choice is my ability to live a healthy, competent and non-panic attack inducing day to day life.
I’ve been living paycheck to paycheck since I was old enough to hold a job. I held out paying for drivers ed to save for college. I split the cost of a crappy volvo at a car auction with my then fiance, whom I then let TAKE the car after we broke up. I’ve eaten months of ramen. I’ve canvassed for politicians. I’ve sold everything I own that could yield the slightest hint of value (and let me tell you, I LOVED those SIMS games…). And STILL, I have nothing financially to show for it except for 80k of total combined debt.
I work my butt off. I train clients, coach running programs, and manage marketing and events while still trying to make and book auditions. I make just enough money for rent and groceries; I feel like guilty anytime my boyfriend wants to do fun things that cost money because I feel like a terrible mooch.
Being an actor is demoralizing, not because people are judging you creatively and often tell you that you suck, but because you’re broke as a joke with no silver lining in sight.
The other side of the camera isn’t safe either… if you manage to book a production gig as an independent contractor, that’s going to come back to bite you as well in the form of self-employment tax. And if the stress of figuring out just how much of your savings you now have to fork over to the IRS doesn’t kill you, the bureaucratic red tape of the whole process certainly will.
I’ve looked into food stamps. I’ve even started considering going back to school. Unfortunately, I don’t even know what I would do with my pathetic self at this point. Clearly my personal training certification hasn’t paid off, given my debilitating anxiety attempting to sell things to strangers. My interest in working for non-profits would still leave me broke. Not to mention the ADDITIONAL loans going back to school would require.
So what do I do? Sell out and find a 9 to 5 at some office? Or continue hunting odd jobs and working weird hours until I finally “make it” (whatever that means). Neither option is particularly appealing. In fact, I’d prefer to hide under my covers and never come out.
I’m not saying no one finds success. UM alum across the country are HUGELY successful actors in broadway tours, TV miniseries and independent films. I’m just saying that given the odds of competition in creative forms out there… you’re more likely to see your net worth in the red.
So parents, please heed my advice. Your children are not unique snowflakes. Success will not just happen upon them if they “really try their best.” Make them study math and science. They’ll thank you later.
A concerned (and very broke) citizen.