This is the opposite of any story I ever expected to tell. My 16-year-old self would have been shocked, and perhaps, appalled to hear it. However, once I explained to her the true merits of what I had done, I’m hoping she would understand. Then again, she was quite stubborn, and didn’t really like to listen to anyone. Such is the mind of a 16-year-old. Ultimately, I have to know that my — ahem — 29-year-old self feels really good about her decision, although it was the hardest one she ever had to make.
A bit of back story:
My life in social media started when I was living in England. When I moved there in 2008, I found that developing a blog was my ultimate outlet for connecting with friends and family, joining in on other expat conversations, and feeling a little less lonely as an American abroad (and would eventually lead to the platform for promoting my novel, but more on that later).
When I moved to Chicago last year, my blog-writing and marketing skills translated quite nicely into the start of a career in social media. I landed a job as a social media director for the largest technology conference in the Midwest, and then got hired to manage a team of 5 community managers for a new, successful startup.
But my passion has always been acting. I’ve been acting since I was 8 years old, went to an arts high school, and continued my studies at l’ecole Florent in Paris, USC in Los Angeles, and the prestigious LAByrinth Theatre Company in NYC. It’s in my bones, and it has always been my childhood dream to do it full-time. I’ve had a few roles – starred in a bad horror film, acted in small parts on television, and had many amazing roles on stage – but never truly “made it,” so to speak. (Although, I’m quickly learning how subjective those words are.)
So, the big question is – why did I choose entrepreneurship in social media over my childhood dream?
If you had asked me as a teenager what my back-up plan was, I would have said, “I don’t believe in back-up plans because if you have a back-up plan, then you’ll fall back on it.” And I still believe this is true – but ironically, along the way I ended up gathering many skills from my side jobs, and these ultimately led to my current career choice.
Two months ago, I was at the biggest crossroads of my life. I made a decision that I never expected to have to make.
Because of the high school and college that I went to, I have many friends who are doing quite well for themselves in the entertainment industry. We have remained close, and we always promised each other that when anyone did well, they would help the others out. You never know really know if someone will follow through with these promises until the situation presents itself.
Well, one of my friends came through. She has become a successful producer and writer, and finally got funding for her movie. She wrote a part specifically for me, flew into Chicago, taped me reading the part, and offered me an incredible role! A few well-known actors would be in it, I would be filming for three months in Los Angeles, and I would be on my way to fulfilling my dream after 20 years of trying!
As I mentioned above, my social media career in Chicago was going well. But, as much as I loved my job and social media, I couldn’t give up my dream for a job. It was time to let my bosses know that I would be leaving for LA. I was planning on telling them my decision that Wednesday (a day after I was told that I got the part). I had already booked my ticket, and would be flying to LA the next Monday.
My bosses had other plans for me. They called me into the conference room before I told them – around noon. They had been thinking a lot about how much I had done in the company, and felt that I was a core, irreplaceable member of the team. My stomach did flipflops as I realized what they were about to say. They wanted to offer me partnership, which included a large percentage of the company!
Now, one of these offers would have been exciting to anyone, but to get BOTH of these offers in a week was mind-blowing. I tried to remember that I was lucky to have such a big decision to make, but I was truly torn. Three years before this, I wouldn’t have thought twice about my decision. After all, acting is who I am, but now there was more to it than that – my perception of the world had changed.
I didn’t sleep for three days while I weighed my options. On the one hand, I had a chance to kick off a career that had been in the works for 20 years, and to make some decent money for three months. OR, I had the opportunity to take part in shaping a company into a true success, and make lots of money if it did well.
Either decision was a gamble. One movie does not a career make, and the majority of companies do not make the founders multi-millionaires. However, the movie had a great potential to do well based on the people behind it, and the social media company had founders who had previously sold a company for millions, and they already had some really interesting future prospects.
It came down to one thing – I decided that I wanted to be in charge of my own destiny.
An actress steps in, films a role, develops a character, and then leaves it in the hands of the producers, editors and director to finish the film. An entrepreneur has their hands in all aspects of a company, has control over the vision of where they see the company going, and hires the right people to fulfill this vision.
Choosing entrepreneurship meant that I could actually keep both of my dreams alive – to continue learning new skills (studying life which would feed my acting), and hopefully, the payoff would support my new dream (as well as my childhood dream).
Like I said, I finished my first novel a few months ago, and have developed a new love for writing. An actress can only do so much. My vision of my future is much more than just acting – I want to write scripts, then develop and produce them. This, I feel, is the only true way to make a difference in the entertainment business. And entrepreneurship can teach me the skills I need.
So, I chose entrepreneurship because I can create my own future – not the future that someone else writes for me. I chose entrepreneurship because I believe that it’s so much more powerful to pave your own path, and then, finally, have the money to do what you want to do. I chose entrepreneurship because the easy path isn’t always the best one.
My friend completely understood, and I promised to get her involved once I do turn my novel into a screenplay. The actress she got to fill my part is beautiful, talented, and will do the part a great justice.
My lesson? Follow your dreams under your own terms – not the script that someone else has written for you, or the idea that 8-year-old self thought was right. I don’t yet know how this has all turned out, but no matter what happens, I am proud of my decision. I’ll let you know.