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Careers Clinic: How do I stay motivated in my ‘day job’?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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With only a few weeks of January left, I can feel my enthusiasm for 2019 already starting to drain away. A big reason for this is that I am back in the day job. My employers are very flexible about auditions, but my customer-service role means the amount of moaning I hear daily makes Chekhov at his bleakest seem like Noel Coward.

Grief from punters I can live with, but what really gets to me is certain other actors who work here. Their level of cynicism would put Hamlet the pig to shame. When they are not bitching about being out of work, they are busy back-stabbing their friends who do have gigs.

As for me, I spend my most of my time clock-watching. Unfortunately, by the time the end of the shift eventually comes around, the best I can manage is a takeaway and crashing on the sofa rather than any of the things I promised myself I would do to build my career and get out of here.

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Most of us will have to spend at least some of our careers doing something other than acting to cover our day-to-day living expenses. For many the reality is that those ‘other jobs’ will collectively take up more time than we may ever spend on stage or screen. Even high-profile faces often have other businesses, in and out of the theatre, that keep them afloat between roles.

Perhaps the most accurate marker of being a successful ‘working actor’ is not getting to pick and choose acting work, as to have a little more choice in what streams of income you pursue and for how long when not treading the boards.

Finding a day job that you may not love, but you don’t absolutely hate, can be a very important foundation to help you move forward. That might require trying out several possibilities before discovering the best one for you.

A good match is often as much down to your personality, likes and dislikes as to the tasks and hours involved. When you do find that ‘not ideal, but not awful either’ day job, remember that the actors who tend to cope best with doing side work, but not losing focus on their main goal, are usually the ones who view their day jobs as important ‘fuel’ for their acting career – not the ‘opposite’ of it. That certainly isn’t meant to imply that you should dilute any of your passion for your acting work. It does mean that regularly reminding yourself of the concrete ways in which your ‘side hustle’ is contributing to your acting goals will help you stick at it longer and deal with the challenges more successfully.

When you set your career goals, cost them too. Whether it is the price of new headshots, a bespoke showreel scene or a new class, every time some money from your day job helps you reach that goal, mark it off and celebrate it. If you can also use your day job to practise new accents or research unusual characters on whom you may base future roles, even better.

Meanwhile, here is a tip you can put into operation at once, learned from my own early days of toiling in call centres and warehouses: stop watching that clock. It makes time move slower, not faster. If the time is displayed on your phone or computer screen, cover it up. If it’s in your eye line, find a way to block it out. Aim to lose yourself in doing your best at the job you are doing. Not only will that leave you less time to listen to negative conversations, it will get you to the end of your shift with a lot more energy and appetite for the important job of moving your acting career forward.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne

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