How to Launch Dual Careers

Here on the HSL Creative blog I tend to focus on social media, marketing, writing and goal setting. I haven't chatted too much about my other career focus: acting. I wrote last year on Levo League's website about my dual career approach. It seemed to really resonate with people. So today I want to share some thoughts on launching two careers.

As a stage actor, one piece of advice that I hear over and over is, “If you can imagine yourself doing anything else, go do it.” But in 2012, the unemployment rate for actors was 28.5 percent. The life of an actor is hard; we spend most of our time working side jobs and going through what workers in other fields would consider the “application process.” For actors in places like New York and LA, the “job” is pounding the pavement every day going to auditions. The reward is when you actually get cast and someone wants to pay you for the work you have been putting in all along.

A few years ago when I was following that “only-focus-your-energy-on-being-an-actor” advice, I had an epiphany. I was working at a clothing store in Soho folding sweaters at approximately 12:30 a.m. I worked only at night so my days could be available for auditions. I had accepted the grueling life of auditioning during the day and working an hourly job at night, hoping that I would soon book a show. Then it hit me: I saw no certain end to this future of folding sweaters. Yes, maybe I would get a gig, but then I would go right back to folding sweaters when that show closed. I didn’t want to fold sweaters for years to come!

So I decided to recalibrate. I did some soul searching. I decided to further my education by getting a master’s degree in media, a field that was in higher demand. Since then I’ve steadily grown my freelance writing and social media management business, and the autonomy is extremely rewarding. I am able to continue performing in professional theatre without having to live on Ramen noodles. If this kind of dual-career life is something you’d like to pursue, I’ve got four tips for you:

1. Figure out your career goals. Can you succinctly visualize your end goal? Pursuing diverging career goals only works if you know exactly what you want. Don’t pursue a career in fashion design just because you happen to be good at it. You need that passion and drive as well. Flesh out your goals. Write them down and make a plan.

2. Do the romantic job, but collect at least one other skill that you can use on a regular basis. I am passionate about telling stories on stage. Unfortunately, the supply for stage actors far outweighs the demand. Hone a second skill that the marketplace regularly needs. Among my skills, my ability to craft a social media message somehow is more useful than my Julie Andrews impression. Supply a service that can meet a practical need.

3. Only do it if you can be incredibly organized. I have a color-coded calendar, a task list, and a daily schedule on my laptop. There is absolutely no way I would be able to juggle auditions, rehearsals, performances, deadlines, conference calls, and meetings without being supremely organized.

4. Get good at both. The bottom line is you can’t make it in two fields if you’re not serious about sacrificing for both crafts. More than one primary focus means you have to work that much harder than people who are just focused on one area. You have to read more. Practice more. Work more. Be better than your competition.

The good news is you don’t have to be a sell-out, and you can pursue your craft without being a starving artist. It takes passion, a commitment to excellence, and focus.

Does the dual career approach resonate with you? What would you do if you knew you couldn't fail?

Hilary teaches social media classes at Southern New Hampshire University and is currently in rehearsals for Alluvion Stage Company's MARY POPPINS.