Starting again at twenty-and-ten.
By Amy Higgs on Oct 20, 2021
It can be really difficult to decide what you want to do with your life. As a kid, it’s simple. You tell the grown-ups that you’re “going to be an astronaut one day” because, at the time, you want to be an astronaut (because astronauts are cool). You don’t have to worry about how to get there. Realistically though, a lot of things lie outside of your control. People say “you can do anything you want to do” – well, yeah…as long as you have all of the attributes, privileges and resources to be able to. Sometimes, you just won’t be able to do what it is you’d like to do. And sometimes, that’s actually OK, and it can turn out better than you had imagined.
When I was nine, I played Hermia in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, and from then on I knew I wanted to be an actor. I have a bit of a stubborn streak, so when told at 16 that drama school was almost impossible to get into and acting was a very unstable career path, of course I decided to prove them wrong. But after drama school, and approaching the big 3-0, I realised that I wasn’t happy with what I was doing. It can be a tough career path to take, to become an actor, and the unpredictable nature of that wonderful, heart-breaking, creative and insecure industry wasn’t something that suited me.
So how do you decide what it is you want to do instead, after 20 years of knowing, then discovering that you don’t want to do that anymore? Well, dear reader, it took me a bit of time to work this out. I took a ‘normal’ job to pay the bills and tried to find a new direction in life. I’m not afraid of hard work, but it is very difficult to put effort into something when you just don’t know what to put that effort into. I confess that I was a little bit lost.
In Sir Ken Robinson’s book ‘Finding Your Element’, he talks about how, when writing your CV, your life and career seem to be made up of one smooth, linear path. We arrange it so that it all makes sense. But hindsight is a wonderful thing, and life isn’t quite that neat and tidy. In reality, we make whichever choice we feel is right at the time. So instead of life being made up of a bunch of pre-determined steps which will take your career from A to B, in that simple way that you imagined as a child, it’s actually made up of these stepping stones which could lead us off in all different sorts of directions at different times – which is actually a much more exciting prospect when you think about it. (As a side note – I can thoroughly recommend watching Sir Ken’s TED talk about creativity if you haven’t already).
This way of thinking helped to give me a small amount of mental freedom, to start exploring my options. Drops of optimism started to dissolve the feeling of being stuck. I knew that I just needed to take the next step, not decide on my final destination. It took a while for me to build up the courage, but I started to reach out to people – for their advice, their opinions, their help. And the thing is, perhaps unsurprisingly, people were happy to give it. Despite being stupidly busy, despite heavy workloads, they would take time out of their day to chat about what they did, what I liked doing and to help me start edging towards a career path that I might like to start wandering down. Because despite what you hear on the news, most people are kind.
It was asking for help from others which brought me to IMA-HOME. A brand-new career path, in an industry I had never worked in before. And along the way I have learnt a lot, from people who will take time out of their day to explain things to me – people with the same heavy workloads, and busy schedules, who are happy to help someone else. Because people are kind.
Kindness can be vastly under-estimated and abused, but we must remember that it exists. It might be scary, but it’s a real strength to be able to recognise when you need help from others. We’re not in this world alone, and it’s our connections with each other that bring the most meaning into our lives. So when those gremlins in your head are telling you that you can’t do it – remember that kindness, and if you need help, ask for it.
While it’s important to be kind to others, and vital to expect that kindness in return, I’m also striving to be kinder to myself. I’ve realised that what I do doesn’t change who I am. I still love going to the theatre, and stories, and dancing, even though I don’t want to be an actor anymore. I’ve started to accept that my path through life might just look a little different to what society tells us is “normal”. That it’s OK that my goals have changed, and that I’m not able to predict where I’ll be in ten years’ time. That, actually, the freedom to deviate from the expected path is much more interesting and exciting. That you can still chase the dream, even when the dream changes.