“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

–Joseph Campbell

But what if the old skin doesn’t want to come off?

I was sitting on the couch (or my crying station, I may as well have called it), surrounded by little piles of soggy Kleenex, my sad, unintended altar to the life I couldn’t let go of.

I was an actor, dammit. It was not just something I did, it was something I was. From a very young age, I had felt like an actor.

I knew that world, that work, the language, the almost-out-of-body bliss when the ensemble hit it just right. I knew how to tell a story, move an audience, and even how to play the industry game. If I knew one thing, it’s that I was an actor.

And not even piles of soggy Kleenex could convince me otherwise.

But I had started to question. Is this what I want? Is this still what I want? I had started to hurt. The old skin had started sloughing off, making way for something new, and I was furiously trying to tug it back on and put it where I thought it ought to go. Maybe this is why snakes don’t have hands.

Perhaps it would have been easier if the discarded layer was something that felt like it lived on the outside. Identity, one of the hardest things to shift, never feels like it’s at the surface. It’s a root. Roots grasp. Roots stabilize. It’s their job to hold tight; they are devoted to constancy. As you’ve noticed, trees stay put.

And so it took me several years to allow myself to adopt a new identity. Eventually, I stopped introducing myself as an actor. I no longer wrote “actor” on my tax returns. I changed my union status to “honorable withdrawal.” I didn’t need to be known as an actor anymore.

But I’ll tell you a secret: I’m still an actor. It’s still part of who I am, even if I don’t lead with it at parties. Even if I’m not getting paid to do it. It’s in my bones, and I can’t shed those.

Laura Simms is an expert in meaningful work who challenges conventional wisdom by asking people to ditch their passions and start with purpose.

If you have too many passions, zero passions, or can't seem to combine your passions, try her purpose-first approach to find a career you love.  


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