For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be an actress.
I knew—knew —that performing was my destiny. I spent my childhood being ferried to and from lessons, shows, and auditions. I studied. I practiced. I got into a top college program, excelled in it, and then embarked on my sure-to-be legendary career on Broadway. It was the only thing I had ever really wanted.
And then I quit.
Some might say I gave up on my dreams, and it’s true, I did. At twenty-six, I put away my songbook and haven’t sung a note since. But the funny thing about dreams is that, sometimes, they don’t lead you to where you thought they would.
I saw where my dream was leading me. I had romanticized la vie boheme that I was sure to have as a struggling Manhattan artist, but the more I worked (and I did work, both on stage and on camera), the more I grew to hate it. I hated the casting directors who barely looked at me during my auditions. I hated my agent for submitting me for parts that I had no hope of booking. I hated other actors who could only blabber about new classes, new headshots, and how Landmark Forum had really taken them to the next level.
I looked twenty years down the road and saw myself tending bar into my forties, living alone and never having had the chance to settle down and find a partner or have a family. I knew many older actresses who had gone down that path, and some loved their picaresque lives without ties or burdens. But for others, it was a fate they were resigned to, continuing to pursue stardom not because it was what they really wanted, but because they didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to be one of them.
It’s a sad fact of life that not all dreams end in glory. Sometimes they just don’t pan out. Sometimes dreams end in bitter frustration, the dreamer wondering what might have been if they’d had the courage to find another path. How many of us know someone who attended medical school or business school, quickly realized that it wasn’t right for them, but trudged on anyway because it was their dream to be a doctor or a banker? At that point, blindly following a dream becomes less about pursuing a passion and more about just desperately trying to avoid failure. There’s nothing authentic or satisfying about that. In fact, continuing to chase something that’s long since stopped making you happy can make you pretty miserable.
But here’s another funny thing about dreams: Even the ones that don’t work out can lead you to new places and new dreams that are better than you could have ever imagined. If I hadn’t followed my theatrical passions to New York, I might never have temped for months, with hours free to peruse the internet and write. I might never have known that it was possible to make a living by slinging words on the web. Without my background in entertainment, I might not have been able to get my first regular writing gig—as a theater and film critic. It was only by pursuing one dream—and then giving it up—that I was able to find a new, better one.