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More Career Tips for You


Two Careers Are Better Than One

Career Advice |

I am a stage actor and a freelance writer. Playwright, you ask? Nope. I write things like press releases, blogs, and magazine articles—not exactly correlating fields. While these are certainly two diverging career focuses, this dual-career approach works well for me. If you similarly have two passions, I’m going to be that subversive voice and encourage you to pursue both.

As a stage actor, one piece of advice that I hear over and over from experts 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 it.

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 get my big break. Then it hit me: I saw no certain end to this future of folding sweaters. Yes, maybe I would book a show, 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—in Europe, of all cliché locations. 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 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:

Two Jobs

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. You can 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 obscenely 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 sellout, and you can pursue your craft without being a starving artist. All it takes is passion, a commitment to excellence, and focus.

Do you have a dual-career, or dream of one? Tell us about it in the comments!

Photo courtesy of Mimi + Meg

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37 Comments

I am, in fact, pursuing a second career path the one I really wanted to follow but gave up for another one. I wish I could just make the change and return for my previous choice, but I am afraid I will have to keep them two, since I am good on what I do now and there isn´t much people that do what I do now. I am already back to school on a vocational program to begin with.

3mo

SMART advice! And quite on time ;)

2y

This piece is amazing! Such great tips. Hilary, if you are ever free I would love to pick your brain.

3y
Anonymous

I'm about to start my maths and music degree and after that will hopefully study for a masters in piano performance at one of the London conservatoires. My career ambitions are to become some form of mathematician and concert pianist, and I have no idea how employers will react to me, considering I'll need a very flexible schedule. My thoughts were always that mathematical careers are some of the most flexible, and there's a much higher chance of being able to work from home/a laptop.

3y

I am hitting this mark in my career right now! I am looking to start a non profit that host events to raise money for local charites and I also would love to open a childrens enrichment programming center! Ive always been told to choose just one but with the vision I have I just cant let eitehr go and Im working hard to get organized, experienced and efficient so that I can live my dream! Thanks for the article! A great read :)

3y

I am so glad I found this article. I have been feeling so scattered lately I need some help. I was a food stylist as a profession. Then became a Stay at Home mom for 10 years. Now I am back in my field however I could not just step in where I left off. So I do get work but not enough. I also have found that I have other loves as well. I studied acting/voice acting and have gotten some work doing this as well. I also started taking photographs of food at home and am a stock food photographer as well as have a blog. I feel like I am running around like crazy and can't seem to get a plan together. I love doing all the things I do. If anyone has any more advice I would loooove it! Great site so glad to find this.

3y

I am designer, Wedding as well Interior also.

3y

This article is great! I've been fiddling around for months trying to figure out a second career to help make my day job more bearable. I needed to read this!

3y

I love this article! I'm trying to become more successful with my blog, which is a sideshow to my day job as an engineer, and it's a lot of work, but so worth it. I'm really enjoying the creative outlet, and the ability to keep learning even when the workload at the office is slow or monotonous. Thanks for the inspiration and the extra push in the right direction!

3y

Thanks for commenting Erica! It must be nice to use different sides of your brain for your two careers. That's one reason I love performing. As a freelance writer I spend a lot of time in solitude in my home office with nothing but a laptop. Performing in shows is very collaborative and interpersonal. Love having that balance!

3y

I work for an online art company during the day, and I am a psychic/ medium by night! Thank you for voicing the dual career lifestyle, it helps to know that I am not alone in perusing 2 very different passions!

3y

You're welcome Colleen! It was so gratifying to see that it's a topic that has resonated with a lot of us.

3y

Love this article and love the comments. Thanks Hilary for sparking some great discourse! There is definitely research and countless articles on Millennials being the "slash generation." We are actor/writer/amateur photographer/...you get the idea. I think the ups and downs of our current economy can be an invaluable lesson to us in that relying on one source of income is incredibly risky. You don't have to be a millionaire in both - or even one- BUT you can be passionate and excel at both. When you are working on something you're passionate about, you'll find natural opportunities to grow, you'll excel, and the money will come.

I love this article because it proves everything my parents, uncles, and aunts have told me about pursuing higher education: it's great...just make sure you have a skill (that you can be paid for) to pair with it.

This article also pairs well with Jullien Gordon's Office Hours. That "hustler" attitude is a running theme within my family and the bulk of my friends...take the time (in your 20s if you can) to learn the benefits of Hustlenomics.

3y

Thanks Tobi! And you're right! When you put it that way it reminds me of a piece I read in Fast Company called "Generation Flux." We are flexible because we have to be! I have to go check out Jullien's Office Hours now!

3y

Great article! I always dream have dual-career.I think having a dual career proves the versatility professional, organization and discipline, which is a real dual challenge.
Hopefully after college, i'll be an engineer and freelance =)

3y

Hilary I love this! I've actually been thinking lately that I'm not sure I'll ever want to run my business 100% full time. Right now I have a part time job that I also LOVE that takes about a quarter of my time and like Caroline said, kinda takes the pressure off my business. But it also gets me out of my home office and off my computer which is important too. Maybe in the future I'll translate it to more volunteer time instead of paid, but right now I love having at least one day a week where I dabble in another passion of mine, get away from the computer AND still get paid! I think this lifestyle of almost "mashup" type careers really fits our generation. We tend to like projects more than anything long and planned out over years and years. I think we'll see more of this in the coming years.

3y

Feeling inspired to get organized and pursue side projects that I'm passionate about!

3y

You and me both! It's nice to know that so many women feel this way. We know we have to make a steady income, but we never give up our dreams and passions. It is the factor that will help our generation to thrive.

3y

I love this article! Can I ask what media schedule you use on your computer? I'm looking to start up my 2nd side career and think a simple/effective schedule would be great! Thanks.

3y

Erin, great question. I think that would differ from person to person based on what you've got on your plate. My Google calendar is integral for me to be effective. I color code items in a number of categories including "writing deadlines" and "theatre" (which I know to mean a rehearsal, performance or audition). I always keep my calendar in a 3-week view so I can see what's coming down the pipeline. A month-view is too busy for me and a week view doesn't tell me what's coming up soon. I also keep a list-version of a schedule on the left side of my screen that has a running to do list and my 5-day calendar. That way I can schedule hourly at the beginning of each day. I just use the Text Edit program on my Mac for that. Another tool I use is Tweetdeck to manage the various social media accounts I run. I would also be lost without Evernote (to keep track of personal finances, articles I want to reference on social media later, and client info) and Dropbox (where I collaborate with many of my clients). Hope that helps! :)

3y

Thanks for the great article Hilary, it's nice to know that I'm not the only young woman juggling two professions. Being organized is absolutely the only way I could maintain my full time museum internship and part time retail position at JCrew. As someone who was very active during high school and college I became used to balancing my academics with a full extra-curricular schedule so I think I would be too bored if I did not have many things going at once. Not sure if I'll be able to keep up my dual-career forever, but in my 20s it seems like the lifestyle for me!

3y

This article feels like it was written especially for me! I'm trying to find a way to write poetry while pursuing more business-oriented career goals, and I really appreciate your four tips for balancing two diverging career passions.

3y

Thanks Stephanie! I also remind myself that when we're in our 20's we likely have 40+ years to do what we want to accomplish and then some. I know I want to write a nonfiction book (at least one) but I'm comfortable knowing that I want to check that off my list in my 30's. The world is our oyster!

3y

I've only recently realized that my "dream job" is actually two jobs. I'm positive that I use both the left and the right side of my brain. I'm like practical & organized, and creative & wild at the same time. I don't like mixing both in the same thing, though. It doesn't work out most of times. So I made a decision to pursue a career in policy consulting/making AND something more creative, most likely to be writing. I don't know how am I going to do it in the future, but I think it can't be too hard since I'm already studying political science AND writing like my life depends on it, so...

Oh, and the 3rd tip is oh so true. Stay organized. And don't overcommit. I keep telling myself that having 2 careers is okay, but I have to fully enjoy my free time... instead of filling my weekends with MORE activities that feel like work. I've met people with FOUR jobs, and it's crazy! It may work for them, but not for me!

3y

Agreed. Overcommitment can turn something you love into something that brings stress and - eventually- burnout. I use mentors and friends to help me see when I might be taking to much on.

3y

Agree on the overcommitment! You need to have time to also be yourself outside your work.

3y

Becky, yes! Don't overcommit. That could be a whole other blog post. Passion without margin ends up in burn out. Such a good point!

3y

I love the note about having a passion job and then something you're just good at. I can't tell you how hell bent I was on 'doing my own thing' until I realized that 'own thing' wasn't going to pay the bills like I thought! Wake up call!

So I could not agree more, there is nothing wrong with having a steady income and working on your passion. It doesn't make you less of a social entrepreneur, it makes you smart. Eventually your passion work will outweigh the 'low hanging fruit' job and you'll be fulfilled.

Now I'm a marketing writer for a non-profit as main income source and I work in my passion as a consultant- all while I freelance write just for fun. All income. All good!

There's no need in being miserable while fulfilling your passion. That's not what it's there for.

Signed,
Two jobs! (ok, maybe three. lol)

3y

There is actual research that shows that founders with more than one initiative (or with one start-up and one side project) are more productive and happier than founders with just one, maybe because one can remove the pressure from the other and feel less like the end of the world on a bad day.

3y

Makes sense! Reminds me of when we are in college juggling classes with work. The more you do, the more focused you can become because you are on a strict schedule.

3y
Hilary Sutton

Hilary Sutton is principal of HSL Creative, a writing and social media firm. She's also a social media professor at Southern New Hampshire University and an actress. Whether it's through a press release, a tweet, a blog or playing a character on stage, Hilary's passionate about giving a voice to stories that are begging to be told.