“So, how’s this whole acting thing going for you?” Aunt Marge slurs through her mashed potatoes, one glass of wine past when she maintains proper conversational boundaries, “Are you in like, a group, or do you have to go to try-outs every time?”
“Huh?” you frown at her, genuinely confused, and also bristling at the term try-outs, “I’m not sure what you mean…”
“Oh, you know, like, do you always do shows with the same people, like at [insert the name of her local community theatre], or how do you know what you’re going to do next?”
“Oh, I mean, um,” you try to hide the huge sigh building up inside you, “I don’t. I kind of have to take it from job to job. Sometimes I have gigs scheduled ahead of time, but usually I have to wait and see if I get cast.”
“Haha, gigs, that’s cute,” she takes another swig from the liable Sauvignon Blanc, “But isn’t that, you know, scary? How do you have any kind of security? What if, you know, you don’t get chosen for anything?
“Well…” you start, really wishing you didn’t have to delve into this depressing subject during your week of vacation from the city.
“You know what you should do?!” she grabs your hand excitedly, “You should be in that show WICKED! That show is doing great right? They must have lots of money. Why don’t you just work for them?”
Before you try to suffocate yourself in your mashed potatoes, take a breath and remember that the majority of these types of inquiries come from a place of love. Your Aunt Marge wants you to be happy and safe, she doesn’t know you just got cut from the Wicked dance call, and she has no idea that she has absolutely no idea what she’s talking about. Rewind time a few decades and pretend she’s asking you about your soccer matches, or your chemistry tests, or text messaging, and handle this conversation with the same patience and kindness that you’d want from a doctor, or a mechanic, or an Apple support tech, or anybody else who has to explain things to you.
“Well, that’s not quite how it works,” is a good way to start. The people that love you want to understand you and the life you lead. Extend grace to them for having no experience in your field. Take the time to explain what you do! Compare your career to another kind of industry that involves contract work and waiting games. Talk about the places you’re training, and the steps you’re taking to establish connections. Give them a sense of your daily life. In everything, reassure them that you are happy and whole and healthy. Gently let them know that you’re pursuing this career the way everyone approaches the future, without a clear picture future, and with very little control.
Take these conversational moments of irritation and awkwardness to step away from the details of your life, look at the big picture, and be thankful for exactly where you are. You get this moment, this holiday season, this decade of your life, once. And at some point, you will probably miss something that you are experiencing right now. In times of stillness, count the ‘little things.’ Happiness can found in the perfect proportions apple pie to ice cream, a hot mug of coffee, Nat King Cole on the radio, a warm puppy lying on your feet, and too many people squished onto a couch, laughing.