When I graduated from New York University in 2008 with a degree in drama and started my acting career, I didn’t mind the paltry performance paychecks or constant stress of paying the bills each month. I was living my dream, and the struggle was well worth it—at least, that’s what I told myself.
I operated under this mentality for years, perfectly fulfilling the starving artist stereotype, complete with bouts of unemployment and stints as a babysitter, assistant and coat-check girl. In the biz, we called these “survival jobs.” They provide just enough to get by, and nothing more.
Unfortunately, the cycle of fleeting artistic highs, paired with ongoing financial woes and the all-too-temporary solvency of “survival jobbing” was not sustainable—financially or emotionally. Yet like many fellow artists, I’d adopted the belief that this was the price of passion-driven pursuit.
I’ve come to realize over the years that this kind of single-minded approach to earning is common—even if you’re not in the artistic community. Whether you’re an accountant, social worker or engineer, we all tend to accept “either/or” beliefs when it comes to our career paths:
Either I can work like crazy and make a lot of money or I can take a less-demanding job that’s more enjoyable but doesn’t pay a lot. Either I can stay at my day job and collect benefits or I can risk everything to start my own business. Either I can follow my dreams or I can work a passionless, but stable 9-5.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. What if we challenged these narrow ideas, and instead of prioritizing one pursuit, gave ourselves permission to explore all of our options? What if, instead of limiting our pay-the-bills income to boring survival jobs, we harness skills we already use in pursuit of our passions and create new earning opportunities—not only building our financial resources, but finding joy and fulfillment in the process?
Linnea Sage, a friend of a friend and a fellow actress, is a perfect example of someone who gets it. After moving to New York City at 21, she started working for a healthcare company, making cold calls and doing data entry to pay the bills. “It was pretty tedious,” she recounts. “It’s very hard to do cold calls, especially when the person you’re calling generally doesn’t want to talk to you.”
But two years into the grind, she discovered a way to pour her passions into an alternative project: voiceover gigs. After posting her services on Fiverr, an online marketplace for tasks and services starting at $5, Linnea began receiving voiceover orders from business owners and media production companies every few days. And today, three years later, she gets as many as 40 orders a day.
“My work on Fiverr isn’t that demanding—just a couple hours a day, seven days a week,” she says. “It allows me to pursue acting or anything else I want, without having to ask anyone for permission. I can travel anywhere and do my voiceover. I have complete freedom.”
Not only does Linnea enjoy the flexibility her voiceover career provides, but by leveraging the skills she’s already passionate about to make money, she enjoys the work itself.
As it turned out, I don’t need stages or scripts to connect with people or tell meaningful stories.
Experimenting with these alternatives helped me uncover what, at one point, I thought was an elusive combination of all my needs: I can perform and pay the bills, flex my creativity and boost my earnings, pursue my passions and my financial goals. (For the desk-bound office worker who daydreams about seeing the world, exploring the space between “either/or” might look like a job that requires traveling to new, exciting places—plus an extra plane ticket for a friend to visit on the weekends.)
Bottom line? Don’t wait to get your own “and” or settle for an unfulfilling “pay-the-bills” job. Make money doing what you enjoy now by exploring all the ways your passion can manifest. Passion doesn’t dictate form—and it doesn’t have to define your paycheck either.