- While others were thinking about early retirement, I was thinking about a midlife career change.
- I committed myself to being a writer, even though I wasn’t being paid to write.
- I had no choice but to make it work, and I drew on unused skills from my college background in acting to accomplish it.
It’s in their 50s that some people start to think about early retirement, but for me, it was when I decided to start a new career.
For over two decades, I worked as an account manager for the independent video store Vidiots, even though I had a degree in theatre arts. I had taken the job as something temporary that I could do “until my acting career took off.” But the problem was, deep down, I didn’t see myself as an actress, and I did nothing to pursue it – I didn’t go on auditions, I didn’t participate in showcases, and I sent out zero resumes and headshots.
I may have called myself an actress, but the truth was, I was more of an accounts-receivable clerk than anything.
Since I was all talk, I ended up staying at my “just-for-now” job for 21 years. When I left that job, I knew that I didn’t want to be an actress or work in retail any longer. Although I loved my time at Vidiots and the people I worked with, I knew that I was meant to do more.
Becoming a writer
I decided to become a freelance writer. I’d always loved storytelling, and writing was the perfect outlet for me to tell stories and get paid for doing so. I knew that I had to do things differently this time. I couldn’t just pretend I was a writer; I had to take actual steps to make it happen.
The one thing I needed to do to make writing more than a dream was that I had to commit to being a writer 100%.
I was lucky because I did have a small safety net. I lived with my boyfriend, Andy who worked as an IT consultant. But he didn’t make a ton of money, and because of the nature of the tech industry, his job wasn’t always secure. So, the pressure was on me not to fail.
“Are you going to get a job?” Andy would ask.
“I have a job,” I’d say. “I’m a writer.” The more I audibly confirmed my writer status to him, the more I believed it myself.
Since sitting around and waiting to be discovered hadn’t worked for my acting career, I knew that I needed to be proactive and so I put my belief that I was a writer into practice. I lived my life as I thought a professional writer would since that’s what I believed I could be.
I got up every morning and got ready for work, the same way I would if I was going into an office. Once I was finished with my chores and morning rituals, I sat down at my desk – the dining room table – and started my day. I pledged to write at least five hours per session. I wrote about many different subjects: women’s issues, relationships, mental health, and pets.
While the bulk of a writer’s life is writing, writers have other tasks to do, too. I spent my days pitching publications with story ideas, writing articles on spec (writing a piece before actually having the job), being active on social media, and doing unpaid pieces for literary magazines.
‘Acting as if’
When I was studying acting in school, we learned to “act as if” – meaning, if our character was a banker, then we acted like a banker and truly believed we were a banker. I used that technique in my real life and acted as if I was a writer.
I decided to do something every day that advanced my writing career, even if it was only having coffee with an established writer and asking for their advice. You’ve got to keep moving towards a goal – even if you’re moving at a snail’s pace.
Then, after five months of struggling, I got my first paid piece accepted by the now-defunct women’s site,XoJane. The payment was only $US50, but it felt like a huge amount of money to me – it was the first money I had ever made from writing. Then I got another piece on that site, and soon after, I had an essay published in The Los Angeles Times. There was no denying it: I was being paid to write.
The takeaway? Since labelling myself as a writer, I’ve had thousands of articles published on many different kinds of venues, from Women’s Day to Salon, and I’ve gotten steady writing gigs that help provide the bulk of my income. I’m paying a larger portion of our household expenses than I used to, and while I’m not taking lavish vacations, I don’t have to live as frugally as I did before.
I’ve learned that it’s never too late to start a new career as long as you’re passionate about it and can fully commit to it. And if you’re anything like me, your second career may end up being much more fulfilling and creatively challenging than your first.
My office is still the dining room table, but now, people know not to ask, “When are you going to get a job?” Writing isn’t my hobby – it’s my job.
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