The most valuable jobs are not necessarily the highest-paying ones.
For Tina Fey, a career-changing job that she landed in the early 90s upon graduating from the University of Virginia barely paid anything.
It was a gig at an improv and sketch comedy theatre in Chicago called The Second City, she explains in her book, “Bossypants.”
“I moved to Chicago in 1992 to study improv and it was everything I wanted it to be,” she writes. “It was like a cult. People ate, slept, and definitely drank improv. They worked at crappy day jobs just to hand over their money for improv classes.”
When she first started working at The Second City, there were two “resident companies” and three “touring companies.”
“The resident companies would write and perform original sketch comedy shows for packed houses in Chicago,” she explains. “The touring companies would take the best pieces from these shows and perform them in church basements and community centres around the country.”
Fey was a part of the less glamorous touring company.
They toured the country, travelling in a van from upstate New York to St. Paul, Minnesota to Waco, Texas.
“In the touring company we were paid seventy-five dollars per show and a twenty-five-dollar per diem,” she writes. “Of course, sometimes you’d have a show in Kansas, so you’d have to ride in the van for two days to get to your seventy-five-dollar gig. It wasn’t lucrative, but it was show business!”
The $25 per diem wasn’t always a guarantee, she further explained to NBC News: “If we got back too early we would only get $12.50 per diem, so sometimes we would drive around until we could get past the cutoff to get the whole 25 bucks.”
Despite the small paychecks, she gained more from touring with The Second City than she did any other job. “Studying improvisation literally changed my life,” she writes. “It set me on a career path toward ‘Saturday Night Live.’ It changed the way I look at the world, and it’s where I met my husband.”
What’s more, she learned a critical lesson at a young age that many people fail to ever grasp: “To be improvising in front of a paid audience, you learn to be fearless,” she told NBC News. “You learn how to fail, because you mostly fail. You mostly flop. You learn to not be afraid to fail.”
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.