“Oh, you’re an actor? What restaurant do you work at?” Yeah, it’s cliché, but if money from acting isn’t enough, actors have to support themselves. So they get jobs at restaurants, they drive for Lyft, they tutor, etc. The side job is often necessary but it has to be managed so it doesn’t take over. You have to know what it is, what it is not, and why you’re doing it. So let’s get clear.
The purpose of a side job is to calm financial desperation. There are so many anxiety-inducing elements of the business that will keep you hungry and focused—money shouldn’t be one of them. You don’t need to be walking into the audition trying to keep all your preparation in place and needing them to hire you so you can afford health insurance.
A good side job can take care of your needs so you don’t smell of desperation. A good side job, well-managed, will actually help your acting work and ultimately your career. So don’t be too proud to have a side job, no matter how much you work as an actor.
But it’s a balance: you can’t lean too hard on the side job or expect it to fill your soul or be your social life.
Sometimes actors take extra shifts because it’s nice to have income. They get cozy at the side job and find meaning there. The job becomes the focus of their day. They tend bar until 2 a.m., get to bed by 4 a.m., wake up at noon the next day, go to the gym, and get ready to go back to the bar. They have forgotten their core values; they forget that the side job is there to serve their passion. They are caught in a pattern of working to work.
This can’t happen.
Pay attention because this is important: Calming financial desperation so you can focus on what matters to you is the side job’s only purpose.
If your focus is acting, you must be clear about your side job. Its purpose is to support your needs so you can focus on what you value. If the side job becomes your focus, you are working against your interests and will live a life that conflicts with what you value.
So how do you manage the side job?
Calculate your monthly needs: Food, rent, utilities, training, etc. Add a three-month cushion in case of an emergency. Add spending money so you can have a life with some pleasure in it. Figure out how much you have to work to comfortably maintain those needs, the cushion, and a few “wants.” Your side job must satisfy this number.
Calculate how much time you need to devote to yourself and your craft every day: Creativity and training require space and time. To succeed you must be working on your craft constantly. Writing, acting, training, creating—how much time do you need to spend working on your craft in a day? Your side job can’t infringe on that time.
Note that the energetic effects of your side job can bleed into your time away from the job. Again, the side job isn’t meant to fill your soul but if it’s a toxic work environment that crushes your soul, that infringes on more of your time.
If your side job takes care of your needs and some wants within a timeframe that allows you to be an artist, it has done its job.
Does your side job offer you the money and time you need to comfortably focus on what you love? If not, minimize your needs or find another job and then quit your current job. No joke. As soon as you can find another side job that gives you what you need, quit.
You are not your side job. It is a means to an end, a tool to get you to what you value. If it isn’t getting you there, move on. Quickly. Don’t waste time. Time isn’t money; time is life. Time is being in love, being moved by art, experiencing life in a way that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Time is practicing the art that you love and that builds your credit as an actor.
The side job isn’t an investment in you. It won’t pay you back more than you put in. It’s a straight-up trade: time and effort for money to take care of your needs.
*This post was originally published on Oct. 18, 2017. It has since been updated.
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