The Stumbles in Changing Careers

Well, I’ve been so busy with my new career – acting – that I keep being surprised that my old career—lecturing and consulting as a communication specialist and jury consultant – still keeps calling.

Suddenly I have a whole raft of speaking engagements coming up—talking to the East Coast’s  appellate and federal judges and lawyers, to executives at the National League of Cities conference, and to other conferences in  Miami and California  as well as also consulting on cases with one of my long-time clients.

And here I thought that was all over because I’m acting now!

I’m actually preparing to do the play I did Off Broadway in New York again  at  Shakespeare & Co.’s Studio Festival here in Lenox, MA on Labor Day. This is where they try out plays for next year’s season (!!) and you can imagine how that’s really occupying my mind.

Problem is—I am of two minds.  I had to read 700 pages of depositions to prepare for my consulting work next week while I am re-studying and memorizing my script again to be book-free for the play’s performance. And these two minds don’t sit lightly in my head.

My consulting mind is outer-directed – looking, thinking, analyzing facts as presented by an expert witness. How can I help make him clearer, more credible, more persuasive? To make his points more swiftly to a jury that doesn’t listen anymore since email and texting? To keep within the parameters of trial law and also make him not be so defensive, so obstructive, so self-aggrandizing? So I’m all involved in analyzing why he does what he does and finding ways to reach into that place and turn him in a new direction with new understanding – something I’ve done many times before, an always demanding, consuming process.

Yet my other mind – the acting one, the use-your-heart-and-soul one – is inner directed. Totally involved in my becoming another character. In my being what I want my witness to be – credible, clear, persuasive- reaching out to my audience to make them experience and identify with the woman I’m playing. To understand her, agonize with her, feel her almost be her. This work  is so internal and self-focused while the other is so other- directed, so intent on understanding someone else and affecting his behavior—making him help his jury-audience not only get his message (which is quite technical and complex) but also like and respect him.

So—career transitions are not easy. The paths are diverse and crowded with demands and issues and striving and yes, concern about how well can I do the new while I sink back down into the comfort of the old one I know. But life is full of challenges and how lucky I am to be able to choose mine and to make the uphill climb a willing one, not one that was just thrust upon me. I’m so grateful and aware of that.

What Happens When You Try a New Career

This blog-voice has been quiet for a few weeks (so unlike me!) but I was hardly silent during that time. I was acting in a wonderful new play, off- Broadway, as part of adding career number 10 – acting – to the others I’ve created in my continuous quest for self-expression and making a difference.

So this blog post is all about what happens when you launch yourself into the stratosphere of a new career. And I hope that it helps you try something new yourself.

The single most important surprise is the depth of the new territory and how much there is to learn. When was the last time you started learning something very deep and very new? Don’t you think that as we grow deeper into the years of our lives, we kind of find comfort levels in what we already know and we don’t face the challenge of new learning very often?

Well, here’s how it felt to go into new territory: I began building the character I was playing based on my small amount of past formal training, my greater amount of experience and my highly developed performer instincts. But my director confronted me with “Why does she say this here?” “What in her past created this reaction?” “ Would she really be this nice here? Why?”  So I found myself articulating answers I just had inside without ever knowing that I did, forcing myself to go into greater depths and think through so many aspects of her life in order to arrive at how I’d play each scene. And I discovered that I really could do that…

I also scared myself to death, thinking, “What have you done? Maybe you can’t memorize 48 pages of mainly you talking (I was the star of the show…) And there you’ll be, with your bare face hanging out!” That voice of self-doubt almost did me in as, true to a self-fulfilling prophecy, I did blank out totally in our first full-play rehearsal! The panic! The terror! The picture of me standing onstage with a full audience like an idiot and going blank! Did I ever reach out to friends to come and read lines with me endlessly till I convinced myself that I really DID know the whole thing. Oh, what agony!

So- taking on a new career meant conquering that self- doubt, that fear. Confronting that voice that seems to be alive and well in all of us, ready to rise up and squash our dreams at a moment’s notice. Talking back to that destructive spirit,  challenging it and finding a way to hold your own and prevail. To believe you can. That you will. And to finally allow yourself the joy of the experience. What new skills! What a new view of myself!

I’ve written this to help you all dare to stick the big toe in some new, very cold water. Although what you don’t know can scare you, you can screw up your courage to try, to dare to learn and explore. Don’t let the insecurity of being out of the old familiar comfort zones make you turn back.  Swallow hard, plant your feet  and fight! Fight for a new adventure—and what new corners of yourself you can explore and grow with. Find yourself in a whole new role, reacting and adjusting in totally new ways. Discover who else you are and can be— this is such a deeply rewarding venture. Try it! One big toe. Very cold water. See what happens…