"2% of actors make a living from the profession." That was the major takeaway from a series of surveys released in 2019.
We don't highlight this to compound anxiety or feelings of hopelessness. We do so to depict the high likelihood we'll have to work outside our craft at some point along the path, and that this is okay. The statistic is perhaps depressing, but it's just as much a permission slip to let go of any shame we've been carrying around about our day job(s). 98% of us actors are in the same boat.
We're also joined by most elite athletes. Our generation's best javelin thrower may win Olympic gold and hold the world record for decades, yet the financial reward (currently USD 37,500) only comes around once every four years. And that's if they win gold.
There are countless lists of "the best survival jobs for actors" online. These can provide valuable inspiration, however, the one-size-fits-all approach is misleading. Our most ideal fit will entirely depend on our nature, preferences, and skill set.
So, instead of regurgitating these listicles, we're going to share some of the research we've conducted into optimal Muggle Work (the term we like to use for "day job", "survival job", and other equally rousing phrases). Most importantly, the three key elements successful side pursuits seem to share: alignment, flexibility, and a high return on investment (ROI).
First and foremost, optimal Muggle Work is aligned. Aligned, that is, with our unique nature, preferences, and skill set.
Advice elsewhere says, "A survival job must be tolerable". And sure, if surviving is all we're after, maybe tolerance is all we need.
But in our research of actors and athletes who've used their Muggle Work for more than survival — for enjoyment and fulfilment — the bar is set much higher. They've considered their strengths, weaknesses, likes, dislikes, curiosities, and indifferences. We'd be wise to take a moment and do the same.
Yes, working at a bar can be a perfect fit for some — it's relatively flexible and tips well. But if we're a non-drinker and prefer to be in bed before midnight (hi friends!), it will be torture.
Optimal Muggle Work is flexible. Flexible in regards to facilitating last-minute auditions and go-sees, as well as our wider life.
The most content actors and athletes have prioritised living life on their own terms. Several athletes, for instance, have chosen to teach. This allows them to hit their training in the early morning and evening, then, on free weekends, go skiing or volunteer at an animal shelter.
Most listicles online steer actors away from full-time jobs. But in some cases, a full-time position (as per the above) ticks all the boxes. For others, a casual position ushering at a theatre makes more sense. Either way, optimal Muggle Work accommodates both our commitment to our craft and our commitment to a rich and rewarding life.
Finally, optimal Muggle Work has a high ROI. By this we mean it pays well for the time and energy required.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but the majority of actors and athletes in "survival mode" will simply take whatever's offered. There's a time and place for this — especially in the early days — but our peers who've truly thrived have intentionally gone beyond the quick 'n easy hire to uncover more enabling alternatives.
In today's gig economy, freelancing or running a small business is a very real possibility. A potentially lucrative one at that. Of course, this requires more work upfront than joining a local temp agency, but it's an initial investment that often pays many multiples of a casual wage down the line.
Given we spend roughly ⅓ of our lives working, it’s crucial to check in regularly and make sure we're spending these 90,000 hours in the best way possible.
As actors, we've ostensibly already made this decision. However, our path is one that almost necessitates us working in other fields for at least part of the journey. We, therefore, need to also ensure our Muggle Work is optimally suited too.
Don't settle for "survival". Commit to finding something magic.
Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.