Don’t Settle for Less: The Case Against Having a Backup Plan
Anthony J. Piccione
Quite often, I hear people tell young, aspiring actors, directors and playwrights in theatre – and it’s something that I’ve heard myself a few times, in the past – that people need to have a backup plan. In reality, what many of these people are trying to say to them is this: As they are dreaming about their future in the arts, they ought to be thinking more “realistically” about their future careers, at the same time. This is a sentiment I’ve seen echoed on many occasions, and it’s a sentiment which, based on my own life experience and those I’ve observed, I find to be something that all people who are serious about pursuing their dreams in the arts should ignore at all costs.
I’m sure some may disagree when I say this, but – the way I see it – what lies at the heart of this argument is the idea that you are destined to fail, no matter how hard you try, and therefore, you should start looking for a backup career option now, so you will be financially well off and are better positioned to do things such as buy a home or start a family. You know? The things that most “normal” people do after they finish school and go out into the world.
Sure, having a professional career in theatre can be hard. Indeed, many of us have often had to settle for jobs that aren’t ideal so we can pay the rent, or so we can save up to pursue the goals we have. I’ve known plenty of people who did that and saved up prior to moving to New York or Los Angeles, and I guarantee you, settling for less than desirable jobs is something nearly all of us in one of these big cities have had to do, in order to stay afloat. However, do these people really believe that we should have to choose between one or the other? Is it not possible to have a job that pays for rent and groceries, while also doing it with the long-term goal of eventually achieving some degree of success as an artist?
Thankfully, I’ve lucky enough to have grown up with a very supportive family – and I’ve tried my best to surround myself with supportive friends – in my life, but I know that not everyone is fortunate enough to have each of those things, and I find that unfortunate, as that’s often what leads them to take different paths in life, and thus not be able to pursue their true ambitions in life. People should feel free to take risks and find out for themselves whether they were meant for success in this industry.
Just think about who some of your favorite artists out there today. More often than not, the reason why they got to be so successful is because they didn’t fall into the trap of settling for their backup plan early on in their lives, after having gotten tired of trying and given up far too soon. Instead, they kept getting better at their craft and kept pushing to make sure as many people knew of their talents as they could, despite whatever obstacles many of them might have faced, early on. Anyone who has ever dreamt of being anything like them should be thinking with the exact same mentality.
Yes, because it is a risky endeavor, you might make mistakes along the way. Indeed, if I’m being honest, perhaps some of you might even realize sooner or later that you just weren’t cut out for this. (Although anyone who’s been thinking about pursuing a career in the arts, by now, probably would have decided if that was the case.) But if you don’t even TRY, and go as far as you can toward achieving the goals, then there’s a good chance you’ll just live out the rest of your life thinking about what could have been, had you chosen to put yourself out there. If you ask me, it’s better to fail and say you tried than to not even try at all.
Now, if your passions or interests in life change, and that’s your reason for wanting to pursue another career path, that’s perfectly fine. I’m not criticizing anyone because they chose to go in another life direction based on something along those lines, as opposed to superficial reasons and hypothetical scenarios that psychologically held them back. But if this is truly your life’s passion, if you know deep in your heart that this is what you were born to do, and if you’re willing to pour as much of yourself as you can into pursuing it, both emotionally and financially (I think anyone in the arts will tell you that if you wanted to go into theatre because you think that you’ll make lots of money, you’re going into theatre for all the wrong reasons), then trust me when I say that it’ll be worth taking that chance and pursuing the kind of life you’ve ACTUALLY wanted for yourself.
Yet you can’t be free to take those chances, if you fall into the trap of settling into a “backup career” early on in your life. So if you do think about setting yourself up for a fallback career – for example, while you’re still in school – in the event that you do actually try and fail, view it ONLY as that: Something to fall back on, in case you fail. Don’t look at it as the more “realistic” option for your future, as opposed to the so-called “fantasy” you have of pursuing your goals as an artist. That’s the trap that I’ve seen too many people – both my age and older – have fallen into: The trap of thinking too much about what your “backup” career is gonna be, instead of how you’ll make it doing what you ACTUALLY want to do. As far as I’m concerned, living in a different industry with the question of “what could have been” is far, FAR worse than any sort of rejection that you might face in the arts…
Anthony J. Piccione is a Brooklyn-based playwright, producer, screenwriter, activist, essayist, poet and occasional actor. Most recently, Piccione’s one-act plays “The End of the Line at the End” and “The Personality Play” have been produced at Manhattan Repertory Theatre, while his one-act play “Two Cousins and a Pizza” was produced at the Hudson Guild Theatre as part of the NYWinterfest. Next up, his new children’s play “An Energy Tale” can be seen this summer at the Midtown International Theatre Festival (https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/975011). Piccione’s work has also been presented at Connecticut venues such as Playhouse on Park, Hole in the Wall Theater, the Windsor Art Center and Windham Theatre Guild, and his short comedy “Ebol-A-Rama” is scheduled to be published this year by Heuer Publishing (www.hitplays.com). He has also previously worked as a teaching assistant at Hartford Children’s Theatre and New Britain Youth Theater, in addition to his work with On Stage. He received his BA in Theatre from Eastern Connecticut State University in 2016, and is a member of the Dramatists Guild. To learn more about Mr. Piccione’s recent and upcoming productions, please visit www.anthonyjpiccione.tumblr.com and be sure to follow him on Facebook (www.facebook.com/AnthonyJPiccione.OfficialPage), Twitter (@A_J_Piccione) and Instagram (anthonyjpiccione).
Photo: Alison McCartan and Kathy St. George appear in SpeakEasy Stage Company's 2016 production of "Violet." (The Photography of Glenn Perry)