Jumping on the train marked Forest Park, I suddenly found myself completely surrounded by people holding onto suitcases and bags, anxiously awaiting their next stop. Digging into my purse for a set of handwritten instructions, I looked over them to determine when to switch to the Brown Line. Even though I had an hour until I reached my temporary residence in Chicago, being in a new city I didn’t want to make any mistakes and end up lost. The worries ran in my head, until I looked up at the crowded cart and thought, “I’ve ridden on public transportation in so many cities, who’s to say I couldn’t do this Chicago?” Immediately I was taken back to my very first internship in London as a costumer for a small company on the outskirts of the city. If I could manage Heathrow airport and the Tube, surely I could manage Chicago’s CTA Line, right? I wasn’t sure and as I embarked on a career change in a new city with uncertainty of what I’ll do after this internship in Chicago. I could only think, would I be able to shed the mistakes of my previous career? Or, would I continue to feel uncertain and never know where to go next? It may seem as though theatre has nothing to do with my latest pursuits in Marketing, Communications, and Development, but as I’m finding, there’s mistakes from my theatre past that I can learn from for the future, wherever my career goes. Here are a few lessons I’ve discovered after making mistakes in theatre:
Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to make connections with co-workers. Although I tend to be fairly private about my life and don’t always open up about every circumstance, I’m still learning the balance between connecting with co-workers and finding those I can divulge everything to. I don’t have to be BFFs with co-workers, but as I learned from theatre, once I started attending events, get-togethers, and parties outside of work as well as joining co-workers on social media, I only wish I had done so sooner. When it came to finding a place to stay in Chicago, connections come from both my previous profession in theatre to old college roommates. People from all over posted and inquired for me on social media, reminding me of the kindness and loyalty of strong connections.
Lesson #2: Feel confident in asking for what you want. Even though I was rejected by supervisors from time to time when I asked for specific projects, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t have found other opportunities for additional work. Just because others saw and categorized me in a certain role doesn’t mean I had to believe I must give in without asking for more. As I start on a new career path, I’m finding there are ways to ask for challenges and assignments. You’re not being pushy, you’re just exploring options to learn more.
Lesson #3: Trust yourself and if you don’t know what you’re doing, just ask. Thinking back on my previous career, there were times I felt timid talking with actors about costume changes or showing a mistake to my draper. Many times as I was sewing I would second-guess myself, wondering if I was taking the right steps or if my draper would prefer something different. Taking on a new career path hasn’t been easy and I’ve certainly struggled, but I’ve come to realize I am the one who tends to get in the way of accomplishing more because of my self-doubt. Asking questions and moving ahead without over thinking everything is something I’ll be learning no matter where I go next.
Lesson #4: Being the quiet observer is not always a bad thing. Many times I thought my shy nature was a personality trait that caused others to overlook me. Although there were plenty of situations where people couldn’t remember my name or thought I was offended by them, there were also plenty of situations where people knew my quiet observations made me intuitive and that I had more going on in my mind than most expected. It’s these actors and co-workers whom I had the most meaningful conversations with. It’s these moments that made me realize that being quiet is also being wise and seeing what others miss. It’s also the times I realized I don’t always have to be so quiet. I can give a voice to my observations diplomatically and with confidence.
Lesson #5: Don’t believe you don’t have worthy skills applicable to other areas. When I realized my future in costumes wasn’t where I wanted to be, going through other professions only overwhelmed me. I constantly thought no one would see me beyond my sewing skills or misunderstand my work backstage as a dresser. I underestimated my organizational capabilities, my communication skills, and collaboration backstage with co-workers, until I began to take classes and attend activities outside of work. I slowly began to realize my ability to work independently and in groups as well as my skills coordinating in the costume shop and while running shows had value that could translate into other tasks and assignments. Re-writing my resume, I began to see how much I’ve done, and if you don’t believe me, consult “The Employee You Should Hire: Theatre Artist,” to see what I mean.
I’m thankful to say that my navigation through Chicago’s public transportation and streets were just as successful as my moving through the Tube in London. As I take on steps to use the bus and “L line” for my latest internship, I can’t help but think of how I anxiously passed the time during the hour and half commute I had through London’s buses and underground system. It’s funny to think that here I am again, figuring out where to go next and taking on yet another city. I may not have a clear path for my life, but I know the lessons I’ve learned over the past several years as a costumer will be ones to carry with me as I remember to be kinder to myself, trust my instincts, and speak up for what I want. After all, it’s my destiny and no one else is in control of it.