All In: Making Your Passion A Full-Time Profession
Written by Jarreau Williams
This week, I have reached a memorable milestone. I am celebrating my one year anniversary of leaving my corporate job to pursue a full time career in entertainment. Performance has always held a special place in my heart. When I was a young child, I was always glued in front of the TV learning all of the words and songs to Disney’s The Little Mermaid. It was in that moment that a dream was born. For the past decade, I have performed professionally as an actor, singer-songwriter, and entertainer across the country. My first professional gig was with Grammy Award winner Michael Bublé. I’ve performed the national anthem in some of Washington DC’s largest sporting venues. I’ve even sung for a United States President. My love for the stage affirmed that I wanted to do this every day for the rest of my life. However, there is the reality (as I’m sure many of you reading this are dealing with) that we must do what’s necessary to make a living. Rent, credit cards, loans, groceries, children . . . you name it, we pay for it. But I am here to serve as living proof that you CAN do those things AND pursue your artistic aspirations.
At this time last year, I was gazing out of the beautiful panoramic 3rd floor glass window overlooking the hustle and bustle of the Ballston neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia . . . dreaming of a better life. The dynamic of my office and its employees was shifting. I was good at my corporate job, but something was missing. I had a deeper passion that was not being fulfilled. The daily pressures of sitting in traffic three hours a day to stare at a computer screen for eight hours took its mental and physical toll. I was not living to my highest potential. That’s when I knew I, too, needed a shift. So, I took the leap. I put in my notice and began a new adventure. Was I scared? Absolutely. Did I have an organized strategy? Not entirely. But I had one essential tool: belief. And now, a year later, I find myself in a completely different space with a fresh perspective.
Here are some truths that I’ve realized over the past year:
You are more prepared than you think. The age-old question comes into play here: How do you know you’re ready? When is it the “right” time? There is never a right time. The right time is when YOU decide it is. There will always be something or someone tempting you to keep you where you are. But we’ve all seen with any situation that if we care about it enough, we are determined to find a way to make it work. I saved money from gigs and paid off my car loan before walking away from my day job. My recommendation: have approximately $10,000 in the bank for savings. Then review all your expenses and see what you need each month to survive. Calculate what 25% of that number is and add it to your monthly expenses for a cushion. If you earn that final amount every month with your “hobby”, then you’re already off to a fantastic start.
Time is relative and man-made. Remember the days when we judged time by the sun? Me neither. We’re so used to looking at numbers on the clock and conditioning ourselves to work within a certain limit. As an entrepreneur, you create your own hours. I’ve done work at insane hours of the day, whether it was 2 PM or 2 AM. Get it done while it’s on your mind. Once you get in a mode, it’s okay to disregard the hours and minutes for a bit. Just make sure it aligns with your calendar and commitments so that you are rested and ready to give full energy to your passion.
You have no choice but to make choices. When you have a corporate job, it’s easy. You show up, knock out some work, eat lunch, meet clients, clock out, and collect a check. Now, there is no check coming every two weeks. There is no sense of “stability”. After being laid off 4 years ago, I learned very early that nothing is stable. You are dispensable at every job. So you might as well make the move to do what you really love on a more consistent basis. As a full-time CEO, there isn’t anyone saying “Hey, what’s the status on this project?” You are responsible for your success. It can go as fast or slow as you want it to. If you want to reach a high level of success, you must make the first choice to put in the work. Then, stay committed and remember the love you feel for your work when times get tough.
Accept what you don’t know and use your spare time to improve. “When you think you know everything, you really know nothing.” As we ascend to new levels in our profession, we discover new things. No one has all the answers, but there are trusted industry professionals who have learned certain tricks of the trade. Engage with them. Analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Then utilize the time you have acquired to build your skills. Whether it’s learning to play an instrument, booking studio time, reading a play to find a monologue or listening to music to build your repertoire, you have an opportunity for growth.
SHOWTIME EQUALS GO TIME. You never know who is watching. The moments leading up to showtime can be challenging. So many distractions and outside “noise”. But when the lights go up and your number is called, it’s go time! Bringing your A+ game has never been more important. You never know what potential opportunity an audience member could provide you with. I remember performing on a corner with my band in Northeast DC. A woman heard us in her car, pulled over, and watched the rest of the show. She was the booking manager for Blues Alley, a historic jazz club in DC. We traded business cards and 6 months later, I performed at the iconic venue. You aren’t just performing the current gig; you are playing for the next 10.
Now that you are discovering how your passion and life goals align, it’s time to start building the foundation in order to fully walk on faith. Being your own boss means developing a CEO mindset.
Here are some tips to help navigate your “ALL IN” journey:
Connect, Connect, Connect! A saying that I constantly live by is: “Make the intentions of your heart known.” People are intrigued to know how they can contribute toward making your dreams a reality. The more connections you build, the more you expand your earning potential. Meet as many industry colleagues as possible. Be open to collaboration. Do something that is out of your comfort zone. Use social media for positive gain; which leads me to my next point . . .
Content, Content, Content! No one will know who you are if you don’t put yourself out there. Use your platform to introduce the world to your brand. Photos, video clips, quotes, funny moments . . . be creative while maintaining your personal integrity. Remember, you are selling yourself and your brand every day with your presence and your actions.
Create a routine while staying flexible. The first few weeks after leaving my job, I spent a lot of time in bed. Hey, rest is just as important as work and we all need a break sometimes. If you choose to hit the ground running, you need a routine in place. Set your alarm clock. Meditate. Exercise. Make a to-do list and knock out as many things as possible. Fit it to what works best for you. As I said above, time is relative. So, if a fun opportunity presents itself, don’t be so rigid with your self-imposed routine that you miss out on doing something exciting and potentially life-changing.
Maintain a spreadsheet for expenses. If you are working in the entertainment industry, chances are you will receive untaxed income. You’ll do some traveling. You may even contract services for photos, video, and performances. Track everything. Google Drive is my best friend!! Use a template that is comfortable for you to record. Take one day each week to track all your expenses, no matter how small you think it is. In turn, you’ll be prepared for your first tax season as a sole proprietor/contractor/LLC.
Make a choice. Take a risk. Create an opportunity. Do ONE thing every day that propels your life forward. It doesn’t have to be “perfect”, JUST DO IT. If it works, GREAT! You’ll be so glad you tried. If it doesn’t work, GREAT! At least you tried and may find another method that does work. Regardless, you can succeed even in failure. I guarantee you will look up a year from now having completed at least 365 tasks and feel more accomplished than you would have if you had remained stagnant, in a constant state of worry and having achieved nothing.
What is the takeaway, my friend? YOU ARE CAPABLE if you simply BELIEVE. Feel the faith within yourself to achieve anything that you put your mind to. Make no mistake, you will work harder than ever before; but because you have the passion to succeed, the thrill and hustle of chasing a dream will be embedded in your mental DNA. Talent is a bonus. Everyone’s journey is unique. There is no playbook on how to get where you want to be, but you have the power to pave a path that inspires your community. Lean on your support system to carry you through. Do I have it all figured out? OF COURSE NOT. No one does. And that’s ok! You learn by doing. So do it! GO ALL IN! Be the change. Take the leap.
One of my biggest influences, Jim Carrey, said it best: “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” You’ve got this! I believe in you.
Jarreau Williams is an actor, singer-songwriter, and entertainer based in the Washington, DC area. His group, JWX: The Jarreau Williams Experience, performs to energetic audiences across the DC Metro Area. When he’s not working on his latest album or single, Jarreau seeks to inspire and motivate the next generation to pursue their aspirations. For more information, please visit www.facebook.com/JWXperience.