NZS, Episode 0012: How To Solve The Career Pivot Conundrum

Hi everyone and welcome to episode #12 of the Nate Zeisler Show. Today, I want to give a shoutout to Buzzsprout, the podcast platform that hosts my show. Buzzsprout is super easy, intuitive and has been a great way for me to get my ideas out into the world. Signing up today lets Buzzsprout know I sent you, gets you a $20 Amazon gift card if you sign up for a paid plan, and helps support this show. Take that first step and sign up for an account today. Now, on to the write-in question from Sophia. 

Sophia writes, “Hi Nate, I’m a struggling actress, I love doing improv and I’m always going on auditions for commercials and sitcoms. However, I am unable to make a living doing improv and I haven’t booked a big commercial yet. I have big dreams: I want to own a home, be able to travel, and shop for nice clothes and invest in my retirement. One day I want a family too. How do I achieve this? I am not ready to “give up” my acting dreams and yet I don’t know what other skills I have. How long do I give myself to succeed in acting?” 

Nate: Sophia thanks so much for the question. Deciding when to make a career pivot is always such a conundrum, especially when you love what you’re doing. I also just want to acknowledge that you are in a tough and frustrating position. Your chosen career path, the path that you consider your life’s work, isn’t allowing you to make enough money to do the things you want to do outside the job and the question you asked gets to the heart of the problem you’re trying to solve. 

Those of you who know me, know that I’m an eternal optimist, but I’m also a realist who loves to gather facts in order to face challenges head on. Starting the process of asking tough questions of yourself now may ultimately be the key to your happiness in the long run. Sophia, here are five indicators that might help you in your decision to pivot to another career:

  1. You’re not making enough money: The biggest challenge artists face when carving out a career doing their art is that the work is time bound. An hour of our time equals an hour of pay.  This equation places a limit on how much money you can make, especially in a world that often devalues our work. All of your goals to travel, own a home or have a family will be tough to realize if you don’t have enough income coming in consistently. Take a look at your finances and identify what you would like to be making in 3 years. If you can’t reasonably find a path to making that amount of money within 3 years, it might be time for a career change. 
  2. The gigs are not artistically satisfying:  Quite often in our world there is a hierarchy to the type of work we can secure as an artist. Gaining experience in the trenches is often an important stepping stone to more satisfying work, however, sometimes, artists can’t seem to move up the chain, which can be frustrating. Only you can define where you’d like to be within the established hierarchy and I do think that there is often a “grass is always greener” mentality with artists. Again, look at a 3 year plan to securing more artistically satisfying gigs before you make the decision to career shift. 
  3. You don’t have time for your family: If you’re running around taking every gig that comes your way to make ends meet and you don’t have time for your family or to enjoy life, it might be an indicator that it’s time to find a different line of work. Look at your work/life balance over the past six months, if you find that you haven’t had time to spend with your family, it may be time to make a change. 
  4. You have other interests you’d like to explore: A lot of individuals I mentor realize about 5 to 10 years after graduation that, while they have this gift of being an incredibly talented artist, what they REALLY what to be doing is X. Listen to the voices pulling you in the direction of your interests outside your art. If you decide you want to make a move in your career, start to carve out a plan for transitioning into something new, now.
  5. It’s not fun: Life is too short people, if you’re not absolutely loving what you do, look for something that makes you happy. Just because you are good at your art doesn’t mean that you necessarily mean that you need to make it your career, especially if the work isn’t fun. Take some time to explore the aspects of your life that make you happy and jot them down on a piece of paper. The goal is to identify some other potential areas of work that could be more enjoyable to you. 

Sophia, while I don’t think that all of the areas I mentioned apply to you, I do I think your question boils down to two things: Should you stay in acting for your career and how do you find financial stability in your life. While it is very much possible to have both, I would suggest that you take a serious look at whether or not a career in acting will allow you to do both. I’m not suggesting that it’s one or the other, but I am suggesting that you need to reframe which of these two areas are more important. To do this, carve out a 3-year plan that allows you to find some financial stability, either by finding some flexible 9-5 work that allows you to continue to pursue your acting career, or by considering a career pivot all together.  

The most important thing to remember here is that you control your future. If you’re not happy, start to ask why and work to make the changes that will give you a more satisfying life and career.

Thanks so much for the question, Sophia, and to those of you listening, I’d love to be able to answer one of your questions on a future podcast. Please send me an email with a recorded question to and I’ll do my best to help. Finally, if you like what you hear on this podcast, I encourage you to join my newsletter, 5 Tips For The Unrelenting Twenty-Something, it’s completely free, easy to digest and specifically created for unrelenting twenty-somethings just like you! Thanks for listening. 

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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