Having Something to Fall Back On

As a young man, I was briefly considering a career as an actor.  The worst advice I think I was given during this period was: “make sure you have something to fall back on”.  This is advice that I’m sure many of you heard during your youth and it can basically be translated into “Go to university or college kid and get a job.”  I went into Journalism and then transferred to English before finally settling into a job at a music store at $9.50 an hour.  At least I had something to fall back on. Retail!

 Admittedly, while I think advising teenagers to finish High School is sound advice I think rushing kids into post-secondary education is nothing less than a colossal mistake.  This is especially true if they are expressing an interest in an alternative activity.  It makes way more sense to pursue arts, entrepreneurial efforts, or philanthropic world saving projects when you are young and willing to tolerate an income at the poverty line.  

 My advice to anyone in a similar situation now would be: The best way to do anything is to launch yourself into it. The lessons learned undertaking these activities will be incredibly useful even if you only try it for a year or two. Move on to something else if it doesn’t work out.  There is no rule that says you have to complete University in your 20’s.  I almost feel there should be a rule against it.

 I was 30 when I went back to school to complete my fourth year. I ended up getting a Masters degree. My attitude had shifted completely and I got way more out of the experience the second time around. It was also fun to basically have an extension of my twenties (which seems to be continuing post-graduation).

 Also the only way you will ever make it at anything is to try it and dedicate yourself towards the activity.  While people occasionally get lucky and stumble into success, it is way better to create your own luck.  This takes a tremendous amount of work and I feel certain that after a year of investing this kind of time and effort into a project, like making it as an actor in New York, school will seem much easier.

 In the end, I got bored with acting. By the end of third year  I realized I was losing interest in it even as a hobby. Nonetheless I would not have been harmed in any way by actually trying to make a go of it when I was 18. I think I would have actually been much better off.

 Any thoughts?

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11 responses to “Having Something to Fall Back On

  1. Paper Bag Princess

    I think there is a great deal of sense to what you are saying. My experience was so different. I entered post secondary school straight from high school and stayed there for an MA and a very good chunk of a PhD mainly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I kind of got stuck there, and was afraid to leave. I wouldn’t say I had any regrets about it all, but sometimes I think most of the educational and career choices I have made in my life have been by default!!

  2. This came at a perfect time. I find myself lacking employment as of noon today, and I needed a reminder that hey- I’m 25. I don’t need to have this all figured out.

    And I’ve got something to fall back on. Aside from my ass.

  3. Uh oh are you saying I’m supposed to have it all figured out? 🙂

    Change can be difficult but it is also an opportunity. OK I sound a little like a fortune cookie there.
    Good luck Meg and I look forward to hearing about your next adventure.
    How’s the German coming along? 🙂

  4. PBP: Most of my decisions have been made the same way. 🙂

  5. sterlinglynch

    Great post and absolutely sound advice, especially when people are going to university at 17 / 18 these days. As University becomes more like finishing school, I think the reasons for going right away are diminishing. Exponentially.

    I think the main observation is key: there is no rush and a person can learn much more by pursuing a dream / idea in good faith than s/he can ever learn by following a set curriculum. All the truly successful people are entrepreneurs — people who have an idea, a dream, or a hope, and set out to realize it and share it with others. The only real obstacle is risk. So best to take it on when it really doesn’t mean a whole lot — when a person is young, relatively free of responsibilities, and will even enjoy living in shoebox flat with five others who are all trying to make it. And if it doesn’t work out, go get a business degree and have a very impressive resume when you graduate.

    It makes perfect sense and it’s exactly what I would do if I were 17 / 18 and, now that I think of it, it’s what I am doing at 34. Seriously kids, there is no rush.

  6. This relates to our conversation we had yesterday about Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, which argues that it is your location and luck that make you great, not necessarily skills. The Beatles could get their 10,000 hours of practice (the amount of hours it takes to become great at something) because they never had a second job, didn’t go to college and devoted their entire lives to music. It helped that they knew people who would always get them gigs, which landed them a tour in Germany to really hone their skills, which led to Brian Epstein (their manager) buying up all their records to drive the album up in the charts. The author argues that Bill Gates wouldn’t be where he is today had he not received a computer when he was 14, in the 1960’s!

  7. Outliers sounds like an interesting read. Yep. I would agree that it takes a combination of hard work and luck to be successful at anything. It’s important to remember that a lot can be gained from failure too.

  8. Ever notice that people who “have something to fall back on” usually end up doing just that?
    If you’re playing without a net, it makes you that much more likely to take all kinds of risks not to fall.

  9. Well said Nancy!

  10. Per Nancy: “Ever notice that people who ‘have something to fall back on’ usually end up doing just that?”

    How does one escape that “fall-back position” to do what why really want to do?

    I’m warring with myself on this bit.

  11. Nancy’s point is quite relevant. Those who delay, regardless of whether it is artistic, philanthropic, or entrepreneurial pursuits, in order to do something “safe” rarely return to those efforts at a later time. This is why I think the reverse advice is actually better for young people. If you feel you want to act, start a band, save the world then do so. Put all your effort into it and even if it is not a success (commercially or otherwise) you will benefit from the experience and learn valuable lessons.

    It’s worth noting, however, that effort is often rewarded. Many of those who have success are the ones who are not necessarily the most talented but the ones who diligently pursued their dreams/projects. Hard work, determination, persistence and the desire to constantly learn go a long way.

    I think Nancy herself is a good example of a talented individual who works diligently and is incredibly committed. I have no doubt good things will happen for her.

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