‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ – Mary Oliver
Wonderful question, Mary and one I have asked myself many, many times over the past 43 years. Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
Ages 4 to 11 and ¾, the plan is crystal clear in my mind. The minute I turn 18, I will pack my life into a rucksack and take myself, my leotards and my legwarmers to New York City where I will carve out a glittering career as a dancer. It will be a beautiful and fulfilling if, occasionally, tough life. (I have seen enough dance movies; I know the drill.) This dream sustains me through a somewhat turbulent childhood.
Age 11 and ¾. Puberty hits and brings with it boobs, a bum and a pair of shapely thighs. It begins to dawn on me that perhaps I am (quite literally) not cut out to be a dancer. The dream begins to fade and my very first plan is scuppered.
Age 12. A new plan is formulating. I turn my attention from dance to drama and fall passionately in love with acting. I play the part of Tallulah in a school production of Bugsy Malone and get drunk on the sound of applause. Acting makes me happier than anything else in my life.
Age 18. Apparently now I’m an adult and it’s time to start making proper grown up career plans. Proper grown-ups don’t go to drama school. They are sensible and go to university. Reluctantly, I decide to read French and History at Trinity College in Dublin. After two short months I realise I’ve made a terrible mistake. I join Trinity Players and spend the next four years in the theatre with occasional stints in the library.
Age 22. I leave university with a decidedly average degree. There was a boy. It went wrong. I messed up my exams. A story for another day.
Age 23. I decide it’s time to get serious about my acting and finally apply for drama school. I should have done it four years earlier, but hey, hindsight is a beaut.
My audition for drama school is the most terrifying day of my life. It is literally EVERYTHING to me. I do Blanche’s monologue from A Streetcar Named Desire. I’m Irish – what am I thinking? But Drama Studio London must see something in me because later that day agree to train me. It has now become the happiest day of my life.
A year later I graduate. I get my first professional job playing the moon in a gorgeous play for children at the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon. This is followed by some blink and you’ll miss me film work, lots and lots of ‘profit share’ theatre work (I never saw any profit) and lots and lots of waitressing. I get terrible insomnia. I drink every night after work. I realise I miss home. I decide it’s time to leave.
Age 26. I move back to Dublin. There’s more profit share theatre work, some theatre in education, some lovely reviews, some terrible commercial castings, and more waitressing.
I’m 27, I am still working in a restaurant. I am miserable. This is not what I had planned for my one wild and precious life, Mary. Not what I had planned at all. My insomnia returns and I find myself falling into the dark abyss of a serious depression. It lasts a full year and it is horrendous.
28. I decide to take a little break from acting. Just for a while. I’ll get a 9-5 and have a steady income for once in my life. The night shifts are killing me, and I need some stability. I ‘accidentally’ get a job as a copywriter in an advertising agency. Turns out I’m quite good at it. I turn my back on acting. I’m not that girl anymore.
But…I am not cut out to work in an office, Mary. Sitting at a desk is a torture I can’t bear. This was never my plan. How did I get here? I am bored and miserable, but hey, I have money! I party a lot. I learn to DJ. I spend my Fridays and Saturdays in dark, sweaty underground clubs. The rhythm of house music soothes my soul and I remember how much I love to dance. I don’t sleep very much. The darkness hovers constantly.
31. I move back to London for a well-paid job in a digital agency. I have never been so bored in my life. I am still DJing, still partying, I live for Friday night and cry every Sunday. I go to see an old friend from drama school in a show and meet him for a drink when it’s over. An actress from the cast joins us for a glass of wine. Turns out she’s a medium. She takes my hand, looks me dead in the eye and tells me I need to get back to the stage. She knows nothing about me other than my name.
Well, Mary, I don’t mess about. I join a local theatre company and gradually start getting my confidence back. I have missed the stage more than I can say. I also meet my future husband. Three months later, I realise it’s now or never. I quit my well-paid job and go out on my own, setting up a voiceover agency and freelance copywriting to pay the bills. I then meet an awesome, like-minded Irish girl and together we set up our own theatre company. Our first show goes so well we decide to take it on tour to Dublin. I am happier than I’ve ever been.
35. I have just returned from Dublin. I am tired, Mary. Unusually tired. Not the kind of tired I’ve ever experienced. I ignore it for a few weeks and assume it’s just an adrenaline crash. Turns out, it’s a little more permanent than that. It’s a baby.
The plan changes yet again and my acting career goes on ice. I return to copywriting and focus on my son.
37. Without ever intending to do so, I have carved out a very successful career in advertising. I am Creative Director at a digital agency. I am well paid, and I work mostly from home. But guess what, Mary? I am still bloody miserable.
I spend the next 3 years searching and researching and learning and growing and questioning and figuring out and reading and watching and, finally, understanding.
I am a creative soul.
I am an actor.
I am a writer.
I am someone who believes passionately in the power and importance of creativity. I am someone who knows that a creative soul needs nourishment. I must figure out a way to be who I am.
38. I decide to train as a coach. I discover I have a passion and talent for coaching and that creatives are my people. I start working with incredible clients and it doesn’t feel like work.
39. I have a second much-longed for baby. I set up my own creative business and pour my heart and soul into it. I work night and day and don’t take care of myself. I burn out spectacularly for the second time in my life. Everything shuts down. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can barely get through the day. I realise it’s time to learn my lesson.
I slow down, I give myself a break, I stop doing and practise being. I learn to trust the process and allow things to unfold with grace.
43. I have finally figured it out, Mary. It’s taken me a while. I have meandered and wandered and gotten hopelessly lost. The journey is far from over but I’m now crystal clear on the route.
What I plan to do with my one wild and precious life is write, act, dance, make, and help other people like me.
READY TO FEEL INSPIRED AGAIN?