I got into show business the same reason anyone does: job security.
For some people, performing isn’t just a profession; it’s part of the body’s inherent makeup. There’s one strand of DNA in performers that makes us tick a little bit differently. For all my science nerds out there, it’s the strand of DNA that’s really sparkly and seeks the most attention.
For roughly 18 years, every bone in my body willed me to entertain. I had stories to tell, I just needed a stage. I was powered by applause and Tyson chicken fingers.
And I learned a lot. Need a quick French twist? I can do it with my eyes closed.
Looking for a way to swiftly clear a room? Start singing “On My Own,” and slowly build the volume to an ear-splitting level (extra effective if you incorporate a Cockney accent!!!!).
Anyone who knows me knows I’m quicker to quote Andrew Lloyd Webber than Drake. I believe Julie Andrews contributed more to my education and entry into adulthood than McGraw-Hill, and that Walt Disney probably should’ve gotten a shout-out in my college graduation.
Jokes aside, I dedicated my young life to an art form — one that will serve me forever, even if it doesn’t pay the bills. And really y’all, it doesn’t typically pay the bills.
Dancing is hard physically, spiritually and emotionally. It literally takes all you have and to be quite honest, everything from finishing my college thesis to interviewing for my first "real" job has seemed like a walk in the park compared to what I put myself through when I was about 13.
I dealt with raving lunatics, helpful coaches and everything in between. (Shout-out to the teacher who told us at the end of the day, we're all show ponies. Hence the cover photo.)
I had to learn very young exactly who I was and what I stand for, because there were plenty of people around to tell me who I should be.
And while I wouldn’t change my experience for anything — not even, say, a normal amount of bobby pins in my bathroom or the opportunity to go to a school dance for once in my life — there are some things that were left out of that particular education.
There’s surprisingly little conversation about money in show business. The lack of dialogue about financial planning for entertainers is sad, but is probably a whole different post. It’s as if everyone is too polite to talk about it, because this is arttttt and the work is meaningful and we’re not corporate soul-suckers who live for the money. Or maybe it's because nobody knows what the hell they're talking about.
I can safely say I learned absolutely nothing about money from my time in showbusiness, except that there is not a lot of money in showbusiness. Until, of course, there is.
But even big-name Broadway stars or your average TV actors don’t feel the security that comes with a traditional 9 to 5. The show could be cancelled because the director’s wife messed around with an investor. The show could be cancelled because nobody came. The show could be cancelled because shows get cancelled, and that’s all there is to it.
Living contract to contract is not exclusive to the singer/dancer scene, but it’s certainly more dramatic — and that pain is enunciated with perfect diction.
Showbusiness is bizarre, but I truly loved it.
I won’t spend this whole post trying to convince you that musicals are important and that yes, people, really DO burst into song mid-conversation in real life — I’ve spent the last two decades trying to convince my sister of the same thing. And she ain’t budgin’.
But by God, if 20 years of performing contributed absolutely nothing else to my life, it WILL write a blog post for me. And here it is. I am not throwing away my shot.
Whether you are a Fosse fan, Streisand supporter or have no idea what I just said, you can still find some takeaways from this post.
8 Things That Show Business Taught Me About Money
#1 - You’re going to get a lot of ‘Nos’
Have you ever stood in a lineup with 50 other girls who are thinner, prettier, more polished and more skilled than you? On PURPOSE?
Performers put themselves through some weird stuff voluntarily, and asking to be lined up and selected like cattle at an 1830s market is one of them.
At least you’re treated with more dignity than cattle. Oh, wait. No you’re not. (You know they’re literally called Cattle Calls, right?)
You’ll get your toned dancer legs sliced out from underneath you in a heartbeat, and for completely subjective reasons.
You’re too tall. You’re too short. We need a brunette. We need a little less curvy. We need a little more alien and unattainable. We need someone who can simultaneously spin plates, have her leg behind her left ear and shimmy at the same time, but who also is willing to be paid in digestive biscuits. Sorry!
And the rejection always starts with how talented you are (a lie). It goes something like, “Good work today ladies, you’re all so fabulous! It’s so hard to choose. Unfortunately, we hate your guts and don’t want your dreams to come true. We think your dog should be murdered. In fact, we already murdered him.”*
I swear, if this kind of stuff took place in any other industry, there would be way more lawsuits.
With money, you don’t always get your way, either, and for reasons that don’t always make sense.
No, you can’t get an extension on that bill. No, you aren’t qualified to open an HSA. No, you didn’t jump through enough hoops to close this deal.
You’ll get a lot of ‘Nos’, but sometimes all it takes is the one yes.
*Details are foggy; pretty sure this is what was said.
#2 - Resilience.
Boy, oh boy. Here’s one thing that becomes crystal clear early on: You’re not going to crush it immediately.
"Fundamentals are the building blocks of fun." — Mikhail Baryshnikov
If only I’d counted how many plies I did before I landed my first actual paycheck for performing. It takes showing up, day after day, and persevering. Likewise, money problems don’t go away overnight. That takes strategy, patience and discipline.
But once you hit that triple, or see substantial growth in your portfolio for the first time, you get this boost in confidence that carries you through the next lull. You just have to keep focusing, and keep showing up.
Here's the harsh truth of it: Nobody’s going to care as much as you do.
Unless you have Maureen’s mother from Center Stage, nobody else will care about your success as much as you. Nobody wants is as badly. Nobody has put in the work, so nobody else will feel the sting like you. Don’t blindly rely on any one person’s/company’s/blogger’s/adviser’s input. Educate yourself. Advocate for yourself.
#3 - Fake it til you make it.
Whether you’re auditioning in a room full of 30 or performing on a stage in front of 30,000, there’s not a more bowel-loosening scenario than forgetting what you are supposed to be doing. Either way, the advice remains the same: Fake it til you make it. Just kick-ball-change your way through the combo and distract them with your eyelashes. That has ALWAYS been my advice. Eyelashes are just as effective for distracting bankers in the same way.
The real similarity is that you don’t have to have it perfect, you just have to start.
Oh, you don’t remember the first eight counts? Too bad, it’s your turn.
Oh, you don’t know the difference between a Roth IRA and a Traditional IRA? Doesn’t matter. Just start saving. And keep saving. Just start! Just try. You won’t get it right the first time, but you will get better. You’re not investing hundreds of millions of dollars (if you are, I applaud you on the outside and hate you a little on the inside). You’ll pick it up eventually, and you WILL get better.
#4 - Even the pros fall.
Flashback to when I was 11, and ecstatic to be sitting in a nosebleed seat at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet gala watching a REAL New York City Ballet dancer. Ashley Bouder zipped onto the stage, demanding my attention with her daring steps and unmatched footwork. A few years later, I saw her again in a Youth America Grand Prix Gala. Again, she came flying on stage like a meteorite. Crashed like one, too.
It wasn’t the first time she fell on stage. Or the second. In fact, she kinda has a reputation for it.
But you know why she’s known for falling? Because she’s also known for not holding back.
In every onstage entrance, in every leap and in everything she does, she simply goes for it. She leaves no room for regret or wondering what would’ve happened if she’d just given it a little bit more 'oomph.' That doesn't make her any less professional, or any less technically proficient. She just falls sometimes. But she always gets up.
Life’s too short to live in the fear of falling.
Being in the spotlight doesn’t make you any less vulnerable to mistakes, slippery stages or silly luck, it just means more people are around to see it.
When you’re feeling down and out about your investment savvy, just think of literally anyone that thought DeLorean Motor Company had a lot of promise. Or Warren’s Buffet’s 15 biggest financial mistakes.
You fall. You fail. You learn. You grow.
#5 - Your attraction to shiny things may be your downfall.
The lights. The rhinestones. The grandeur. Seeing your name in a marquee is a landmark “shiny thing,” but it shouldn’t be the reason you train your entire life. You have to do it for love. Passion must drive you, because the paycheck certainly won’t.
If you only focus on the shiny things, you’ll quickly find yourself disappointed — or worse, bored.
And with money, this one’s obvious. You have to remember why you are saving/investing/spending/working — for your freedom, flexibility or family legacy.
Because hey, big spender, if you blow it on new toys that prove you can keep up with the Joneses, you’ll be left with a heart as desolate as a shopping mall on any day but Black Friday.
#6 - Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
From audition season to investment advice, this tip rings true on many levels. Sometimes this means you make sure you are just as ready to rumba as you are to tap dance in an audition. Other times, it means you don’t bank on one specific market segment to host and grow 100% of your retirement funds.
You can spend years preparing for a role or learning a particular company’s repertoire, and then when you finally, FINALLY land an audition, you get cut in the first round. You have to take risks and give some things your all, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have a backup plan.
Any performer knows that you’re not guaranteed a next contract, and so you always have to give yourself options — whether that’s having a bartending job, spending nights earning a college degree or having a rich uncle, you have to diversify.
And I don’t even have to explain the value of diversifying monetary investments to the crowd reading this. You guys get it.
#7 - Curiosity is your most valuable asset.
Getting the gig isn’t about regurgitating perfect choreography, it’s about a willingness to put yourself out there and show what you’ve learned. Ask any director if they’d rather have a technically perfect ballet dancer who is glassy-eyed and mindless, or an imperfect artist who constantly strives to be better without ever losing that hunger to absorb new ideas.
A willingness to learn is your most valuable asset, besides LaDucas.
The day you think you know everything is the day of your decline as a performer, an investor, a human. Never stop growing.
#8 - You have to let go of others’ validation.
It’s easy to say and hard to actually swallow, especially for those in the performing arts — an entire career that’s essentially based on how much applause you generate with your presence. Like, WHAT?
It’s counterintuitive, but the more desperate you are to please, the less impressed you will be with yourself. Because you’ll go insane, and forget why the hell you spent so much time in a dance studio in the first place.
And in the personal finance world, it’s easy to sit behind a computer and spout off what another blogger should be doing with their money. It’s easy to fall prey to armchair experts.
Whether it’s Damien Woetzel, Dave Ramsey or your mother, there comes a point where you must accept criticism without giving a crap.
Take the information that is useful to you, and let the rest roll off of your back.
Dare I say you must …
You have to identify YOUR priorities and then pursue them with confidence. Be open to guidance from people who have carved their own way, but stop basing every decision on whether or not a certain person would approve. Do you. Because you’ve made it this far. You’re doing great. Don’t let anyone rain on your parade.
My early career in arts and entertainment took me all over, even internationally. I met cool people and made real friends and learned how to apply eyeliner well below the lash line to accentuate eyes, which will definitely come in handy in the real world.
And you know what? I wouldn’t change it. Not for the life of me.
Showbusiness taught me was that money was hard to come by, and that I wasn’t going to get anywhere without working for it. It also taught me that there are a lot of opinionated people that are sometimes impossible to rise above.
That’s because none of them got enough love in their childhood. And that’s showbiz, kid.
There are so many people who are ready to tell you what hairstyle works best for your jawline, what company you should be in, and that if you just “leaned out” you would definitely get work. There are so many people ready to say that your saving strategy is wrong, that early retirement is everyone’s ultimate goal, and that you definitely should have invested in Bitcoin.
To the best of your ability, only take in that which makes you stronger. Ignore the rest.
The most important thing is that you stay true to yourself, and don’t get blinded by the sparkly things along the way.
I still have so much to learn. But for now, I’m doing my best.
And all that jazz.
P.S. Turns out I have a lot to say about this. My own career ventures and background aren't really detailed in this article, because I’m trying to keep it under 25,000,000,000 words. I've been asked about it now, so I'll probably write about it at some point. Sign up to my email list below to make sure you never miss that post whenever it lands!
Also, if you enjoyed this post — or just mildly put up with it — it would mean a lot to me if you shared it. I dreamed a dream that this post reached a bright-eyed 17 year-old who really needed to hear it. And also that it reached the company director that crushed my dreams. Help a sista out. ;)