Finding Work-Work-Life Balance With Parallel Careers

by Connor Relyea

One of the most variable careers in the world is that of an artist. Low pay, little work and a difficult threshold to break through can all stop artists and artistic passions from flourishing. For example, Actor’s Equity Association, the work union for stage actors and stage managers, puts together an annual report on income and employment for the members of the union. In the 2012–13 report, the median income for actors was $7,100 for the entire year.

Now, it’s nearly impossible to live on $7,100 a year, especially in major theatrical areas such as New York City or Los Angeles. So the question becomes, how do actors and artists make a living to continue doing what they do? For some of us, myself included, the answer is to take on parallel careers.

A parallel career is, as the hosts of The Ensemblist podcast describe it, “two lines of work that work alongside one another, occasionally crossing paths which work to both feed artists artistically and literally.”

For some artists and actors, this career move makes the most sense. In order to live a financially viable lifestyle, it is easiest to create multiples avenues of income. But doesn’t this just mean that an actor is working a day job? Not necessarily. The whole idea behind a parallel career is that you are taking something that you are equally good at or that you care about just as much and creating a financially viable path for it to work for you.

I currently work as an actor, a freelance writer and editor, and a dog walker (this isn’t really a parallel career, I just really love dogs). I have always loved writing and acting equally and I have never looked at either as a mutually exclusive career. Both allow me to do what I love, which is tell stories. Both are fluid and feed off of one another. This past summer I was working for a summer stock theatre company and I performed in four different productions. When I wasn’t working on stage, I was writing about my experiences or reporting for a magazine. Writing became a way for me to de-stress from the hectic life of summer stock.

Finding the work-work-life balance can also be ridiculous. While at the theatre, there were days where I had to cut my lunch hour short so I could conduct interviews for an article, or I had to spend hours after a long night performing to finish an article that was due before showtime the next day. Working two careers is exhausting and can be difficult financially. When working in two variable markets such as acting and freelance writing, the feast-and-famine cycle can be even more intense than other freelancers experience.

Luckily, sometimes the cycles can work in opposition to each other: if I don’t have as many writing clients, I can be working on a show and gaining a paycheck, or vice versa. Parallel careers can often support themselves in that respect.

Many artists work parallel careers and strive to gain that work-work-life balance. There are numerous artists who work as headshot photographers for other artists, photo retouchers, other freelance writers and editors, craft- and product-sellers on Etsy, and so on.

That’s not to say that artists are the only people pursuing these types of career paths. For many, the career path has turned into less of a straight-and-narrow trajectory and more of a map of different stopping points along the way to the final goal. Millennials are more likely to stay in a job that they do not like if it helps their personal passions that might not be financially viable at the moment.

A 2012 Future Workplace survey, titled “Multiple Generations @ Work,” found that workplace flexibility trumped salary concerns and career progression. Millennials cited the importance of being able to express their creativity and finding corporate values that match their own.

As a generation, millennials are more interested in identifying what we do as an extension of ourselves rather than identifying with a specific company or corporation. That is true of me. I am a writer and an actor. I don’t identify as a writer for a specific publication or an actor for a specific theatre. And since I use both careers to support myself, I am able to live a fulfilled life financially and artistically.

Parallel careers aren’t right for everyone. It can be difficult to find a balance to work two jobs while also having a personal life. Long nights and working on the weekends can be normal when trying to stay afloat, but the work can all pay off when the balance of the careers begin paying off.

Connor Relyea is a freelance writer and editor living the suburban life in the Chicago area. He is currently the Comics Editor at Fangirl Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CRelyea12.

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