I’d been bitten by the Theatre bug my Sophomore year of High School. As a Senior, I transferred to a Performing Arts High School. It was so cool- we’d attend our normal High School for all our academic classes in the morning and then be bussed over to a Community College, where students from all over the county were offered specialized classes in the Performing Arts.
One event happened that year that has been etched into my memory. I was having lunch with my Dad in the cafeteria of the VA Hospital where he worked. My Mom always thought it was important that we spend time with my Dad at work so we’d have a better understanding of what he did. I didn’t really love going with him because it was hard seeing so many sick people. The best part of the day was after our lunches when we’d stop by the hospital gift shop and Dad would buy me a sweet treat. I remember getting Hershey’s chocolate kisses. But I digress.
So I’m sitting with my father, a notorious Rheumatologist, enjoying our lunch when he said something that both shocked and saddened me. He asked me what plans I had for my future.
“Well, I want to be an actress. I want to go to college and study Theatre. After I graduate, I want to go to New York and do Musical Theatre.”
“That’s a very risky career. Not to mention, you’re overweight and that will certainly affect your ability to get jobs. So what’s your backup plan?”
Trying to recover…. “Ummm…I don’t know.”
“You need to think about that. You should definitely have something else you can do to support yourself when the acting thing doesn’t work out.”
Sidebar: I don’t recall clearly if he said ‘if’ or ‘when’ in the above statement. But I certainly experienced it as a ‘when’.
I was devastated.
Now, my Dad is not an unkind man. (See Father’s Day) And in retrospect, I understand that he was only trying to make sure I'd be able to take care of myself in the future. But here’s what happened to me in that moment: I began to doubt myself and beat myself up even more than I’d been doing before. I was seventeen years old, unable to control my weight gain, the seeds of an eating disorder had been planted, and I was doubting my abilities as a performer. Suggesting a Plan B felt like a dagger to my heart. I spent much of my twenties trying to repair the damage.
But here’s the flip side of that dagger: it actually served me. I understand now that I called that experience into my world to help with my learning. And unknowingly, my Dad was preparing me, but not for what he thought. I became a tough woman who was able to survive the many rejections I had lying ahead of me in the Entertainment Industry. It also served to create a fierce determination to prove him wrong!
Over thirty years later, as a parent, I now find myself walking a very fine line. My older son is an artist with an amazing singing voice. He has already decided he wants to be a Broadway performer. And my younger son has a passion and ability for gymnastics that far exceeds what I experienced as a kid. Both of them have chosen paths (or have the paths chosen them?) that, on first glance, don’t offer security. And I worry about how they will each find their ways to supporting themselves and their families.
So do I dare invoke the question “What’s your backup plan?” What affect would that have on them? Wouldn’t that just be continuing the cycle of doubt that has, most likely, been handed down through many generations?
Or should I just stop and hold. And trust. Knowing we all pull the experiences towards us that we require to grow in our own spiritual curriculum. And allowing my kids the dignity of their own experience.
Tricky, tricky, tricky.
Would I have experienced more success if I felt my Dad believed in my abilities as a performer? If he had told me to just go for it because he knew I had what it took to succeed? I don’t know. And honestly, it kinda doesn’t matter.
Because the truth is, my life has been amazing and that experience was part of the foundation that supported every experience that followed.
I did experience a career in Musical Theatre. I even met my husband while working on a show. And I have many magical memories of my life as a performer.
So I’m going to do my best to sit back and stay quiet. I’m loving my boys as best I can- just as my Dad has done with me. And we’re all learning as we go.
Instead of a backup plan, I’m going to encourage my boys to listen to their inner wisdom. It has never steered me wrong.