I wish I was a grown-up.
No, that’s not really true, I just wish I had a few more “adult” life skills, y’know?
When I say I wish I had a few more adult life skills, I really mean it – I feel hopelessly unprepared to be an adult. The thing is, I (literally) grew up in the theatre and never learned anything about real life. From age 11 onwards, the Stage Door at the London Coliseum was my second home; I’d be in and out performing three times a week and, on Saturdays, when I was trolling the streets of Soho alone, I knew I’d always get a cuppa or find someone there to hang out with. It seemed normal to me then, but looking back, I’m struck by just how…weird that was. Some gifted therapist may well be able to sort it all out for me, but let’s just say that in the 1980’s, an 11 year old schoolboy probably should not have been spending his evenings hanging out with chorus boys twenty years older than him. It taught me a lot, obvs, but I was probably exposed to some stuff that would make most parents very concerned. What a childhood though! No wonder I grew up thinking that this industry was all rainbows and unicorns and cotton candy.
What it didn’t teach me, however, was any coherent life skills. So, at the risk of being dull AF, here’s a few things I wish someone had told me about life.
Start Saving. Living hand to mouth when you’re twenty is one thing, but in middle-age you don’t want to have a minus credit rating and nothing to fall back on when unexpected disasters hit. And they will hit.
Get A Pension Early. I finally have one and I’m very excited to receive my pension statements telling me I can retire at 75 with an annual income of £1,440/a year. Ho, ho, ho – that’s a retirement to look forward to! Get an Equity pension NOW.
Learn to Budget. You lucky, lucky Millennials. Apps have made this super easy for you. I’m a huge fan of YNAB – You Need A Budget. It can be a tad fiddly to set up, but stick with it and it will absolutely be a massive help.
Get Fit. I don’t mean get ripped. Honestly, I look at the gorgeous photos from West End Bares and I’m not surprised we’re an industry beset by anxiety, depression and body image problems. Personally, I can’t be arsed with all that work, please just pass me a (dozen) Krispy Kreme. If getting that body is your bag, then fine, I’m happy to admire your physique from the comfort of my sofa with my 15″ Dominos. Just for the record, you do NOT need the body of Adonis to work in West End, although obvs if you wanna be in West End Bares you probably do. Seriously – sort your health out, get fit, look after yourselves. This is BASIC – your body is your instrument in this industry and you need to rely on it. As you get older, small pains turn into bigger ones, small physical problems, left unchecked, turn into bigger physical problems. Take that from someone who takes 4 – 6 painkillers a day for a 10 year old neck injury!
Mental Health. Please, please, please take this seriously. Believe me I know how quickly this can spiral out of control and how soon you can go from ‘feeling a bit blue’ to feeling like you’re living at the bottom of a dark well and the walls are caving in. I spent a lot, A LOT of time in the 00’s hiding in my wardrobe (it felt like the safest place to be). There is help out there, there are things you can do, and the industry is full of people who’ve suffered the same – and recovered. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/how-to-mental-health
Don’t Let Tax Be Taxing. Turns out most of the richest people in the country are evading tax in offshore accounts while I don’t even know whether gym membership is tax deductible. Sound familiar? Talk to a financial advisor, read up on tax, don’t leave it to January 30th – you could be spending more than you should. https://www.actonthis.tv/2012/10/a-beginners-guide-to-actors-tax-accountancy-from-twd-accountants/
Professional Business Skills. Let’s be honest, for lots of us coming in to this industry as a creative, one of the best things about this life is NOT having to go into an office every day, or learn advanced Powerpoint, Excel or Word skills. However, your ability to write coherently, use spell-check correctly, even knock up a basic CV or (more daring) a website is essential. When I receive an email that hasn’t been spell-checked, or neatly paragraphed and coherently written, I do wonder whether that sloppiness will seep over into their acting work. Remember a lot of the people you are writing to will be considerably older and probably work in an office. “I reely fancy been an actor. Plz look at my stuff an call me*” Erm, no.
(* Actual email I received)
Social Interaction. Many psychologist think that we, as a society, losing the ability to communicate effectively, to enjoy basic social interaction. My job involves huge amounts of social interaction, making small talk, being interested in other people and being able to hold (and at times, instigate) conversations with strangers. It doesn’t come naturally to me to do this – if I could hold all meetings under my duvet over a cup of tea I would. I’ve met so many actors recently who are witty and sparkling on social media, but in person struggle to string a sentence together. Networking is scary BEFORE you do it, but rarely as bad as you think. If social interaction really scares you, maybe take an improv class and try to transfer the skills.
So there you have it – what I wish I’d known about being a grown-up before I became a grown-up. It’s still all rainbows and unicorns and cotton candy but now at least I feel like my feet might be on solid ground.