But being a Broadway actress was never one of those dreams I could feasibly follow. I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t dance, and at 5’10” I tower over every broadway actor who has ever signed my playbill outside the stage door. It was never a “believe in your dreams” kind of dream, but rather more of a “let’s enjoy this beautiful dream from afar” kind of dream.
Today, I love to stay connected to that dream from the balcony. I follow my favorite actors and actresses on Instagram, and read the Arts & Leisure pages of the New York Times. In fact, I did so just a week or so ago only to discover an article by Broadway actress Melissa Errico who once starred as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady, and who was last seen singing on a cruise ship.
Actors don’t follow a traditional “career path”
The life of a Broadway actress is ever changing, and Melissa stays connected to her dream through an endless stream of unknown roles. As she says in the article “One need only to have starred in a Broadway musical a year (or 20 years) ago to be billed as a Broadway star. Shows don’t run forever, and musical theater actors are regularly adrift—between roles, we say—seeking ways to continue to work and spread the faith.”
Maybe we have more in common than we think. Throughout my winding career, I have played such starring roles as an assistant buyer for American Eagle Outfitters, a catalogue writer for Williams-Sonoma, the founder & editor-in-chief of Over The Moon Magazine, and the head of marketing for several Silicon Valley tech companies. I have also been seen moonlighting as a busser for Chez Panisse Restaurant, a yoga instructor in San Francisco, a hormonal health coach teaching natural birth control classes, and a tour guide for Coors Brewery.
The problem is, I have always attached my identity to these roles. I feel like a celebrity when I’m in the starring roles and like a nobody when I’m in the supporting roles. And when those roles inevitably end—I chastise myself for being unable to stick with one particular gig for longer than a couple of years. Why do I get bored so easily, I’ll think. Why can’t I just pick a career track and stick with it?
But Broadway actors don’t do this. Melissa is not a Broadway star when she is on the main stage, and a supporting actor when she’s off-broadway or on a cruise ship. And she certainly doesn’t beat herself up when she’s in-between roles. But despite the fact that her roles will invariably change, her career doesn’t. Melissa is and always will be an actress, and as an actress she takes on different roles.
I wonder if I could view my career in the same way.
For a moment I allow myself to consider a new narrative: What if I saw myself simply as a writer, and as a writer, I take on different roles to fuel my creative process. Somehow, when I look at my life through that lens, it feels less as if I’m being tossed in the ocean, and more as if I’m planted on the shore. The waves come and go, but won’t do anything to disturb my place in this world.
I told this idea to my mom and she loved it. “It all makes so much sense now!” she said. “You’re a creative! And as a creative you should do whatever you want without worrying that it’s not following any kind of conventional career path.” We joked that I should start doing things I’ve always wanted to try: like audition for Hallmark movies, produce fashion photoshoots, and write fiction novels. Just because I was a creative and I could.
How freeing that all feels. Because maybe I got it all wrong. Maybe I have a stable career after all—it just isn’t the one I thought. I’m not a tech executive, a catalogue writer, or a brewery tour guide. I’m a writer who sometimes moonlights as all of the above. All so that I can continue the work and spread the faith. Just as Melissa is and will always be an actress. I am and will always be a writer. I am Elle Griffin and that will always stay the same. Sometimes I will be in starring roles, sometimes I will be in minor roles, and sometimes I will be in-between roles. But my job doesn’t have to remain constant. Because I am constant.