I was supposed to be a lawyer. Then a dancer. Then a commercial event director and theatre producer. When I grew up, I was supposed to be something. That’s what I spent my younger years being told. But I’ve learned that it’s rare to find your thing immediately. It’s even rarer to be able to focus all your energy on it when that thing is in the creative industries and you need to eat.
In my 20’s, for example, I was finishing a law degree, dancing in a random assortment of contemporary and commercial gigs and about to leave the country, to teach dancing in India. The classically trained Kathak dance teacher at the school I was posted to didn’t think much of that, however, and I ended up teaching singing instead. At the time it felt like madness. Now I see it as rich pickings for the life I’ve lived ever since. I see it as material.
Michele and brother Jim
I remember speaking at a school about the writing process and the kids asked if I had always wanted to be a writer when I grew up. When I didn’t answer with a simple yes, I think a lot of them found it reassuring. I could say that I had always wanted to make cool stuff happen. I could say that when I was working all sorts of jobs, sometimes it felt like I was worlds away from where I wanted to be. But that then, every so often, I’d turn a corner, meet someone amazing, work on a new project, and there it was, the cool stuff, happening.
It’s okay to not sweat that I wasn’t getting there in a straight line.
I am in awe of those people who know what they want to be when they grow up from an early age and charge ahead, determined, relentless and focused. And I’m wowed by the way careers can unfold in a single line, from start to award-winning endpoint. But I’m also aware that those lives are as rare as unicorn shit tucked under four-leaf clover. To find the combination of passion and talent and sheer bloody-mindedness and family support and luck wrapped in one person are fantastic. To all of you who have this in your lives, I salute you. Keep going. You’re amazing and fantastic and the world needs you.
To those of you who feel the ache of knowing you want to create, but know you want to write and dance and sing and act and also maybe run a company and have a family and Be All Of The Things. I say you’re doing it. I say that it’s all material. I’d say you’re making cool stuff happen. And that if you give yourself a moment, you’ll work out the thing that drives and feeds you.
Image credit: Touch Compass
It took a while for me to see the pieces of my life falling into a creative line that counted as a career. But I loved elements of every project, every person, every idea I ever worked on. And I’ve decided that’s okay. It’s okay to not sweat that I wasn’t getting there in a straight line. It was okay to work for money and enjoy it. Then build it into the work I really wanted to be doing.
When you find your people, give them your all and trust they’ll give you theirs.
I know that a career making cool stuff happen is frustrating and hard, but at the end of it, you made work. Cool work. With cool people. When you find your people, give them your all and trust they’ll give you theirs. If it stops working, it’s okay to let it go. Life has many chapters and things change.
Know if you stop every so often and check that what you’re doing makes you scared as well as happy, you’re probably going in the right direction. Good luck with your cool stuff. The world needs it.
Despite training in law (or perhaps because of it), Michele has been a dancer, producer and writer across the globe, from India to Bosnia, Brazil to Edinburgh. She’s now the mother of two small, loud, boys, who seem equally obsessed with creating new worlds (mostly under their beds). Her fiction and non-fiction have been published widely and broadcast for radio both in New Zealand and the UK. She was the 2010 Robert Burns Fellow, and as a screenwriter, currently has feature film Tenderwood in development with Firefly Films.
Her latest book, When We Remember to Breathe, is about mess, magic and mothering, and is co-authored with Renee Liang.