Like a lot of kids, I grew up with stars in my eyes. For a long time, I thought I wanted to be an actress, but it turns out you actually have to be decent at acting to do that and I was mediocre at best. Thankfully, I quickly realized I had more of a passion for writing words on a page than reading them aloud and turned my focus to screenplays.
There’s really only one place to go if you want to make it in show business: good old Tinseltown. So, although I’d never been to California before and didn’t know a soul in Hollywood, once I finished grad school I said goodbye to my east coast home, packed my bags, and headed west.
When I first arrived in Los Angeles, there was a definite culture shock. I’d lived in cities before, but never one that was as paradoxically glitzy, yet run-down as LA. It’s a sprawling city, but somehow constantly congested at the same time. It could take you an hour to drive two miles, and you’ll likely pass both star-studded mansions and homeless encampments along the way. I set my reservations about the city aside though. I told myself I was there for work, and nothing else mattered.
I got lucky in my first few months and landed a job as the writers’ production assistant on a popular network drama. While my initial duties mainly involved getting lunches and answering phones, I was able to mingle with real working writers and grow my network. I worked my way up the food chain to various roles in the writers’ room of multiple shows where I got to pitch ideas, help write scripts, give notes, and learn the ins and outs of television production.
I was well on my way to achieving my goal of writing for TV. All of the sacrifices and hard work were paying off, but something was still wrong. Like the city of Los Angeles, I was living in a paradox: How is it that your dreams can come true, yet you can still be unhappy?
Having a Cool Job Didn’t Actually Make Me Happy
“Your job sounds so cool!” That was the typical response I got whenever I told people what I did for a living. I’d be lying if I said that never made me feel justified, but even when I received praise or a promotion at work, those fleeting moments of joy didn’t sustain me emotionally. At the end of the day, working on a TV show is still just a job.
Entertainment is also a very fleeting industry. You work on one TV show for a few months, then move onto the next one and often have to start over with a whole new set of temporary co-workers. While I was technically making connections and growing my network, it was difficult to make real and lasting bonds with people. I found myself searching for a bigger sense of purpose – one that I was not finding behind all the lights, camera, action.
How is it that your dreams can come true, yet you can still be unhappy?
I began to wonder if it were ever truly possible to find a job you love so much that it becomes your life. Maybe my perspective was off. I realized that life isn’t about finding the job you love, it’s about finding the life you love and fitting your job into it.
There are many other things in life that provide far more lasting emotional fulfillment than your job. Friends, family, hobbies, environment – they’re all big parts of your happiness equation. But I didn’t factor any of that in when I decided to move 2,600 miles away from everyone I knew. I often felt lonely and like I was putting my life on hold for the sake of my “exciting” career. But, like Hollywood, excitement isn’t always as glamorous as you think.
“Excitement” Is Not a Job Perk
Working in television production is extremely demanding. You’re on a tight schedule with slim budgets and harsh deadlines. You also have to deal with some big egos, which requires you to grow a thick skin. While a little stress in life is actually a good thing, too much stress can cause a whole host of health issues, in addition to simply making you a less happy person.
When you work on a TV show, you’re on call pretty much all the time. At first, I found that incredibly exciting. I felt important and needed! But as the lack of sleep and constant worry I might miss something sank in, I began to question if what I thought was excitement was actually just chronic anxiety. I’d wake up at night worried that I’d sent the wrong script to the production crew, or that an executive producer didn’t like my idea, or that I would lose my job altogether.
Something no one told me about working in television was the lack of job stability that comes along with it. When you work on a TV show, you’re only working for as long as the show is in production and when it wraps, so do your paychecks! When one show ends or goes on hiatus, you’re off to find a new job on the next show, and that’s if you’re lucky. In Hollywood, it’s common for writers, assistants, and production crews to go months in between gigs.
No one told me about the lack of job stability that comes with working in television.
We all crave stability in life – it’s a pillar of our overall happiness. When your whole life revolves around your job and you don’t even have stability there, it takes a toll on you. Even when I was working, I was stressed about what would come next. Once I was working on a TV show for three months when one day the studio called us with no warning and told us they were pulling the plug on it.
I was depressed, stressed, and unemployed and couldn’t help but question whether the dream I had of writing for TV was worth the price of admission. I loved writing, but in most cases the big studio and network executives are the ones who actually have creative control over projects, and their agendas likely differ from yours. They call the big shots, not the writers. If my job wasn’t even providing me creative fulfillment, then what was I doing?
When I did have time off from work, I didn’t even particularly enjoy it. At first, I thought it would be fun living so close to the beach, but while Los Angeles might technically be next to an ocean, you often have to drive an hour to get there and finding parking is a whole separate issue. My fascination with the City of Angels was quickly turning into burning resentment, which brings me to my next point…
I Hated Living in Los Angeles
If it weren’t for the fact that I wanted to work in TV, I never would have chosen to live in Los Angeles. For some reason, that never factored into my initial decision. I assumed that my job was more important than liking where I lived, but I quickly learned that was not the case. I love verdant scenery, fresh air, and open spaces. You won’t find much of that in Los Angeles.
LA is also an incredibly expensive city to live in. The cost of living there is one of the highest in the country, and it’s only getting worse. In my early twenties, it hadn’t occurred to me that I might want to own a house one day. In LA, it’s nearly impossible to find a nice one unless you have about a million dollars to spend. When I hit my thirtieth birthday and my desire for children became stronger, I realized that LA was not a place I would want to raise a family in – even if I could afford it.
On top of the cost of living, the ideologies of the city and the entertainment industry didn't align with my own. I had trouble meeting people who shared my point of view. Dating and forming a solid social circle in a city with such a transient population is difficult. It’s hard to plant roots in a place where it feels like everyone is just passing through or only there because they have to be for work.
LA was not a place I would want to raise a family in – even if I could afford it.
Crime and homelessness are also rampant in LA. I had scary run-ins with mentally ill people on the street twice – and those were both in the “nice” parts of town. It frustrated me to no end that I was paying exorbitant taxes, yet the living conditions were only getting worse. If you hate the city or situation in which you live, it’s going to be hard for you to relax and enjoy life.
I Realized It’s Okay for My Dreams To Change
After five years in LA, I decided to leave. It wasn’t an easy choice. At first it felt like I was giving up, but that’s not true. My career was going well and I even turned down job offers when I left, but I ultimately chose my own well-being over a career that left me feeling empty inside. Being stressed out all the time, living in a city I hated, and working in an industry that didn’t give me a sense of purpose wasn’t worth it to me.
I wanted a more balanced and well-rounded life in a place I loved living in, so I moved to Nashville, TN and never looked back. What I found here surprised me. It might seem obvious to some, but this is another lesson I had to learn the hard way: Even if you don’t pursue your dreams as a career, there are other ways to find creative fulfillment outside of work. Turn your passions into your hobbies! You might even be able to turn those hobbies into side hustles and create some supplemental income, which is a win-in.
My new job in marketing might not sound as “exciting” as working in television, but to me, it’s perfect. Gone are the stressful nights where I was afraid to turn my phone off for fear that I might miss a phone call from a producer. Gone are the hours-long commutes through glacial L.A. traffic. Gone are the days of having to find a new job every few months. In Nashville, I’ve finally found the stability, sense of purpose, and community that I couldn’t find behind the flashing Hollywood lights.
Human beings have a desire to remain consistent in their thinking over time, which is why it’s so hard for us to change our minds or admit that we’re wrong. But admitting you’re wrong is one of the most freeing and empowering things you can do because it clears the board. Suddenly you’re free to paint a new and more beautiful picture for yourself.
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