- Wise Words -
Stage to Desk via the Dining Table.
How my time as an actor and server has helped me be effective at the office.
by Grace Olson-Davidson
Why did I take an office job? The short answer is, I was sick of being on my feet.
The longer answer is that for ten years I had hustled in the restaurant business and my legs were starting to just break. A doctor once said, “you can keep going and get surgery in ten years (at 38) or you can stop and not”. That made it easy. But, if you were to ask my parents, a corporate position made sense. To me though, I was less sure.
The reason for this is that my true passion is acting.
I have been an artist since I was allowed. Singing, acting, adding any kind of creativity to a task-- it’s been the path. Chose theatre over math in high school, got scholarships to sing, was the one who was supposed to kill it in the big city.
And boy, did I kill.
I had an acting gig every year, opened more than one show off-Broadway and even got to sing with some people who are already famous and many who will be soon. When I was serving brunch in-between, I would get stopped all the time with offers to connect me to “something better” a “real job” in an office somewhere and I was insulted!
So why am I writing about being an actor and a restaurant server on a professional skills website?
Because I believe the skills and experiences that allowed me to succeed on the stage and as a server have helped me be effective in the corporate world. Here I want to tell you why my experience in acting and serving has been great for my transition to corporate and want to share with you in the event these are skills you want to build on…
It’s all about the sell. What other industry do you fully sell yourself before anything else? Everyone can make eggs, especially at home. People go out to be served and artists can serve. With this attitude to selling and service at work, I know the importance of having productive and meaningful relationships that are also transactional and efficient. At a restaurant I have to build a relationship immediately, understand what the person’s needs and then deliver on them all in a way that ensures my service is recognized so I get that big, fat tip!
Hustle. I loved making a million things happen at once for people and changing their day with eggs (last time I talk about eggs here, promise!). It seems small, but knowing your audience is essential and there’s no real coincidence that many actors are also servers. In the workplace, bringing my sense of hustle means that I don’t get intimidated by having many things going on at once. Yes, I may drop a few balls when things get very hectic, but I roll with it, own it and get back into the action.
“Getting” people. Us Actors are great at reading people. We can see you coming from a mile away and at some-point can pivot an entire conversation without making you blink. We are people-pleasers. We want to build you up just so you keep needing us, we feed off of it. Find us at the right time and we will take on your entire life for a stipend. Having trouble dealing with your “demanding” manager? Maybe an acting class will help you in "getting" them, their needs and delivering for them.
We commit. In a corporate world, it isn’t completely unreasonable to live around your job. To surrender unabashedly to the schedule, the culture, the need to be impressive. Want to hire people built for that? Look no farther than an actor who has been rejected twelve times over. In a moment's notice, we have to be ready to drop our routine, our families and our own sense of comfort for the next gig. That’s a conditioning you can’t teach but you certainly can beat mentally into just about anyone. That’s what art school is for.
Putting ourselves out there for the world to see. And judge. The office can be up and down. Mistakes are human. Actors take classes on this. We have the muscles built up to not only come in with a thick skin, but we accept failure and imperfection as a part of it all. Between the rejection and our own lives having to exist, we know we will not always land the perfect role. But, we get back up and we stay true to our own way.
So that’s the end of my show!
Yes, the corporate life can be more buttoned up than life on stage or in service, but I have found that the skills I have honed in these environments have allowed me to succeed and make the transition to desk. I am happy and my legs, well they will now hopefully last way into my 60’s – and my parents were right!
Related columns: "My Career Journey. How My Experiments Helped Get Me to Where I am Today", "Careers Happen", "Why Discomfort is Good", "Figuring Out Your Career"
EarlyStageProfessional.com is the companion website to the career playbook "Early Stage Professional: starting off right". The goal of Early Stage Professional is to help people make the transition from formal education to the workplace and be effective, successful and satisfied in the first 5+ years of their careers. To learn more, head to our Bureaucracy page.