I admit, I'm concerned about talking about my problems because with how my life's been lately it does feel like I have a laundry list of problems. However, I do have a specific topic I'd like to focus on, so I'll try to adhere to it: my concerns regarding my career path.
When I was in college, I majored in theater, something that I've discovered is one of the hardest subjects to build a successful career in. Specifically, what I focused on was making costumes, so at first I figured I could use that to get a career in the fashion industry. Unfortunately, now that I find myself working for a company that specializes in designing, manufacturing and shipping garments, I'm finding myself more unhappy than ever; the pay's barely over minimum wage where I live (and will be the minimum wage at the start of next year), I don't connect with any of my coworkers, there's no indication that the job is going anywhere, and my boss has managed to convey three rather concerning things to me: she doesn't care about my problems, she would rather have a situation arise where only I have to suffer, and she appears dead set on making sure I continue working for the company.
Since joining, I've found myself less and less enthusiastic about sewing in my free time, my sleep schedule's been out of whack, and I've been finding myself experiencing physical pain in my stomach and back at times while at work, especially at times when I feel particularly stressed. I want to talk to my doctor about this, but with the pay I receive, my abnormal work hours (7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. most days, not counting the 45-60 minute drives to and from work) and the number of things I already need to set money aside for between pay days, I'm concerned about whether I can afford to schedule a doctor's appointment. I understand that my health is important and I shouldn't be neglecting it, but with how my job's set up right now I'm not exactly sure how I would be able to maintain my health.
I've been given a list of local theaters I could apply to, though I've been told the positions would primarily be volunteer positions. I'm not sure I'm in a position where I can afford to not earn money, and I don't have enough time in my schedule to be able to do both things. I've been asked to consider going back to college for a two-year degree in something that's more profitable, which I'd honestly rather not do because none of the jobs that my therapist presented to me that are in high demand in my area sound like things I'd enjoy. I've been trying to connect with some of my old college professors to ask for advice, but so far this has proven fruitless.
Ultimately, I guess that the question I'd like to boil all of this down to is this: was it a mistake for me to major in theater when I was in college? I love theater, drama, the creative and performing arts, and would like to believe that I could still find a career pursuing this, but is such a belief just naive, wishful thinking?
I'm worried about admitting this concern to my therapist, since I feel like his responses to my concerns have started becoming formulaic and impersonal. I feel like if I were to admit these things to him, he'd just state some variation of “you should be happy you even have a job” or “there are other people in the world with the same problems you're facing” or the like. I understand these things already, specifically because they've been statements that have cropped up repeatedly in our sessions already.
I'm sorry if I'm going overboard or pushing my boundaries in terms of keeping this to a single question. Thank you for at least taking the time to read this; I look forward to hearing your response at a time that works best for you.
Valeyard (age 23)
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This is the third time you’ve written me about an issue, so I am flattered you have come back. Let’s start by tackling the health issue. Judging by your letter, I would say your stomach and back pain is caused by stress. You might even have an ulcer. One question I would have is: if you can afford a therapist, why can’t you afford a doctor’s visit? Do you not have insurance? You know, at 23, you are still able to have coverage under your parent’s insurance for three more years; also, with your low income, you should be able to find affordable insurance under the Affordable Care Act. You actually are required to have insurance, so, with that, a doctor’s visit should run you about $50-$60 bucks. Take care of your health, hon. That’s a top priority.
A lot of your pain could go away, however, if you resolve your work problems. Do I think you chose the wrong career path? No. I think you have the wrong company. You don’t need to go back to school if you have a college degree in a field you love. Many people make an excellent income in fashion design, and you can, too. If I were in your paws, I would start a job search coupled with networking my brains out with everyone I could think of who might have a job lead. Also, if at all possible, do not limit yourself to a specific location. The wider you cast your net, the more fish you will catch. Leave yourself open to possibilities—including other areas of the theater besides fashion (so many choices, such as stage design, sound engineering, or even areas like promotions and marketing and producing), and you might be surprised by what is out there.
In the meantime, to gain some satisfaction, you might try a little freelance on the side. As a talented sewer, have you ever considered making fursuits? A good fursuit goes for $1,000 and up a pop, and you can do it from home in whatever spare time you might find. If that doesn’t interest you, how about costume accessories for furries? As a fan of the theater, I would bet you like things such as period clothing—sewing costumes with a Medieval or Pirate flare, perhaps? Steampunk? What fun! You could start your own business (a website is ridiculously easy to create and inexpensive to start these days) and sell your original creations. You can start by approaching local shops with your clothing and seeing if they will put some in their stores, selling your creations yourself online, or, if you get really inspired with designs, there are companies that will assist you with taking your concept from sketch to factory manufacturing. A good example of this is Maker’s Row at http://makersrow.com/.
The American business world has changed dramatically over the last generation. The traditional work model of being hired by a large corporation and dedicating your vocational life to it has gone to the wayside. Entrepreneurship and cottage industries have blossomed with the help of our Internet culture and computer technology that has brought manufacturing within reach of the small businessperson. This is a world of digital and 3-D printing that is truly stunning. You can print books on demand, or order a special shirt just one at a time, and I even saw a young man who designs athletic shoes that are customizable and producible right inside a local shop.
People with creativity and a little business chutzpah are the ones who will climb out of the minimum-wage hole that is beloved by Corporate America and find themselves standing in the sunshine of opportunity.
So, no, don’t go back to school to get a degree in some field you don’t give a rat’s buttocks about. Instead, you must rediscover the joy of fashion design and the theater that your current employers have sucked out of you. Find it, grab it, cling to it, and it will be your key to a happier life.
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I admit, I was strongly considering writing to you about these issues for a while but felt like it might be in bad taste, considering the previous submissions were regarding issues other people I knew were facing and how I wanted to help them through them. I always feel bad whenever I try to talk about myself because I don't want to run the risk of seeming clingy or selfish.
Anyway, in regards to the health issues, when I said I couldn't afford to go to the doctor's, I'd meant in terms of having to take time out of my work schedule, since the job doesn't offer benefits, not even for people working full-time, save for occasional paid vacation days, which tend to fall on holidays and are only grouped over one or two days.
In terms of looking in other venues in theater, I also have some acting experience and have worked on props and in wardrobe for a few shows. Furthermore, I'm also learning about audio equipment and recording since I'm also in a band (lead vocals and keyboardist), so that's something also I guess. In addition, voice over is something else I've recently taken interest in, though I'm still working on getting confident enough to feel comfortable recording myself.
...Now I'm worried that I'm trying to do too many things at once. I guess this was partially what I meant when I said I felt like I had a laundry list of problems. I probably should have mentioned this sooner, but I was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome when I was in grade school. I'm not trying to pin that as the cause for any of my problems, or use it as an excuse for why I'm struggling with things, I just thought I should mention it in case it might be relevant. But I digress.
Unfortunately, understanding the business side of theater was something that I'd neglected looking into while at college. The job search places that I've spoken to, including the career center at the university where I studied theater, have sadly demonstrated little understanding of theater-related business also. I was told that I would need to build a portfolio if I want to apply for costume-related jobs, though I received little assistance with actually learning how to put one together. I guess that these are things I should consider getting assistance in through networking?
I'm sorry if I'm coming across as making excuses at this point.
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I've received many letters from furries with Aspergers. While that can be a challenge (depending on how strong or mild the case) you can certainly work and function in society as many have done. So let's table that issue, unless you feel it is really hampering you. I imaging your therapist knows about it and is working with you on it.
And please, never feel "clingy" or "selfish" because you nee to reach out to someone with a problem and need some help. That is what being a human being (or furry!) should be about: helping each other in a communal society. Never feel like you have to apologize to me.
Concerning the doctor: whether it is money or time you are lacking, it doesn't matter. If you are ill, seek professional medical care, please! Again, it's a top priority!
So, back to career. A portfolio is a simple thing to do. All you do is gather together samples of work that you feel is your best and represents well what you do. Put it in a folder or put it in electronic form, it doesn't matter. All a portfolio is is samples of your talent that you take with you to show to prospective clients or employers.
As for your other talents, such as music and acting, it's all good. Many professional actors are also singers and musicians. A lot of actors got their start in other areas, too (Harrison Ford helped build sets, for example, before he was hired to play Han Solo). Being multi-talented should be a plus, not a minus.
If you wish to do actual stage work, it wouldn't be a bad idea to get involved in your local community theater. Some of these are purely amateur productions, others are supported by Actors' Equity; with the latter, you're more likely to get paid. You'll likely have to get in at the ground floor, meaning unpaid.
If you truly want it, if it is your burning desire, you will make the time to do this. If not, if you are just too afraid, or if you cannot surmount the anxieties brought on by your Aspergers, or if you spend too much time making excuses, then you are much much less likely to achieve your dream.
Talk to your therapist about your goals and ask what you can do to rise above your disability to live the life you wish to live. Or, even better, tell yourself, "Screw Aspergers! I'm going to live my dream!"
It's all about having confidence in yourself. Lack of confidence, overly developed humility, a sense of shame or guilt, these are all things that hold you back. Can you do it? If others can, you can, too! Here, my friend, is a list of great and talented people with Aspergers who can inspire you:
People in Entertainment
I'm not pressuring you to try to imitate their achievements, but if they can reach the stars, surely you can make a living doing what you love!
A note on comments: Comments on letters to Papabear are welcome, especially those that offer extra helpful advice and add something to the conversation that is of use to the letter writer and those reading this column. Also welcome are constructive criticisms and opposing views. What is NOT welcome are hateful, hurtful comments, flaming, and trolling. Such comments will be deleted from this site. Thank you.