When the Work You Love Feels Hard

I got my dream job the summer after I graduated from college.

I would spend the summer working at an outdoor theatre company on two productions: as an ensemble member in a hokey but heartfelt original musical, and as the ingenue in a well-established straight play.

Not bad for a history major who changed streams at the last possible minute. I would be paid! to act! and my housing would be provided.

Remember being on the cusp of leaving college? All the fear and uncertainty and the can-I-get-job? I got the job. I was going to live the dream.

And truly, it stands as my most favorite summer ever.

I was on a actor high for most of my time there, incredulous that I woke up and went to work at a theatre every day.

I was the greenest one there. Professional actors from Washington D.C. made up most of the rest of the cast. But this was good--I could pick their brains. I asked them upside of Tuesday all about the business and auditions and postcards and craft. My own personal actors studio.

I did the best work I could do. History major, remember? I had grown up acting and had lots of experience, but very little formal training. I had good instincts, but I started to feel out of my league. Unprepared. Inadequate.

Could everyone see what I could feel? Did I look like I didn't belong? Would it look that way to the audience?

This was not some performance review I would receive in the privacy of a dingy office. This was public.

Some days were a breeze and my pup-like energy carried me a long way.

But some days just felt like suck. Especially as we rehearsed the play that required more nuance. I was sharing scenes with a veteran of the stage. A D.C. powerhouse. I was dwarfed by his presence on stage.

This was going to be hard. Shit.

I put in extra work on my own, working on my voice, scene analysis, how to play the beats. I was lost, groping, and felt like a fool. Embarrassed.

Instead of waking up and looking forward to my day at the theatre, I began to dread the notes I would get from the director, the way I couldn't vocally compete with my scene partner.

I was losing it.

And then there came a shift.

I remembered how goddamn lucky I was to be at that theatre. How else could I have spent my summer? Back clerking at the courthouse? It was struggling, but look at the struggle I got to have. Better to sweat it out on stage than be stuck in the filing vault where I wouldn't learn a single thing about being a professional actor.

I stuck a little post-it note by bedroom door, so that as soon as my feet hit the floor each morning I would see its simple message:

Enjoy the luxury.

The luxury of the struggle, of the opportunity, growth, the potential, the chance to get better at what I loved.

I would have liked it better if I was a natural genius who didn't need improvement, but I could enjoy the luxury of doing the work instead.

What do you do when the work you love feels hard? Share your approach in the comments.