Hustle Muscle

This week I wanted to talk about a bit of how I’ve trained my “hustle muscle”. How my side gigs have informed my dream gigs.

When I first moved to NYC, I had no specific desires for my career but I needed to survive. Besides finding a roommate online (I quickly learned how wrong that was.) The only plan I had was to take up a transfer from an old retail job. As things didn’t work out right away, I took up a job selling watches in Queens Center Mall. I wasn’t there long but in my time there I began to see the necessary toughness of a salesman. So, I jumped into my initial job transfer and began working for a well known skincare brand. There I was surrounded by women from all types of career ambitions. They just needed this for now. I worked and worked. I had a 50% employee discount which ,of course, spelled trouble. I had no ambitions outside the day to day. And when I was abruptly kicked out of my first apartment, all it took was my manager asking “are you okay?” for me to fall apart. A blubbering mess. I was asked to “walk it off.” Shortly after I was intimidated out of keeping my job and I was officially jobless, briefly even homeless.

I moved into an interesting living situation. (I’ll save that story for another day.) This gave me a moment to breathe and reassess my reason for being here in New York City. There were times that I even managed to fit in self tapes for major projects during this transition. Still no specific goals. Just focused on basic survival. I eventually worked a couple other retail jobs and landed on my feet a bit as a tourism photographer for a Television Network. I was surrounded by some of the glamour that could lead me to be inspired but I couldn’t connect it to any higher purpose than a paycheck.

I would wake up five days a week at 4am and be done with my shift at 1pm. The promise was that it would leave me open for auditions and anything else. I had audition invites. I was called in. Most of the time, I chickened out and decided to go back home and rest. I was burned out. It wasn’t until a friend at work asked me what I had acted in recently that I had even realized how off track I was. Remedy this I would; I enrolled in Improv classes and began to open my network up. I began to ask questions of my dreams. I booked my first role in a film. The first time I ever really gave it a chance. I left my day to day job with the promise it was still mine if I needed it when I came back. Indie Film. Of course I did.

After the charm of that job wore off, and fast forward a brief time working at a museum—I worked at a Juice Bar for a couple years. It was stressful. It was crowded. It was cut throat. The customers were divas. My coworkers were crazy. I got a free smoothie every shift. It was perfect, for awhile. I maintained a bizarre work schedule 6am-1pm. This allowed me to be at will to the promotion of my first feature film as well as other projects. In my time there I learned to develop a tougher skin. I learned to negotiate favors. I saw what a difference a smile makes and I saw the power of anticipating needs. When I got engaged and my second feature film role called, I left this job and began to search for a new balance.

When I came back from filming, I realized I could no longer commit to any one job. I had tended to devote my energy for fear of losing stability so much that I kept pushing back my dreams. It was then that I focused purely on freelance work for two years. Oh boy, that was a stress ball. The odd jobs galore. I worked flyering jobs. I mastered the passing out of useless expired coupons. Sometimes by simply saying “Here, take a flyer.” If I could get three people to– everyone else would follow suit. Some jobs took me to trade shows repping companies for 15 hours a day. Other jobs had me in lil tight black dresses and stilettos handing out free booze to overgrown frat boys. Sometimes I had to go to some far away supermarket and convince people to sample questionable health food snacks. It was a weird time. Living off of some true karmic lead after another. My attitude mattered. My charm mattered. My ability to go above and beyond mattered. Though scary at first, this lifestyle began to work me out. Helplessness grew to a true understanding of the romantic nature of uncertainty. That is the biz. The girl who cried became steel when she learned it wasn’t personal.

In a turn of events, I started to make my creative endeavors personal. Using my newly buff “hustle muscle” I began to find ways to talk about my film and find leads for assembling information & even crew. Jumping from job to job and producing my own work led me to begin to braid the two. In the midst of all this I found a stable moment as a server at Videology Bar and Cinema. Those years never felt like a job but a place to develop routine and connect the dots. Having become opportunistic from my freelance life, I saw the place as a means of networking, filming and showcasing my creative projects. It was then that it occurred to me to not think of just survival in my jobs but think of thriving in my career. How can I get my “work” to inform my work?

Each gig became a role. It became a place to inform my soul to new experiences. These opportunities to get valuable face to face time with people from all walks of life. And on at least two occasions, I could test an accent I’ve been working on. Pursuing this, now a helluva lot more specific, dream of mine has made me realize how building a hustle muscle was key. As my dad has always told me, “You’re in a tournament profession. Only the best of the best make it”. He’s right. This dream means knowing every way the game is played. Every type of player. Every strategy. This unique type of strength training means being okay with failures as they are learning experiences. It means jumping on to the next weightlessly and unburdened. It means embracing uncertainty like the first dive into a pool–it’s cold at first but your body begins to adjust.

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