by Rose Seyfried
Ihave a fascination with what people wanted to be when they grew up. The question has a bad rap, as a throwaway, to fill awkward silences on blind dates, but I love asking and being asked. I want to hear about how you wanted to be a firefighter when you were a kid, and if I’m feeling generous, I’ll assure you that yes, the fact that you’re now your office building’s floor marshal counts. I mean, you EARNED that gig (by being out the day they chose).
My first AOL screen name was Mo4Prez. Mo, because it was my nickname, short for Maureen, my real first name. “4Prez” because I had decided that I would be the first woman president of the U.S. This job had everything I could ever want: it wasn’t located in Oreland (a couple minutes from Chestnut Hill), I wouldn’t really have a boss (you know, besides the American people) and it looked great on a resume.
I could picture myself, normally clad in leggings and sporting baby bangs, in a drab pantsuit, with a sensible haircut. When I hit age 10, that picture lost its anti-glam sheen as I realized how administrative this job would inevitably be. I decided instead that I wanted to be a famous novelist. Why not? I could do anything.
When I was a kid, our parents were all about telling their kids to follow their dreams, whatever they were. Maybe this was a knee-jerk rebellion against their own parents, who had sent them to Catholic school with nuns who beat them with Bibles, systematically scoffed at their dreams and threatened to make them take over the family business.
If these stories are true, they were expected to pick something reliable, call tops “blouses” and retire after 40 years at the same company. It makes sense, then, that our parents wanted us to do something we love because then we could be Guaranteed Happy. In the early 2000s, it was rare that you heard of a set of parents ordering their child to return home to Peoria after graduating from Ohio State to run the family mortuary.
When I graduated from college, I set out on a path surrounded by incredibly creative people: musicians, primarily, but also visual artists and writers. Sound was my future because I loved doing it. Simple as that. I was excited that I was able to listen to my parents and follow my heart.
For the first couple of years out of music school, I wanted to make sound my job. I interned at one audio post-production house, then another, while I took on my own projects that consisted mostly of sound edits for film school juniors and bored wealthy men in their 50s.
In order to pay my bills, I was a live-in nanny for a family with a terminally ill mother and a daughter who had been adopted after a multi-year custody battle. I willingly inserted myself into a situation that was fraught with emotion, disappointment and anger. I lived in the attic and dreaded going downstairs to watch the wild child of a daughter and sustained daily bites from their cat, who suffered from Crohn’s disease.
I also worked a retail job where my job title was “stylist,” even though my primary job purpose was to sign the citizens of Seattle up for store credit cards. Incidentally, I was the best at it in my store. As an addendum to the required sales pitch of “If you open a card with us, you’ll save an additional 15% off your purchase today.” I would add, “And if you’re worried about interest, as soon as we’re finished with this transaction, you can go ahead and pay your account balance with your debit card and never use the store card ever again if you don’t want to. Here, you can borrow my scissors.” The highest card openers would both keep their job and regularly get free clothing, which is how I managed to avoid being naked for probably a full calendar year.
I was miserable, but it allowed me to have something resembling a sound career, and that was the goal. And if it wasn’t still the goal, I couldn’t tell because I was too busy working side jobs trying to afford to reach it.
For me and some of my friends, the directive to follow our passion kind of backfired. A large number of people in my life starting out doing what made them happy as a career. But they did it for so many more hours and in such a hyper-competitive environment where their creative work was constantly critiqued that it made them miserable.
I remember coming home from work and just not knowing what to do with myself. The last thing I wanted to do was to play around with audio files or write music. I had been doing that all day for clients who didn’t know what they wanted but kept repeating random adjectives at me angrily until they had finally grown tired, long after the studio staff had gone home.
It’s obviously not impossible to make your passion a career successfully. I know it isn’t because Lady Gaga exists. But sometimes I feel like it’s maybe just as brave to … not.
Rose Seyfried, 29, who grew up in Oreland, has a Bachelor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music in Boston. She is currently Senior Project Manager at Eko, an interactive media company in NYC. She lives in Brooklyn.