Chicago-based lawyer Ruth Kaufman had it all. A six-figure corporate gig with four weeks vacation, benefits– the works. However, she’d always wanted to pursue her creative passions. At 44, she decided to give up her “good” job to pursue acting, voiceovers and writing (spoiler alert: she writes romance novels… oooh la la!). Tens years later, and she has very little to regret. Here’s her story.
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Let’s get down to business: What did you quit, why & when?
I walked away from 13 years in a corporate America training, sales, and marketing job in October 2005. I’d wanted to be an actor and author since I was young, and doing both on the side wasn’t enough.
I realized that age-wise, my life was half over, so someday had to be now. How could I be sure my retirement years would be golden, or that I’d have the stamina to do what I wanted to do?
Did you feel like you needed to work toward someone else’s definition of happiness? Why did you follow that path?
My father, a doctor, believed there were three acceptable jobs: lawyer, doctor, and owning your own business. I’m a lawyer, my brother is a doctor and my sister has an MBA. He’d tell me I was smart, but not talented enough to be an actress. What if he was right? Everyone knows acting is risky. I didn’t want to face his disapproval or I-told-you-sos. That sounds lame now, but I just wasn’t brave or confident enough to do what I wanted.
And I’d applied to dozens of radio and TV stations after graduate school without finding the creative job I sought. Wouldn’t finding acting work, more amorphous than any “real job,” be more difficult?
What did your life feel like before you decided to quit your career?
I had great colleagues and was friends with some of my clients, but didn’t enjoy the day to day tasks of my job. Training and sales wasn’t creative enough, and could be repetitive. Writing at night, taking improv/acting classes and occasional acting gigs kept me creatively busy, but I felt I was missing a lot.
How did you get into writing romance novels?
I’d devoured them, in particular historicals, starting in high school. I didn’t think I could write as well as some favorite authors, but perhaps could write as well as others. I finished my first novel in 1995 and began the roller coaster ride of submitting to agents and editors.
Unfortunately, though I came very close with several projects, I didn’t get “the call” from a publisher. So I self-published this year.
What pushed you to finally say yes to acting?
As Julia Cameron of The Artist’s Way says, “Leap and the net will appear.” So many of us say, “Someday I’ll do this or that.” I finally decided someday is now.
Was the decision scary for you? Why or why not?
Absolutely. Leaving a very good income and four weeks of paid vacation plus holidays and other benefits at a respectable and relatively secure job with no guarantee of income (much less enough to save for retirement) or even getting enough work was a challenge for a planner like me.
And though my father died in 2004, I still heard his voice. Even when I had that “real” job and took a day off to be an extra in a movie, he’d say, “What are you still doing that for?”
Also, to be any kind of freelancer/entrepreneur, you need significant and constant self-discipline and motivation. There’s no boss assigning tasks, no metrics for whether you’re doing a good enough job.
How did you prepare, financially?
I’d spent 16 years in corporate America and had some savings (separate from my 401K). I also do some freelance writing, so hoped to have enough irons in the fire to pay bills.
What’s the biggest misconception about your new lifestyle?
I started my blog, Gainfully Unemployed, because some friends assumed I did nothing all day but eat bonbons and get mani/pedis. Also, many people aren’t aware of the many ways you can earn money as an actor. It’s also clear many don’t expect any success, because when I tell them I have a national commercial running, they usually look surprised and say, “You do?” or “Really?”
Happiest moment since becoming an actor and author? Saddest/most frustrating?
The happiest moments are whenever I book and do a big acting job or get a great book review. The saddest are the weeks when for whatever reason I don’t have any auditions, paying work or even an interesting non-paying role in a film. It’s very hard to maintain a positive attitude and not worry that I’ll have to return to a “real” job, if I could even get one after all of this time. I try to turn it around by saying, “Great! Now I have time to move forward on this or that project.”
How has quitting changed your life? Any regrets?
I regret not being brave enough and having the confidence to do it sooner. I’m grateful to be doing what I want to do, but I miss working with colleagues on a daily basis and getting paid to take time off.
Advice to someone considering leaving their cushy job to pursue a passion?
Identify your goals and create a business plan. Talk to people who do what you want to do and learn best practices.
Plan ahead and use some of that “cush” to implement your passion. For example, I already had headshots, some credits on my resume and a talent agent. I’d taken classes at respected acting schools. I had some next steps mapped out, such as doing a voiceover demo. And I’d already completed several novels and published assorted freelance articles, so I had some product to market. Going cold turkey, in my opinion, makes taking a risk even riskier.
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Check out other Quitters here.
Did you quit your career to be a stay at home parent? Are you trying to quit complaining? Did you quit a religion? How about Scientology? Let’s talk about it! Email me at email@example.com.