Burned out at age 48, I sold my house for a sizable profit and quit a well-paying job to fulfill a lifelong dream. I marched into Hollywood with the vision that I would never have to work again. Four years later, I gave up and returned briefly to my former career. Since then, especially after taking care of my mother full-time before she died, I have spiraled. Addicted to baseball cards and small gambling junkets, I am broke and depressed. I cannot draw from my retirement savings for tax reasons. I have a modest pension that barely pays my rent and essentials. Otherwise, I would be on the street. I have not worked in five years, so I have an employment gap and no new skills. I feel like I have nothing to offer. How do I reclaim my passion and purpose?
Passion and purpose are the result of being engaged with your vocation, a calling that aligns your talents and dreams with service to the world. That’s very different than your ego wishing for an endless vacation. Wait, that’s what you have now, right? You’re not employed, yet basic needs are met. The problem is that your lifestyle is in conflict with your expectations. Why not adjust your expectations? Doing so will ease distress because resistance to your reality creates stress. It would also help to understand the spiritual difference between a dream and a fantasy. A dream is a vision that a person commits to birth into reality. Creation requires labor, internally (confronting the beliefs that attempt to distract or dissuade you) and externally (pushing that dream through the labyrinth of life’s obstacles until it can breathe on its own). By contrast, a fantasy is mind candy. It’s pleasant to think about, but not worth the sweat and grunt work required to heave it into existence.
To truly understand whether you pursued a fantasy or a calling, ask yourself what motivated you to be an actor. If it was the passion to embody stories, you were on the right track. You just misjudged the time it would take to complete the journey. But if your mind answers the question by conjuring images of you onstage accepting awards or smiling from the cover of People magazine, maybe what you wanted was to be admired. Admiration is one possible byproduct of a career well-done, but it is not sufficient motivation to ensure success.
Healing begins when your addictions end. That includes your addiction to thinking of yourself as a failure. Your stint in Hollywood was an adventure that taught you about your possibilities and limitations. Celebrate the knowledge you gained about yourself. And stop worrying about becoming homeless. Learn to be at home within yourself instead. Gambling and buying baseball cards burns cash, and that maintains your addiction to the fear of losing everything. What is it you really want to prove about yourself?
Living on the edge might be a symptom of grief. The death of your mother and the weight of serving as her caregiver may be affecting you more than you realize. You can grow in awareness of your gifts by volunteering to serve others, especially the homeless. Make a conscious effort to stop judging yourself according to the people who have climbed the ladder of success ahead of you. Begin instead to reach behind you and lift someone else up. When you are ready to seek employment, be honest. Explain your four years in Hollywood as self-employment. Then list yourself as caregiver for your mother. But before you begin to apply for jobs, see a mental-health counselor to process your depression and ensure that it doesn’t alternate with manic acts that could cause serious harm to your finances.
“I felt it shelter to speak to you,” wrote Emily Dickinson. Would everyone you encounter say the same of you? Isn’t that what it means to love your neighbor?