Guest Post: This IS My Backup Career; I Wanted To Be A Horse

One of the core missions of the Badger Hut is to advise young adults on various personal and professional challenges from age 20 to 30 or so, particularly the fact that you really have no idea where the journey will take you. To that end, today we are blessed by the wise words of comedy writer and improv artists Erin Whitehead. Erin lives in Los Angeles, performs at Upright Citizens Brigade, and is a featured writer for Follow her on Twitter @girlwithatail.

I spent close to a decade in Los Angeles in what I call my dog years; seven years passed but I only got about a year of living done in that time. Fresh out of college and armed with useful advice in slogan form like, “Make your dreams a reality,” and, “You can do anything you set out to do,” I began the work of attaining my big goal: to be Natalie Portman. Or Claire Danes. Or realistically (I thought) to be my own version of these gorgeous, serious actresses who got their start as preteens. I enrolled in a series of method acting classes during which I was coached into “break throughs” (mental breakdowns) and where I had to relive every terrible thing that ever happened to me in order to truly understand the characters I was playing (You know, like I’m sure they do on Entourage). The problem was I didn’t start as a preteen, I wasn’t gorgeous, being that serious all the time was making me depressed, and oh – I hated it. I realized this about three years in but, like my first real relationship, I thought that abandoning something just because you were miserable made you a quitter and that clashed with the other slogan advice I had in my pocket: “Don’t be a quitter.”

I’m not totally sure where these life lesson bumper stickers came from. It wasn’t family or teachers but then those weren’t voices I put much stock in anyway. Chances are, like most every other value I’d honed, I had pieced them together from 80’s movies. When Ally Sheedy’s character in The Breakfast Club said, “When you grow up your heart dies,” I took that to mean that letting go of something you wanted meant giving up and giving in to the grind of depressing adulthood. Characters in 80’s movies had dreams, goals, and aspirations that they NEVER let go of even if they ended up crippled in a wheel chair! Of course, the other thing about 80’s movies is they took place over a couple of days or weeks. The silhouettes of dreamers faded fist-in-air into the credits leaving you with the certainty that they’d never alter course. Had my own life freeze-framed at the end of one particularly moving monologue in a method class it would have suggested a very different trajectory than the one I’m currently on.

What I didn’t get was that allowing yourself to realize you don’t want something anymore isn’t the same as giving up. In fact, it’s just the inverted way of saying you want something different. If I had been open to listening to my heart which was, as Ally Sheedy predicted, dying, I would have saved years (and thousands of dollars in method classes). Instead, since I was squashing the inner rumblings that something wasn’t right, it took getting smacked in the face from something on the outside. Three dates in with a writer/comedian I jolted to life when I suddenly knew with absolute certainty that I desperately needed and wanted not to date him, but to BE him. No, I didn’t want to become a man (although hey, if my heart wants that one day, I’ll be open to it). I wanted his life. I’d been so crippled by clinging to an old want, I didn’t even know I had new, stronger one until it was making out with me. I wanted to be writing and doing comedy. Like most big crushes I’ve nursed, I was attracted to them because they physically embodied something I wanted. It’s just that I didn’t know I wanted it until I saw someone else walking around with it. It’s like when someone borrows your sweater without asking and you’re like, “That’s a nice – hey, that’s MY sweater, why didn’t I ever notice how great it looked until it was on someone else?” When you see your dream life walking around in someone else’s skin, you first want to hump them, then you want to be them. As soon as I figured that out, I ended my dog year.

If my life freeze-framed this second it would suggest I’m well on my way to becoming a successful writer/comedian. Right now, I really frigging hope that’s the case. But then if you had asked me what I want to be when I was ten I would have said, “Marine Biologist” (it was the cool thing to say you wanted to be that year). If you had asked me when I was five I would have said, “A horse.” Harmless as the question might seem, when adults ask kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” it implies that they should know. That it should be one, constant thing. I think “want” is a moving horizon. It’s the dangling carrot that urges us forward to the next thing we didn’t even know we wanted because we hadn’t seen it yet. Wanting something and going about attaining it is awesome. But for me it’s not about following it through to the bloody end. It’s about where the pursuit of that want takes you and what it makes you want next. It keeps you moving forward which keeps you alive. It keeps your heart from dying.


Filed under guest posts, living young

13 responses to “Guest Post: This IS My Backup Career; I Wanted To Be A Horse

  1. johnnymilfquest

    “Marine Biologist” was the cool thing to say when I was at school too. It was either that or “Architect”.

    I’m a starving arse-model now. Living the dream.

  2. i’m in the military, this is my job….it isn’t ME though. my job does NOT define me. it just puts food on the table, and allows me to pay bills. i have NO clue what i’ll do when i retire in three years.

    and i feel really good about that.

  3. danny,

    hopefully you won’t have to have a clue for a while with that 50% pension.

  4. I think I’d like to be a dating coach. But not bootcamp style but private teaching, and really help guys to see the light. like Dannyfrom504, what I do now is just a job that pays the bills, it’s not “me”. I would have to become way better at game too, though.

  5. Badger-
    i’ll continue working in my current field. but i think i’m going to head out to the austin area when my time is done. i’ll go to school part time while doing the radiology thing. but i won’t be in radiology for the long term.

    i meet a lot of people who leave the military and they are completely institutionalized. “back when i was in the Navy…..” i will NOT be that guy. i got EXACTLY what i wanted from the military.

    i can’t complain.

    in the end….this is just a job. i get douche chills when someone thanks me for my “service”. it’s a very kind gesture, but it really makes me uncomfortable.

  6. Douglos

    I’m so thoroughly confused by this post. Is this some kind of “meta” joke? Is the medium the message? Because there are approximately 4 sentences of fortune cookie knowledge wrapped in the congealed bacon fat of chick story-telling here. Read the fourth sentence of the first paragraph – this is how every chick that thinks she’s clever and witty talks.

    Badger – your blog is about ideas, normally. This doesn’t even count as a brain fart. Here’s how life goes: Everyone is lost until they are found (and I don’t mean this in a religious sense; I’m completely agnostic). Sometimes, people die before that happens. It’s sad.

    BTW, Danny, thanks for saying that. I have a deep appreciation for what the men and women in the military do for our country, but approaching a uniformed serviceman in the airport (where I usually see them) seems so contrived and insincere that I’ve never been able to bring myself to do it.

  7. Douglos-

    a simple nod will suffice. or, buy him/her a beer. at the airport. although any serviceman wearing their uniform in the airport is either a complete moron or DYING for attention. and i’ve told that to guys in the military that i’ve noticed doing it.

  8. danny,

    When I see uniforms in the airport I usually just talk to them – about where they are going or coming from, if they can tell me. I depart by saying “stay safe,” which I hope shows some concern and humanity on my part and not viewing them as political patriotic vessels.

  9. There was the time where a national guardsman was home on leave and eating with his family, I ordered a beer for him on my bar tab and a few minutes later went over to chat with him for a few minutes. It was like a beta-riffic pickup attempt, except it worked because guys respond better to favors between us and all I wanted to do was talk to him for a bit.

  10. Erin

    Hey, Douglos (and others). I appreciate that you didn’t like the piece — I don’t like a lot of stuff and it’s valid and important to recognize that as much as it is to enjoy something. I thought it was interesting, though, that in an article that was in no way specific to women, you immediately attacked the fact that I’m a female writer calling it, “chick story-telling,” then saying, “…this is how every chick who thinks she’s witty and clever talks.” It sounds like you take issue with women expressing themselves in what you deem a “witty and clever” way.

    Between this response and an article titled, “The Female Condition,” which read like a spoof of a 50’s guide to taming the little woman (it compared their thought process to a hamster’s!), it seems like there is a lot of anger toward women on this site. It may be masked by confusion or just trying to understand them, but the underlying tone is one of hatred. I’m not familiar with the bulk of the reader base or contributors and can’t speculate on the reason behind this, but it’s pretty disturbing. And really disappointing.

    Thanks for reading the piece and for taking the time to respond. BTW, a fortune cookie wrapped in congealed bacon fat sounds SO GOOD.


  11. Erin-
    “it seems like there is a lot of anger toward women on this site. It may be masked by confusion or just trying to understand them, but the underlying tone is one of hatred. I’m not familiar with the bulk of the reader base or contributors and can’t speculate on the reason behind this, but it’s pretty disturbing. And really disappointing.”

    FAR from it. i doubt any of the reader’s of this (or most other manospere site’s) hate women or are angry with them. as a matter of fact most reader’s fall into 2 catagories: 1-being experienced with women and trying to lend a hand, 2-seeking to learn about the nature of women.

    i can understand a woman seeing some/most of what is posted as being offensive, but remember…….this isn’t meant for you to understand us, it’s for US to understand you. i highly doubt any reader here wants to chain a woman to a stove, they just want to better negotiate their relationships. what you read in this corner of the interwebz may be hard to swallow, but it’s mostly true.

    and no one is comparing a woman to a “hamster”. the hamster is a reference to a woman’s thought process running wildly on a treadmill to rationalize her own behavior. be it good or bad.

    you should check out Bb’s site (on the girl blog list). she has a great site.

  12. Hubs1

    Nice essay, Erin. The title drew me in, and I chuckled at the end, when you closed the circle about wanting to be a horse.

    I read Badger and some other sites because I like women, two in particular: my wife and my daughter. And my son, heading towards engagement, (very) occasionally asks me for advice; I’d like that to be as useful as I can make it. Helping him to make original mistakes, rather than repeating shopworn ones.

    I hope you add Danny’s comment of 4:14 and this one into the mix, as you think about your readership here.

  13. Erin – stick around, learn the language.

    The Rationalization Hamster is refering to the way your mind can spin endless bullshit to convince yourself of something you deep down want to believe, but know isn’t true.

    Badger is hardly a blog full of hatred to women. If he was, he’d obviously not have asked you to guest post.

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