Getting Back to Work After a Career Break

Performer and creativity coach Abiola Ogunbiyi offers practical tips and words of support for those planning a return to work after time away from the industry.

By Abiola Ogunbiyi

Whether your reasons were personal, professional, or the result of a global pandemic, working your way back into the industry can be an opportunity to clarify your goals

A career break happens for many reasons. Some are completely under our control and may be part of a deliberate decision to give another area of our lives the time and attention it deserves. However, some reasons are much less invited, where unforeseen circumstances render it physically, emotionally or financially unfeasible for you to continue working or looking for work as an actor.

This article has been written as industries slowly recover from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, and with no certain plans in place for much of the entertainment industry, it's understandable for us to be questioning what there is to come back to in the first instance.

Whichever way a career break has become part of your professional journey, one of the most important things to remember is that, though your reasons are unique to you, your experience is extremely universal. Not only is acting a career of repeated 'breaks' as we each strive to cross the bridge between the end of the last job and the beginning of the next, but we also live in a world of the unexpected that, even with the best intentions, we cannot fully direct. Having a master plan is a great way of getting a sense of direction, but if we punish ourselves when real life doesn’t mirror our plans, we forget one of our best assets as professional actors: our adaptability.

Whether your reasons were personal, professional, or the result of the pandemic, working your way back into the industry can be an opportunity to clarify your goals and re-enter your field with an outlook that uses your time away to proudly serve your time to come.

Make Peace With The Past

As you begin your second act, any negativity about your break must be left where it belongs: the past. It’s very likely 'what you’ve been up to' will be brought up in your meetings; you want to be able to put a positive, or at least an accepting, spin on your experience. Share all the things that you've learnt during your time away and how excited you are to be back having new opportunities. The way we view our experiences can impact us far beyond the experiences themselves. Believe that your break was a professional interval rather than the curtain call.

If your break was caused by a situation you did not actively seek out, such as burnout or financial instability, understand exactly why those events happened and be sure you have strategies to support your reentry and sustenance in what may often be a hectic and fluctuating career.

Know What You Want

Did getting up-to-date with your favourite drama programmes renew your interest in working on screen? Or did time away give you serious headway on writing your piece for radio/live performance/who knows? Are you keener on comedy? Or do you want to delve into the world of motion capture? Paint a vivid and honest picture of where you see your career going now that you're returning to it. Make your team fully aware of what this new and beautiful picture looks like as they’ll be working to reintroduce you to the industry and a clear sense of your goals will ensure that both their time and yours is used as efficiently as possible.

You don’t have to audition for everything just because you’ve been away. In fact, your post-break demands might not even allow this to be a possibility, so clarity is even more crucial. Pick out your ideal projects from things you’ve already seen and have an upfront conversation with your team about how you can work together to bring your goals to fruition.

If you are re-entering the industry without representation all these tips still apply, though some of these conversations will be with yourself whilst you work on getting representation.

Your first few auditions back may feel more like warm-ups. Don’t let that throw you off. Think of them as practising the best job you can do.

(Re-)learning The Ropes

Though you may want to leap right back where you left off, appreciate the jump that your mind and body will be making back into the industry.

Avoid early burnout by:

  • Building up audition momentum
  • Keeping communication with your team open and honest about how you’re doing
  • Continuing the self-care and well-being practices that are not only important for your career but crucial for your spirit.

Your first few auditions back may feel more like warm-ups. Don’t let that throw you off. Think of them as practising the best job you can do.

Ways to stay on top of your progress include:

  • Doing a written evaluation of every audition so that you can see where improvements between meetings.
  • Finding out what the current industry trends are. As well as the opportunities available on Spotlight, resources such as The Stage, IMDb, Backstage, and Screen Daily have regularly updated information on greenlit projects and casting opportunities.
  • Setting up a Twitter account and using it to follow the breakdowns from casting directors of your dream projects.
  • Getting back in touch with any creatives you've worked with before to say hello and let them know that you took a break but you're now back in action. It’s rare that people literally forget us but in an industry of so many faces and places it will only serve you to refresh a busy person’s memory, especially as you are someone they have already worked with.
  • Contacting film schools to provide your details for their rolling projects. Make sure to get in touch regularly as schools often make rotations in the filmmaking roles their students take.

Being as engaged as possible within the goings-on of the industry will give you a real sense of empowerment, and shows your team that you're staying engaged in your own time.

Speak to yourself like you’d speak to a friend. Console yourself as necessary, and then get yourself revved up to carry on going

Stay Strong

There will be a lot of things that can distract you from your goals; Seeing the ground that others have covered in the time you’ve been away or worrying that there is no place in the industry for you anymore. But any distractions that come your way must be matched with opposing statements that support you. Remind yourself that everyone’s career happens at a different and unique pace, and as the only journey you can do anything about is your own, that’s where your energy is best spent. There's always a place for anyone with the grit to keep sharpening and showcasing their skills to everyone they can.

Wanting a flourishing career does not mean we will never get a limiting thought or have a less-than-awesome experience. But what is going to keep you going are the words you say to yourself when those moments come so make them positive and constructive. Speak to yourself as you’d speak to a good friend. Console yourself as necessary, and then get yourself revved up to carry on going.

Your talent is not based on the speed at which you land your first post-break project. Your talent is based on your skill. As you make your way back, never lose sight of the value of craftshumanship. Give your hard work its strongest chance by being clear about what you really want for your career. You deserved to do that before your break, and you deserve to do that now.

It won’t be a smooth and straight road but you have the time and ability to do a little each day to feel proud of how you're taking control of the things that you can.

With a consistent work ethic, belief in your long-term vision, and the support of those you trust and know truly believe in you, you'll look at career breaks as the detours of life that they are and believe that whatever waits ahead you’ll be able to learn to keep thriving through it.

Abiola Ogunbiyi is an actress and writer whose credits include 'A Boy Called Christmas', 'Jamestown', and West End shows 'The Book of Mormon' and 'Mamma Mia!'. As a filmmaker, Abiola’s work has won at festivals in Europe and the U.S. Abiola runs the Instagram platform @tobeabetterartist where she shares advice for artists based on her own career; her work has recently been featured on Forbes. Abiola offers 1:1 career and creativity coaching for professional artists worldwide from her base in London.

Image by Obi Onyeador via Unsplash.com