• Jaclyn Koss

Career or Dreams: An Identity Quest

Updated: Feb 9

My journey from actress to content creator.

2009: me as Vera Claythorne in "And Then There Were None"

I have a very clear memory of the moment I decided that I wanted to be an actress. I was three years old, and my class was performing Jingle Bells in our first school Christmas pageant. All my classmates were nervous to get in front of the gymnasium filled with parents, students, family and friends. All, of course, except me.


We clutched the bells that we were given and lined up on stage. The music began, and all my classmates began to sing along, gently shaking their bells to the music. Me? I took a half-step forward, started violently swinging my arm, and belted the words at the top of my lungs. The audience was in hysterics, and I had found my ‘true calling.’


Fast forward 23 years to the end of 2018. I just turned 26, and life was definitely different from what I dreamed as a child. As I discussed in a previous blog post, I was entrenched in the performing arts throughout my entire education, but my life went in a different direction after graduation. I worked in LA on the 'corporate side' of entertainment for a few years (that’s a blog post for another time) before moving to New York in 2017 for a new career opportunity in publishing.


During that time, I was holding onto my identity as an ‘actress’ with a vice-like grip. I went on a few auditions, took some classes and workshops, and did some smaller projects and background work. When people asked me what I did for a living, I would respond with “Well, I act, and I write, but I also do XYZ as a day job.” I’d analyze casting sites for roles that I could potentially pull off, rather than ones I’d be right for, sometimes reaching so far that I once auditioned for a role originated by Steve Carell! I tried to scrape together a reel of outdated footage and a resume of mostly outdated credits. I’d comb through the calendars of expensive acting workshops in the hopes of maybe getting noticed by an agent, manager, or casting director. Then, I had the added dilemma of what took priority: my ‘dream’ or my full-time career. It was only when I realized that I was starting to do things because it’s what a ‘real actress’ should do, instead of doing them because I wanted to, that I knew something wasn’t right.


I had a lot of soul-searching to do, and I needed to be honest with myself. Could I justifiably call myself an actress if I wasn’t working? Why was I jumping through all these hoops and spending all this money just to cross some t’s and dot some i’s instead of actually finding ways to do what I enjoy? Why was I putting my budding publishing career, another thing that I really like and am good at, at risk? And most importantly, was I truly going to give up on my lifelong dream? There seem to be lots of heartwarming stories out there of people who gave up their career to successfully chase their dreams, but that doesn’t have to be my journey. I respect people who choose to pursue acting full-time, but it felt like the wrong move for me. I didn’t want to give up my career either … but did that mean I could never be an actress?


As you can see, I was having a massive identity crisis. Talking to Elie helped me a lot. We had several long, heartfelt discussions, and after days of staying up late thinking about my life’s professional choices (and drinking lots of wine), I literally woke up one morning and realized that I had grown to the point where the ‘actress’ label didn’t encompass everything I wanted to do. ‘Actress’ just wasn’t the right word anymore, and I was going to be okay shifting gears.


I tried some hyphenate titles first — actress-writer, actress-writer-development, actress-writer-producer, actress-writer-editor, actress-writer-producer-editor — but those didn’t fit either! After one more heartfelt discussion about my professional identity crisis (and more wine and maybe some gin), I found myself naturally leaning towards a relatively new creative role: content creator.


As soon as I said it, I understood what Marie Kondo means when she says something is supposed to spark joy. It was literally a moment of “Ah! Yes! This is it!✨”


It felt like a huge weight lifted off my chest. I wasn’t completely stopping in front of a blocked-off road, I was looking for an alternate route. As a content creator, I could flex my creative muscles however I choose rather than sticking to the same cookie-cutter routines. And I finally understood that even though I wasn’t actively pursuing acting as my full-time career, I could still have it as part of my life. If an amazing opportunity were to come up, fantastic, but I am happy just doing what I love without depending on my lifelong passion to pay my rent. And it feels incredible not to have my professional self-worth tied to what I thought casting directors, agents, managers, directors, and producers expected of me.


Fast forward again to now. I’m a few months into this new chapter of my life. I’ve been exploring new creative outlets, including this blog. I am currently looking into classes I can take and groups I can join where I can continue to hone and develop my acting skills. I find ways to be creative at work: hosting video interviews with authors, assisting with cover designs and writing/editing copy, and developing my digital media skills. I no longer feel like my life is the fraying rope in a game of tug-of-war between my developing career and being an actress.


It takes some time, and there are days when I still struggle, second-guess myself, or even revert to my old habits of thinking of myself only as an actress (which is totally okay if that’s what you want!), but I feel a lot more settled in my skin. I just need to remain authentic with myself regarding what is and isn’t working for me as I continue adjusting to this new equilibrium. I believe that although it might not be what she envisioned for herself, the the little girl scream-singing “Jingle Bells” at the top of her lungs would be proud of the way her life will turn out.


Have you ever experienced a similar issue? How did you resolve it? Do you have any go-to creative outlets? Let me know in the comments.


PS: Here are a few old headshot gems, for your viewing pleasure. 😂

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