“It's Too Late For Me To Do What I Really Love. Should I Settle For Second-Best?”

Mary's secret career dreams are big and bold and exciting. But they feel so unrealistic, given where she's reached, that she's embarrassed to even say them out loud. Is it time to give up and aim for something more sensible?

What's your career history and current job?

I studied Marketing and Advertising Management at university, and then worked on B2B accounts for a marketing agency in Birmingham for six years.

I now work for a smaller agency in London as a Senior Account Manager.

How do you feel about your work?

It's ok; it really is.

It makes me a good living and I enjoy a lot of aspects of my work. It's challenging enough that my brain is engaged most days, and the people I work with are fun, creative types. I count them as some of my best friends, so I'm lucky in that sense.

But when I think about the story of my life and consider whether I'd be really proud to look back on this, the thought doesn't fill me with joy. I feel a bit like I'm taking the easy route. I've felt like this for a few years, but I've never been sure what to do next, so I've just stuck around. However, I realise that time is passing quickly, and if I don't make a change in my life soon, I'll really feel like I'm trapped.

I'm just not sure what to make my change into.

What would you like to be doing instead?

If I'm really, totally honest, and I put all the doubts and fears out of my head, what I'd love to be doing most is performing.

Acting, on stage. I loved it when I was a kid and a teenager, and then I realised I had to be sensible and get a 'proper' job at some point (I didn't want to become the cliché: the actress waiting tables in New York for years). So I did. I went to university, and here I am now.

But I miss it so much. I miss the buzz, the physicality, the psychology, the feeling of getting inside someone else's mind and body and bringing them to life. I miss the intensity of rehearsals and the playfulness and the fun of creating a production. Whenever I go to the theatre and I'm waiting for the curtain to go up, I feel this ache in my belly, like I know I'm on the wrong side of the orchestra pit.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

It's just not very realistic, is it?

I'm 32 years old, and I want to break into an industry that's intensely competitive and favours bright young things who have spent their entire lives in training for performance. I honestly feel embarrassed just saying that I want to make a living on stage. I used to be very talented, and I was always at the top of my game when I was a teenager, but I think I've just dropped the ball for too long now.

Every time I think about what I'd really love to do – really, really love to do – it comes back to being on stage. But that's so unlikely to happen. So I start thinking about alternatives – being a speaker or a trainer, or something else that involves being in front of people, or having a normal job and doing amateur productions in my spare time – and every idea I come up with feels like settling for second place.

I don't want to retire feeling like I only ever won the booby prize in my own life. But maybe that's all I can have now?

Can you help Mary?

  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • Should she settle for second best, or is there something else she could try?
  • Do you know anyone she could talk to?

Share your support and advice in the comments below!

Give Mary a cheer of encouragement by hitting the thumbs-up button here:

Want help from our audience with your career-change challenge? Tell us about your situation in our short form, which you can complete here.