What’s Next is Coming, Don’t Fear It, Embrace It

By Noel LaMontagne

All the genres of entertainment feature incredibly talented individuals seeking to monopolize the fickle attention spans of paying customers. Athletes work their entire lives to sign a contract, fill a stadium, and win a championship with a professional sports team. Performers spend countless hours training and rehearsing for the audition that will get them the role that packs the house and launches their award-winning career. The fervid disdain for failure and drive to continually make the impossible look effortless lays the foundation for what mere mortals will only dream to experience. But when the magic begins to wane, and the armor of consistent success rusts and cracks, the moment arrives when every entertainer must peek out and see what lays beyond the velvet rope. Almost every entertainer will face job transitions as they work through their individual entertainment career, and at some point, many will face a career shift outside entertainment altogether.

The average participation age range for the major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL), per The Elias Sports Bureau, falls in the mid to late 20’s. Major League Baseball has the oldest average age participation range around 29 years old, but due to advances in medicine, nutrition, and how athletes take care of their bodies, the ability to participate at high levels at older ages seems to be increasing in all sports. Logically, the age range for sports coaches and executives shift a bit older, as supported by information from various American coaching associations, the 40’s or older appear the most consistent range. The amount of employment opportunities in sports remains relatively finite. New teams at the professional level rarely come through expansion and very few startup leagues offer much more than a passing fancy or a delay of an inevitable sports retirement. The age outliers in all sports do not change the fact that the participation clock in athletics ticks faster than most other professions and sooner than later the game will come to an end for everyone.

The performing arts world provides different average age ranges, although the data gets notably harder to collect because of the volume. Stephon Follows (www.stephensfollows.com) conducted an interesting analysis regarding age and detailed average employment ages over different genres of movies. He has done other studies regarding participation ages for other professions in entertainment, gender variables, and over time. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics has some limited information regarding datasets in the entertainment industry, but a collective and uniform method of summarizing this career path through age is difficult because there are so many jobs, candidates, and high frequency of job turnover. The volume of employment opportunities has been increasing gradually due to more mediums. Digital transmission and streaming consumption of content, a recent Hollywood Reporter study shows, has increased the number of scripted showing from around 180 in 2002 to well over 500 in 2019. there appears to be an older trending age average in entertainment versus sports. The mid to late 30’s for actors and into the 40’s and 50’s for writers, directors and other off camera executives and technicians. Still, as in sports, the lights go down on many in entertainment much faster than hoped, and the older average ages only mean a much longer time that must be endured by younger applicants while on the outside trying to get into a position.

Entertainment in any form ranks among the most competitive career paths on the planet. The number of willing applications vastly outweighs the extremely limited number of jobs. The turnover rate in athletics runs high due to injuries, younger or more talented prospects, and diminishing skills over time. Performers experience inconsistency of project success and failure, endless competition for jobs causing over saturation, and high failure rates that lead to quality of life decisions leading into more stable professions. The realities surrounding age, working lifespan, and competition in these professions paint a clear picture that athletes and performers need to expect, prepare for, and embrace change in their professional lives.

Entertainment careers grow from endless hours of intense hard work and limitless passion for staying ahead of the industry. Adaptability allows professionals to work through the constantly changing landscape of a highly competitive industry and weathering the failures that will vastly outnumber the successes over time. Time brings experience and wisdom to the approach to the profession and the fruits of maturity outperform the energy of youth and ignorance. This same mentality that drives someone toward success in entertainment will help them be successful in any other walk of life. Success relies more on the how than the what, and regardless of the goal that awaits, the method of approaching that goal ultimately makes it attainable. Entertainers must remember if they embrace the unique skills and work ethic that sets them apart when they perform, they can transform themselves into anything by just shifting their focus and doing what they already know.

Successful career transition in any form comes from the ability to apply good habits toward whatever path or challenge that lies ahead of you. The work ethic, attitude, and energy that helped create the first dream career will help usher in and realize the next one. Career transitions should be regarded more as transformations or the reapplication of the unique characteristics and intense effort that allowed the impossible to happen. The fear of what comes next has the same ability to drive any passionate and committed entertainer toward their next big break or into any walk of life if they embrace it. The realization that individual moments serve only as brief snapshots of the story of an entire career can help support the notion that entertainers will experience many defining moments if they continue to apply themselves and look tirelessly toward the future.

As the statistics show, over time and regardless of profession, many individuals will share the experience of a job or career shift, face the concept of what comes next, or be required to start completely over in their employment. The strength created from understanding, preparing for, and leaning into change can lay the foundation for the next big success. Professionals in sports and the performing arts face the reality that they will likely have many jobs during their careers, and at times due to multiple factors, they may need to change their careers entirely if the entertainment clock strikes midnight.

You made it first. Now make it last.