“Get a job!” – bootstrap pulling skills and becoming a professional juggler.

This story was originally written as a forum post, when someone asked, in relation to Occupy Wall Street reactionary comments like “Get a job!”:

“Please could some of you successful forum members tell the story of how you became successful at your job, outlining how much that was down to your own skills, and how much help you had along the way?”

Here’s how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps.

My original plan was to be a professional entertainer of some sort. I loved performing, so aged 13 I chose to study performing arts at school (GCSE level). Then aged 15 I decided to study performing arts full time at college for two years.

Of course, during this entire time I had support from my parents. My father is disabled, and hasn’t had a proper job in about 28 years, so my entire family had support from social programs of one type or another.

At college I lived with my parents, of course, and during the course of college I had free meals and free bus transport and grants to help me out. I bought my first PC using a grant.

After college I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do music or theater at university. I took a year out and worked for 9 months in a school kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning tables.

I decided to study music production, a degree called Creative Music Technology. At university I had some grant support, but most expenses were covered by student loans. I supplemented this by working night shifts at a supermarket, stacking shelves. When I left university I moved back in with my parents for a few months, and got a job working at a day care center for mentally and physically disabled people.

During this time I’d taken a lot of time to juggle, and it was a really fun hobby. I didn’t consider it to be a serious career option though.

My brother-in-law worked for a TV station, and mentioned a job opening. I applied, without the company or the interviewers knowing I was related to a manager. I didn’t get the job, as I could edit audio but wasn’t skilled in video edited on their equipment. A week later three people were fired from the company, and so suddenly they needed people to fill the vacancies. They asked if I’d take a job.

I moved to a new city, and stayed at a friends house until I could find a home of my own. I ended up living my friend for the next 18 months.

After two years working for the TV station, doing sound mixing, editing, camera work and other production duties, I quit. I loved the work itself, and the people I worked with, just not the people I had to work for. All four people in my department quit within four weeks of each other, so it wasn’t just me who had problems!

I had another job lined up, but a two month gap with nothing to do. I’d planned to go traveling, but due to weird life events, I ended up studying circus acrobatics. Again I stayed with friends, and when I decided not to take up the other job offer, I stayed with my parents between travels, and even getting a arts council grant to return to study acrobatics for another two months.

Due to not wanting to work in offices and studios, or sitting in an editing suite for eight hours a day, I decided to try to make it as a professional juggler. I made some money from paid gigs, but for a while my largest income was from making juggling beanbags and doing street shows. I traveled a lot, met a girl, and finally moved out of my parents place to Berlin.

I worked as juggler, and also a tour guide, in Berlin. Later Pola and I got a good recommendation from other jugglers to work on cruise ships, and they also recommended us to their agent. That now accounts for about 90% of my income per year.

Now I do well for myself. I could earn more money than I do, but I like to have a healthy work/home balance.

My bootstrap pulling skills:
* I didn’t originally plan to be a professional juggler; it wasn’t more than a hobby.
* The first career I aimed for only lasted two years.
* Once I settled on the idea, I worked very hard to be a juggler and entertainer.

Help I had along the way:
* Parents constantly giving support and a place to live between travel and jobs and even careers.
* Government grants for college, university, and even acrobatics school.
* Student loans.
* Free at point of service healthcare (with national health insurance payments only when an employee, not when self employed).
* Friends helping me out with housing, and even large short term loans.
* Family connections.
* The juggling scene providing unmeasurable teaching, help, advice, encouragement, etc.
* Volunteers organizing juggling conventions and festivals where I could practice juggling and entertaining on stage.
* Other jugglers providing connections and information about gigs and agents.

* Almost everything I rationally decided to do, career-wise, didn’t fit me and my life.
* Almost everything that happened to me accidentally led to better opportunities than anything I consciously planned to do when setting out.
* Without help from other people and government social programs, I’d be totally screwed.
* It takes a lot of hard work to be a professional entertainer.
* I’m very happy to do crazily hard work to give other jugglers the opportunities that I had myself (Eg. running workshops, organizing shows and open stages, helping run conventions, creating the British Young Juggler of the Year show and competition, etc etc etc).
* I’m happy to pay taxes.
* I’m happy to support other artists financially if they need and/or ask for help or a loan.

I love to read comments and feedback about my blog posts. Please email me, I reply to every message: luke@juggler.net