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Jessica Runck, Published August 29 2013

Homegrown Hollywood: Not ready to quit my day job

Two years after moving to Los Angeles to become a writer and an actor I became a server.

I had been working full-time at a technology company, but as my auditions started to pick up I had to find a job that was more flexible. So I left my comfortable, salaried position, in a nice office with nice people and started to wait tables at an Italian restaurant.

When I tied on that apron for the first time, I felt like I was doubling down on my dreams. It felt good, like I was proving to myself that I was willing to do anything to succeed. I wasn’t out in L.A. to have a career at a technology company but to do something I had dreamed about since I was a little girl, and waiting tables would allow me to do that.

Sure, I had two bachelor’s degrees and wasn’t going to be using them, but I was determined to stay positive. Serving wouldn’t be so bad – and think of all the fun new people I was going to meet!

That was three years ago.

These days that technology company is looking better and better.

The noble notion of “doing anything for my career” has worn off a little, and it’s a lot more difficult to keep my chin up. True, I am closer to my dreams. But it’s also true that I am not close enough to quit my “day job.”

And I really want to.

A few weeks ago, I waited on four men in their early 60s, and when I went up to their table for the first time I said what I always say.

“Hi gentleman. Welcome. My name is Jessica, and I’ll be taking care of you tonight.”

I said my name a few more times throughout their dinner, and at the end of the night as they walked out of the restaurant, I opened the door and thanked them for coming.

One of the men patted my arm, looked right into my eyes and said sincerely, “Thank you so much, Marcia.”

Marcia.

Not even “Jennifer” or “Ashley” or any other common, top-five girl name from the early 1980s.

I didn’t even correct him. I just grinned and said, “You are SO welcome.”

Over some cocktails a few days later, I related this story to some of my friends. When I got to the big finish, instead of laughing a giant lump rose in my throat and before I knew it I was crying into my gin martini.

I wasn’t upset about a stranger forgetting my name after too many glasses of wine. I was upset about the fact that I was still in a position where a stranger could forget my name after a few glasses of wine.

I moved to Los Angeles to write and act, not to wait tables. While I am lucky to have a job, there are times when the giant leap I took moving here can feel like a big mistake – like I landed so far from my goals that I might not get there at all.

I’m embarrassed and tired. And worst of all, I feel a little like a failure.

A failure who knows entirely too much about Italian cheese and wine.

The next morning I woke up with puffy eyes, a massive headache and an email from my manager. I had an audition.

With that simple email, I felt a little hope – hope that’s easy to lose in plates of pasta and demanding customers – creep back in.

That night at work, I tied my apron on tightly, closed my eyes and took a deep breath. This will not be forever. This is temporary. This is a choice that I’m making because that’s how much I’m willing to bet on myself.

Because I believe that one day my customers are going to turn on their TVs or open a book and see my face.

And they’ll think to themselves, “Wow. Marcia really made it.”

Jessica Runck, who grew up in Wimbledon, N.D., and graduated from Concordia College, is a writer and actor living in Los Angeles. Visit www.jessicarunck.com for more information.