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The Old Skin

Thursday, April 9, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

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A guest post from Laura Simms

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.”
― Joseph Campbell

But what if the old skin doesn’t want to come off?

I was sitting on the couch (or my crying station, I may as well have called it), surrounded by little piles of soggy Kleenex, my sad, unintended altar to the life I couldn’t let go of.

I was an actor, dammit. It was not just something I did, it was something I was. From a very young age, I had felt like an actor.

I knew that world, that work, the language, the almost-out-of-body bliss when the ensemble hit it just right. I knew how to tell a story, move an audience, and even how to play the industry game. If I knew one thing, it’s that I was an actor, and not even piles of soggy Kleenex could convince me otherwise.

But I had started to question.

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Asking questions that may have uncomfortable answers is one of most courageous acts of daily life.

Questions like:

Do I want to stay in this marriage?

What if this baby doesn’t make it?

Why haven’t I saved enough for retirement?

Will I speak to my mother again?

Am I willing to get fired over this?

My courageous question was:

Is this career still what I want?

Just asking the question felt like betrayal. I had worked so hard, and sacrificed so much for this career. Missed birthdays and weddings and funerals and graduations. Gone to graduate school, moved across to country to a place where I knew no one, worked side jobs, been broke, been successful. I had oriented my entire life around the pursuit of this one thing.

And yet, the question exfoliated. The old skin had started sloughing off, making way for something new, and I was furiously trying to tug it back on and put it where I thought it ought to go. Maybe this is why snakes don’t have hands.

Perhaps it would have been easier if the discarded layer was something that felt like it lived on the outside. Identity, one of the hardest things to shift, never feels like it’s at the surface. It’s a root. Roots grasp. Roots stabilize. It’s their job to hold tight; they are devoted to constancy. As you’ve noticed, trees stay put.


And so it took me several years to allow myself to answer my own question and let go of my old identity.

It was a small act of courage when I stopped introducing myself as an actor. When I no longer wrote “actor” on my tax returns. When I changed my union status to “honorable withdrawal.”

Asking and answering that question remains the biggest turning point in my life. The life that was waiting for me has been more wonderful than I could ever have imagined.

It was definitely worth the painful process of losing old skin over.

Know you need to shed old skin? Ask the courageous question, and fight like hell to find the answer.

Laura Simms - Marianne ElliottMeet Laura.

Laura Simms is an expert on meaningful work and 21st century careers. She is the creator of the career change program Your Career Homecoming, which challenges conventional wisdom by asking people to ditch their passions and start with purpose.

Her work has been featured in US News & World Report, The Huffington Post, and at The University of California, Irvine. Get her free training to connect the dots between who you are and how you earn with the The Get Paid for Being You Strategy at




30 Days of Courage: a guide to bravery in action

30 Days of Courage is for people who want to step out of their comfort zone, through the small acts of daily bravery that add up to a courageous life. The next course kicks off on 20 April. I’d for you to join me. Registration is open — click HERE to find out more, or get signed up.



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