There is a mythology about the starving artist who must struggle to create his or her art. Miata Edoga certainly struggled when she first arrived in Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a working actress.
Hers was a familiar story – huge credit card debt, working multiple part time jobs with low pay and no benefits. She desperately ran from audition to audition hoping that this might be the one to finally stop the spiral she was in at that time.
But then came the day when she nearly missed a curtain.
She was working a hotel restaurant in West Hollywood, and they wouldn't release her the day of a matinee until the very last moment.
It was a horrible experience that caused her to think, "I'm a failure as an actor, I'm a failure as a human being and I'm a failure at everything I said I was going to be." It's a story she has told many times to her students at the Financial Wellness seminar she teaches at the Actors Fund in LA's Mid-Wlshire district.
"I was sobbing, shaking, I barely even remember the show," she says. She went home and cried for days. She can joke about this now, laughing as she says,"Maybe it was a nervous breakdown."
She tells it because this is the moment that shifted her life when gradually, with a persistence and work ethic she inherited from her immigrant parents, she learned to make the financial changes that would let her focus more on creativity, instead of frantically trying to stay one step in front of creditors.
It is liberating, as Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, for artists not to burden their art with the need to make a living, a point very similar to what Edoga teaches. If you create more financial power, you will strengthen your creative goals – something difficult to do if you have $50,000 worth of credit card debt to deal with, as Edoga did at one point.
"The starving artist mantra is one of the biggest disservices to the artistic community," she says. "As a culture we have a tendency to celebrate it." As she tells it, we've all heard the stories of the actress who had 32 cents in their bank account when she got her big break, or the writer who was sleeping on park benches before he had his.
She feels this has created a mistaken belief that because someone was willing to suffer, they therefore achieved success. Possibly this has made some of us passive, waiting for that big break instead of taking charge of our own careers.
"Stories about someone who says I was willing to have 32 cents in my bank account and that was why I ultimately made it is what we hear about, but there are countless more people with 32 cents in their bank accounts who had to go home and quit," she says.
Edoga believes that acting has such a high turnover rate because people cannot financially support themselves, so if financial training was part of what an actor was taught, they could sustain their creative aspirations longer.
She wants us to celebrate artists who choose to be as powerful as they can be, so - from the parents' POV - "when your child comes home and says Mom, Dad, I want to be an actor, instead of dying a little inside, parents can say, awesome, let's talk and see how you can structure your life so that you can support your career choice."
Her class is free for anyone working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles. This represents an exciting partnership for her because she can meet her clients where they are financially – and not ask them to pay for an expensive class when they already heavily in debt.
All of her students are not coming from a rock bottom place – some of them come because they have just experienced a windfall, for instance after selling a spec script, and they need to know how to properly manage the money they have made so it doesn't evaporate.
She stresses, however, that she is not a financial advisor or a tax expert. She will not offer tips on what specific stock you should buy or whether you should join the mania and jump into the cryptocurrency market. Her company is called Abundance Bound – not Wealth or Richness Bound – because the goal is not necessarily about making a particular sum of money, but rather about finding ways to be financially stable to support creative work.
Dealing with financial hardships requires self awareness and can be a painful experience, especially when we stop ignoring those numbers and instead start facing where we are at this given moment. Edoga does not sugarcoat this or tell her students only what they want to hear. Optimism is fine, but without doing the hard work of identifying expenses and coming up with a plan, she believes it is simply not enough.
This does not imply that Edoga is stern or unforgiving. In person, she is very confident and charismatic, using her hands to illustrate her points, laughing often, her thoughts very clear and precise. You sense a passion behind her words – a love for acting and for any kind of artistic pursuit. She is not in love with money.
"My mission is to help the creative community recognize that we don't have a choice about having a relationship with money – it's just one of those relationships you must have," she says. "It is our choice to make that a healthy relationship, and that takes what any good relationship needs: communication, a sense of humor, patience and persistence."
Her own persistence is probably something she learned from her parents. They both came from real poverty – no running water or a roof over their head, sometimes in war-torn environments. Like so many other immigrants, they had a very strong work ethic.
They became professionals – her father a surgeon, her mother an attorney – and Edoga says they literally changed the course of her family for generations to come. They broke the cycle of poverty cause they simply worked hard enough to overcome it. And this gave their children the security to pursue their own ambitions.
So perhaps they were not entirely thrilled when Edoga fell in love with storytelling and decided she wanted to be an actress. They expected her to pursue something more practical and choose a profession close to their own. Deciding instead to be an artist wasn't something that would have ever occurred to them; it was simply not a part of their own experience.
Edoga discovered she could sing, and after falling in love with musicals, scored her first casting coup around 12 when she got called back for Dorothy in a regional production of The Wiz.
"I came home one day and said to my Mom, I think I might get Dorothy, and she said sweetheart, you will not get Dorothy, maybe you'll get a chorus part, but not Dorothy," Edoga says.
This was her parents' point of view – not negative in Edoga's estimation, but very realistic – "Don't get your hopes up too high, face the truth, and always keep working no matter what setbacks might occur."
As it turns out, however, Edoga got cast as Dorothy.
"There is no question my choice terrified them for many years, but they never issued any ultimatums," she says.
In fact, they paid for singing lessons and sent her to drama camps, and because of her parents, her choice became more possible. She didn't feel she had to fear chasing her acting ambitions.
But they insisted she do the hard work herself. They wouldn't have let her become homeless, she says, but they weren't going to give her handouts if she got into trouble. They gave her the work ethic and encouraged her to believe in herself, but after that, she was on her own.
She wanted to continue training for musicals and went to Williams College – where, unfortunately, musicals are not part of the curriculum. A blind spot in her research. They were not considered "serious" theatre there.
But she stuck it out, and began working with Tessa Marwick, the great South African Drama teacher known primarily for her work in experimental theatre, and found a new love: Shakespeare. She won an award her senior year in college, and with the starting money she received, she read some books, prepped a budget, and thinking she was ready, came to Los Angeles from her native New Jersey. But she was not nearly as ready as she initially believed, and soon began to get into serious financial trouble.
"I didn't expect to be discovered right away, but I wasn't ready for emergencies, for how much things cost, for how hard it was try and get that perfect part-time job with flexible hours, because of course, those jobs don't pay anything," she says.
She had many jobs – SAT tutor, dog walker, nanny, temp, Starbucks barista to name a few – and ran around to different auditions, but without any sense of what her overall goals were, either financial or creative. Credit card debt soon began piling up, and things got really bad when she got rear-ended in a car accident.
"I called my Mom and told her, hey, this accident happened, and things are really bad right now," she says, "and maybe a little part of me was hoping she would offer to send me a little something to help me out, to tide me over, but instead she said, wow, that's really hard; I'll bet McDonald's is hiring."
This could sound very cruel, but Edoga didn't take it that way. Her mother had sympathy for her situation, but as always, she wanted her daughter to take responsibility for her choices. It is a lesson that Edoga hasn't forgotten.
Then came that fateful day when she nearly missed her curtain. She was sick of being broke. So she told herself she had to learn how to handle her finances. She had to make money, but also understand it, and have a plan.
"I remember thinking, I'm a smart person, I can do this, and I would go the bookstore, find the financial section and just start reading books," she says.
She took as many financial classes as she could, especially the free ones. She found another mentor, this time Loral Langemeier, a financial coach and self-described money expert who stresses a very practical approach, just as Edoga does now.
"Laurel was inspiring, but also very tough," Edoga says. One step led to the next, and soon Edoga signed for an 8 month personal financing class with Langemeier. It wasn't free, so Edoga had to hit the credit cards again, but this time she viewed it as an investment.
She was assigned a coach who taught her many of the things she now shares with her students. It's not magic, she says, but she got clearer about her finances, stopped working multiple part time jobs and slowly that massive debt began to disappear. She was so focused and determined that at the end of the course she was asked to become a coach herself.
She is certain that this shift would have inevitably occurred even if she hadn't nearly missed her show. Her perspective changed, and this improved not just her bank account, but her creative focus.
"Initially I was just trying to get people to hire me," she says. It was all about how many auditions she could get, finding the right agent, getting that first guest shot, parlaying that into bigger roles.
During a recent 60 Minutes interview, Donald Sutherland called actors who do this "vertically organized"--meaning they are looking at acting only as a career ladder. Process is ignored. This scattershot approach often creates desperation and anxiety, and nothing kills good acting faster than those two things. Or thinking more about what bills you can pay if you book the job rather than the work itself. It's not unlike frantically running in place.
Edoga has not, however, given up on career goals. It is her view of them that has changed.
"I truly want to act and I truly want to be great at it, but the end of the day, I may get hired or I may not – but what I can do is take control of my career," she says. If she doesn't get cast in something, she creates her own projects, sometimes performing a solo show, other times writing a sitcom with her husband, but she doesn't wait for something to happen.
She recently auditioned for the role of Ruth in the A Noise Within's production of Loraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun and spent long hours preparing for the role, throwing everything she had into it, studying the part into the wee hours of the morning.
"I loved every minute of the audition process, because I know I did the work, and no, I didn't get it," she says. "But I had a blast working on trying to get it, and the difference for me now is that I've created a life where I can spend hours working on those sides, sleep in a little bit so I wasn't totally exhausted and go into the auditions totally focused, and when I was done, return to running my company." Totally unlike her earlier audition experiences, when she hardly had time to think about the work at all, and left most of them feeling unsatisfied.
So an honest question Edoga believes we must all answer is what exactly are we trying to achieve, and then develop a clearly defined career strategy that helps fulfill those goals. Maybe you want to write and produce your own project, maybe you're doing showcases because you want to find an agent, but there has to be a game plan behind your pursuit.
She won't accept a student telling her that they don't have time for "this financial stuff, I need to focus on pursuing my acting" because she says she's made all the same excuses herself, and there is no perfect time to do this work.
"I am an actor and that means I have to keep studying and growing and trying new things and failing and trying again, but I am also a human being who has to have a relationship with money," Edoga says. The Abundance Bound curriculum was inspired by other financial books and most of the ideas in it are not new. Edoga has tried to specifically tailor those lessons for people working in the entertainment industry, which is very different from most other careers.
"I want people to have the support and tools and community to keep walking on this road, it's not like, oh, come take my class and you will be done forever. You will have the tools and understanding, but you will have to make choices and practice always."
A former student called Edoga a few weeks ago after her savings were seized because of a past issue she ignored. All of the substantial progress she'd made since taking Edoga's class seemed destroyed, and the terrified voice message the student left was difficult to understand. She was in tears, nearly falling apart.
She was calmer, but still very sad when Edoga reached her a few days later. But as the conversation continued, the woman began to calm down, and it was she who started coming up with solutions to her problem, not Edoga.
And that, says Edoga, is awesome, because, "yes, when our savings account is seized we're going to feel horrible, but during that 15 minute conversation my student moved from being a victim, to thinking, okay, this is what happened, and here is what I am going to do about it.
We shouldn't go to a place of thinking I'm a horrible person when we suffer a setback, according to Edoga. It's an ongoing process. Find solutions, and keep going.
Abundance Bound has been around for 15 years now and at this point does no advertising. People find out about the classes mostly through word of mouth. And as the years have gone by, a community has begun to develop between Edoga's students. Several clients have established creative relationships with one another – for instance, one former student cast her in their film, another opened a barbershop in Los Feliz that counts Edoga's son as one of its customers.
Edoga encourages this process, but doesn't try to control it. "No one has any obligation to hire another graduate," she says, "but why not investigate those relationships, provide some structure and create a community without forcing it to happen."
"You have to believe with total certainty that you will achieve the things you want to achieve in life," Edoga says. "And I genuinely believe that most of us have what it takes to change our lives, but we need support and we need education and we need to able to look at what is true right now." Probably this is why she never makes any claims to being a financial wizard, or an investment manager. She provides you with tools and the knowledge, but the rest is up to you.
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