Sometimes Plan B might bring you the ultimate fulfillment.

I didn’t always want to be a copywriter. As a teen, I was determined to follow in the footsteps of my mum and sister and be a dancer-slash-singer-slash-actor. So that’s what I did. Until I didn’t. At 30, I changed careers and I thank Buddha every day that I did.

The thing with life goals is they can and should change. Sometimes it’s in the letting go of one aspiration that we’re able to finally forge a path to fulfillment. My Plan B helped me land exactly where I’m meant to be. I’m now 41 with a thriving business doing work I genuinely love (cue the harp).

Hey Mum, I’m gonna be a star!

My mum is a dance teacher so I started dancing at the age of three. She wasn’t your regular dance mum, she never pushed me to dance. I did it because I genuinely loved it. The lycra, the hair gel, the sequins and winged liner – I was in girly girl heaven. Throughout my childhood I performed in musicals, plays and dance festivals. It taught me discipline and brought me immense joy.

A black and white picture of two female teenagers with their mother. Jacqui McCallum is on the left with her mother in the middle and sister on the right. They are smiling to the camera. On front of them is a table full of dance trophies. The teenagers are wearing matching dance costumes.

I grew up dancing with my mum and sister and wanted to forge a career on the stage.

As a teen, I was highly academic and graduated at the top of my very-competitive-private-Jewish-school class for English and History. I got an early offer to study journalism at South Africa’s prestigious Rhodes University but decided, much to the dismay of my teachers, to turn it down and head to arts school.

I spent three years studying musical theatre at Tshwane University. After graduation, I moved from South Africa to Australia expecting the theatre industry to welcome me with open arms. It did not.

An immigrant gets a reality check

After moving to Oz, I couldn’t get an audition let alone an agent. When I did manage to bulldoze my way to an audition, I got lost amidst the air kisses of the Melbourne musical theatre clique. I went to an arts school no one had heard of and I had an accent no one could place. By the time I fronted up to the audition panel, I would be mid-way through a serious crisis of self-confidence. And it got worse.

A black and white image of Jacqui McCallum at the age of 20 before changing careers. She is leaning on her arm on a stage wearing fishnet stockings, a black leotard and a black feather boa. Her hair is down and she is looking at the camera.

At 20, I was performing in South Africa, getting regular gigs and having a blast. Then I moved to Australia and everything changed.

I was told I was “too heavy” despite being a size 10 at the time. I was told I had a great voice but needed to work on my dancing. I was told I was a great dancer but needed to work on my voice. Sometimes I’d sing to a row of people who never looked up from their notes and talked loudly through my entire song.

With every rejection, my sense of self-worth diminished until I started resenting what I once loved. I would get into such a state during an audition that my voice would quiver and I’d fumble through lines I’d rehearsed and rehearsed. My inner critic was saying, ‘You’re not good enough’ on repeat. I remember sitting alone in yet another room full of indifferent strangers, clutching my sheet music thinking, I can’t do this anymore.

The pursuit of Plan B

When I had my pre-audition epiphany I was working as an assistant accountant for a government agency so I could, you know, eat and pay rent. I did a good job but hated it. Spreadsheets and I were like Taylor and Jake G, never meant to be.

My other great love had always been writing. I’d been writing theatre reviews in exchange for tickets and getting a great response so I decided to give freelance writing a go. I enrolled to study professional writing and editing at RMIT and the classroom felt immediately like home.

My lecturer, esteemed journalist Sian Prior encouraged me to send one of my political essays to The Age. I anticipated rejection but two editors ended up fighting over who got to publish it. And I got paid 700 bucks (#glorydaysofprint).

A woman’s hands are typing on a laptop next to a blue cup and saucer filled with black coffee. The woman is wearing a blue and white polka dot shirt and has a ring on her index finger.

When I started pursuing writing as a profession rather than a hobby, everything started falling into place. It just felt right.

I was offered a regular gig writing opinion pieces for Fairfax Media which gave me the confidence to apply for a full-time communications job in the health sector. For a welcome change, the panel loved me and I got the job.

Learning new skills and moving on up

I realised if I wanted to have a real crack in this communications biz, I needed to expand my theoretical knowledge. I enrolled to study a Master of Communication at RMIT that I completed with high distinction while working, renovating and raising two kids under two (I do not recommend).

Within three years of hanging up my tap shoes, I was promoted to a communications manager position overseeing a multi-faceted team and reporting to the CEO. My talent was recognised. I was seen. I was valued. And by golly it felt good after all those years of feeling ‘less than’.

When I changed careers, everything fell into place. The angst was gone. The self-doubt was gone. The joy and fulfillment were back.

I often think about what my life would look like if I’d studied journalism straight out of school. But then I think of all the lessons I’ve learned and the resilience I’ve gained through my life experiences. I gave dream number one a red hot crack. It didn’t work out but at least I never have to wonder, what if?

I’ve performed in multiple amateur theatre shows over the years, playing lead roles and bloody loving it. I’ve also landed on my feet and found a career that has brought me success while satisfying my soul. It took a while but I found my happy. And really, what more could you want?

I was offered a regular gig writing opinion pieces for Fairfax Media which gave me the confidence to apply for a full-time communications job in the health sector. For a welcome change, the panel loved me and I got the job.