Lawyer turned full time musical theatre student, aged 28. Now there is a sentence I never thought I’d write, and the very reason I love publishing these stories each week. Lou Spargo threw the towel in on her legal career to learn how to tap dance, sing and entertain people. Today she is an actor, MC, speaker and public speaking coach.
Initially riding the tide of a family embedded in professional services and medicine, Lou pushed back to wholeheartedly jump in to the arts. While her contemporaries where earning big bucks, buying houses and settling down, she moved back in with Mum and Dad, and learned to live with less while she chartered a new course.
A key to the transition was carefully curating her own ‘Board of Directors’ to give her the support and encouragement she needed. Having your wise council or support crew is an essential element to making a leap, because no one gets through this on their own!
As Lou notes ‘energy creates energy’. I’m not a physicist but I’m sure there’s some law out there that supports this observation. Putting your energy into something you’re curious about, will return energy and build momentum to keep pushing forward. Take a moment and think about the types of activities, tasks, people and ideas that give you energy rather than drain it. That there is your leap in the making.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
My first career ambition was hairdressing. I honed my skills on my Barbies, the asymmetrical look was big back then.
My father (a lawyer) opened my eyes to an alternate career path and one day suggested I could be Australia’s first female High Court Judge. At the age of seven, I had no idea what a High Court Judge was or what one did but it sounded really cool and made people laugh when I told them so I stuck with that for a few years.
I also wanted to represent Australia at the 2000 Olympics for horse riding and swimming. Being an elite sportsperson in multiple disciplines simultaneously seemed quite achievable at the time.
When I was a bit older, the lofty heights of the High Court lost their appeal (or maybe the joke ran dry) but the law continued to pique my interest. Being a lawyer seemed logical, my dad was a lawyer, I’d get to wear snazzy business suits every day and it was a well-respected, financially secure, ‘sensible’ profession.
What did/do you study?
I studied Arts/Law with a major in Political Science at the University of Melbourne. Politics continues to intrigue and dishearten me in equal measure. Several years later I studied Musical Theatre and enrolled in ‘Showfit’, the full-time course at Centrestage Performing Arts School.
What has been your most scary/courageous leap you’ve ever made (preferably in your business/career/life direction)?
Going back to study musical theatre at 28 years of age was one of the scariest and definitely the most financially foolish decisions of my life to date. In contrast to a lot of my friends who were settling down with long-term partners, buying houses and getting promotions at work, I was learning to tap dance. It was fabulous.
What were you doing before you made your leap?
I started my career working as an Articled Clerk (lawyer on training wheels) and then a Solicitor in the Commercial Litigation team at Mills Oakley Lawyers. I also had a short stint with Slattery Media in a more general business role.
Who have been the biggest 3 – 5 influences in your life, in terms of your career and doing work?
My family – Without a doubt my family remain the biggest influence in my work life. My parents have enjoyed long, successful careers in traditional professional roles. We joke about dad suggesting I become a High Court Judge but he’s always been so passionate about the law and this obviously rubbed off on me.
Whilst I didn’t follow my mum into medicine, she remains an incredible role model in my life. I’m really lucky. She is not only an amazing doctor (a GP) but she fills her days with so many other interests and passions. She’s like the Energizer bunny on crack! Mum’s ability to cram stuff into her waking hours is unparalleled and she has the most extraordinary ‘can-do’ upbeat energy and zest for life.
My two brothers are very different career-wise, one has followed my mum into medicine and the other is in construction. Doors have always opened for the boys because they work hard, have no ego and are smart and good with people.
My family inspires me and I put a lot of pressure on myself to be successful in my own field of endeavour. It’s both a wonderful, and sometimes terribly intimidating family, of which to be a part but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
My friend Maria – Maria is the most selfless, intelligent and generous human I have had the privilege to know. An extraordinary woman of principle and integrity, Maria has helped guide me as I ventured off the corporate path and into the Arts. Her steadfast support and encouragement when I have, at times, doubted myself is immeasurable. A supremely talented actor herself, Maria not only inspires me as an artist but also as a fellow human being to notice the detail in small moments and to see the beauty in expressing oneself creatively.
What did you have in place before you made the leap?
It’s no coincidence that it wasn’t until my late 20s that I had the confidence to go back and study. Part of me had wanted to study performance since I’d finished school but I Iacked the conviction to back myself in an industry that was fickle, unpredictable and uncertain. I also didn’t believe I was talented enough. Back then I thought it was all about talent too!
I can’t help but be immensely grateful for my legal training and the grounding and foundation it gave me at the start of my career. I am proud to be a lawyer as it allowed me to leap with a safety net when I ultimately ditched the ‘sensible career GPS’ and launched myself on the creative path.
What was your defining ‘I can’t do this anymore’ moment that led you to the leap?
As my dissatisfaction with the law grew, I got over the novelty of snazzy business suits and Friday night drinks and started to search for more meaning in my life. I will always recall attending a mediation with some clients, Jack and Faye, an elderly couple in litigation against a property lawyer who’d provided them with some negligent advice. They’d used their life savings to purchase some land to sub-divide and sell. There were issues with the sub-division, it went belly up and they were trying to get their money back. They were a lovely couple and had spent close to two years in litigation. Talk about a waste of time, their retirement had been completely soured by stress, exhaustion and legal bills.
I recall sitting with Faye just as she was about to sign the final settlement documents. I remarked that she must be glad to have this case almost over, once and for all. Faye’s response didn’t surprise me but illuminated a reality of my job I hadn’t really considered before.
‘Absolutely Lou! Every time I get a letter from your firm, anxiety overcomes me. I get so worried about what you’ve got to tell us next.’
I had written those letters that Faye dreaded receiving. She didn’t want me or my letters in her life, I was not the part of her day that brought joy, comfort or entertainment, no matter how well I did my job. Of course I was ultimately helping her in the end, and she did get a positive result, but I realised that I wanted to be the part of someone’s day that made them smile, laugh or engage with the world in a positive way, every day.
How did/do you overcome/work with the fear that comes with leaping? How do you decide to choose courage?
This is such a good question and it is bloody tricky! I can’t say that I’ve mastered it either but I think talking about the fear, the very real fear, is invaluable. I love hearing stories of other people’s leaps with change because we connect through shared experience.
Putting my authentic voice into the world as a writer and performer makes me feel vulnerable and out of my depth as I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. Accepting that there will be those who judge and criticise is hard but I remind myself in my sternest chest voice to feel the fear and do it anyway.
I often want things to be perfect and I have to remember that they don’t have to be. I now know my perfectionism is fear dressed up for a night out on the town and that can make me procrastinate. When something seems overwhelming, I now practise breaking a task into small bite-sized chunks to keep me moving forward. Momentum and energy create energy. As the saying goes, you don’t need to see the whole staircase to take the first step.
Also I strongly recommend you have a solid ‘Board of Directors.’ This is a carefully selected team of friends and family enlisted for their unconditional support, encouragement and, when it’s needed, straight talking advice and tough love.
How did you fund your leap?
As most of my friends were buying their first home, I moved back in with my mum and dad. They were amazing having me back. Personally I think they adored the novelty of a complicated, penniless and dysfunctional artist in the family!
I worked casually as a waitress and nanny. My income was pretty non-existent in comparison to what it had been. I learnt pretty quickly to go without certain luxuries…like waxing. Yep, hello boys! Did I mention I was single back then?!
What other leaps have you made?
I’ve recently expanded and broadened my services as a performer to include working as an MC and also coaching people in public speaking and presenting skills. They were areas where opportunities were organically starting to present themselves but intentionally marketing these services is a new thing for me and that’s been exciting.
What leaps didn’t work out? What did you do about it?
Every leap works out as it informs the next step and the next. I never think of something as failing because the experience is infinitely valuable. Life has plot twists and we grow, change and adapt and that’s a good thing. The reality of my creative journey has taken me in lots of different directions, some I never foresaw. In hindsight I now look upon my year going back to study musical theatre as just the beginning – the vehicle I used to change my life. I would not be in the position I am today without it.
What are you most fearful of? How do you deal with it?
I’m fearful of not being good enough and being laughed at. Therefore I’m incredibly self-deprecating and very good at playing the clown.
I would say though, that when I’m most confident and self-assured it’s because I’ve been disciplined and done the work. There is no substitute for preparation and hard yards.
How would you rate your level of happiness about making your leap?
1 being sad, 10 being rad.
9 – I don’t want to get too complacent in my state of rad-ness!
What’s the biggest upside to making the leap?
The pride that comes from the creative process fuels me. I’m also proud of demanding more for myself and not settling for a partially satisfying life. And finally, I love connecting with others through sharing my experience and hopefully inspiring them to take a leap of their own.
What’s the biggest downside to making the leap? And how do you get through it?
Self-doubt and anxiety plague me a bit. I keep telling them to rack off but they’re like the ugly step-sisters some days, they’re sneaky and hide in hard to reach places. Financially my career change has made things a bit more challenging too so it’s lucky I’m filthy rich with happiness!
What might be your next leap?
I’ve got plans in the works to start a podcast. I’ve been talking about it for long enough so it’s time I leapt into it!
What are your favourite words to live by?
Always try your best and be kind.
Who do you admire who also made the leap?
So many people come to mind but I’ll mention three in my life. My older brother Matt pulled off an inspirational forward flip in his mid 20’s from finance to medicine. My pal and go-getter Kate Hardwick recently started her own media agency and is kicking goals and Zara D’Cotta’s inspirational story from breast cancer diagnosis to starting her health and wellbeing blog ‘Oh My Goodness‘ is amazing.
A piece of advice for someone with an itch to leap?
When you start to choose what you really want, you live a different life. If you’ve got an itch to leap but you’re not sure, I’d say to imagine your life 10-20 years from now if you change nothing. What does it look like and how does it make you feel? Nothing is as scary as regret. As my mum loves to say ‘life is not a dress rehearsal’, so back yourself, scratch the itch and discover the person you dare to be.
Right now I’m:
Hearing: A snoring Labrador.
Eating: Lots of carbs.
Drinking: Tea. Nine times out of ten it’s a cup of tea.
Reading: Alternating between two autobiographies by sensational, inspiring women: Jane Caro and Amy Poehler.
Loving: Tim Minchin and his wise, witty, wonderful brain.
I have a question for you to ponder this week… what is the most outrageous thing you could do with your life? Go nuts. No overthinking. No post rationalising. No reality checks. Let your imagination run wild. Just free wheel for a moment. And let me know what you come up with.
P.S. Check out this great video interview with Lou by Seek.