Career Crisis

An anonymous reader1 writes in:

I’ve been an appreciative reader of the APA blog for several years, throughout which I also worked in television and film development and production as a production assistant. I originally went into the industry because I was in love with the idea of doing something for a living that was grounded but involved creative decision-making.

I left the industry about a year ago because I didn’t even see my bosses making any creative decisions; they were coordinating logistics and playing to the lowest common denominator audience desired by advertisers – basically what I was doing, but for more money and under more pressure. The long hours didn’t leave me time to do any of my own creative work (I’m a writer and photographer), or to have any kind of social life, for that matter. For the last almost-year, I’ve been doing some teaching and soul-searching (aka the ultimate pastime/disease of our generation). I’m not happy teaching, and can’t quite shake my vague tv/film dreams as I watch former coworkers move up and become “accomplished.”

Do you know anyone who left the industry with similar frustrations? How did they find creative fulfillment and pay their bills? As a Hollywood insider, have you heard any solid advice on grappling with this? As I see it, I have three options: 1) Kill the dream, find something else to do with my life and continue to write email stories for my friends. 2) Stay in the industry, keep paying my dues, and hope the right opportunity comes along someday, while loathing the mind-numbing day-to-day. 3) Find a flexible day job and do as much creative work of my own on the side as I possibly can.

Thanks for reading this book of first-world angst.

Let’s all take a moment to thank the Lord for our first-world problems, and the fact that we’re not being chased by lions.

This is the worst part about being in this Industry. You just want someone to tell you, “Everything’s going to be okay.” Hell, I’d settle for, “It’s not going to be okay. Quit wasting your time.”

There is a very good chance that you’ll never end up doing anything creatively fulfilling, especially if you want to become a writer. Besides requiring innate talent and hard work, landing your first writing assignment requires a lot of luck, and an agreeable personality, too.2

If you quit, you’ll probably always wonder if you could have made it, if you’d only stuck with it just a little longer. If you tough it out, but never get that career break, you’ll find yourself in middle age, wonder why you spent so much time for so little money on a pointless career.

It’s completely unknowable.

Well, not completely. Take an honest look at yourself and your career. Are you advancing, at all, towards where you want to be? Are there people reading your scripts besides your friends and family? Is your writing really good enough?

If the writing thing doesn’t happen, will you be happy in your current job? Will you be content being promoted to uncreative positions?

Then look at your life. Do you really feel your social life is lacking? Do you need that? That’s not something that’s really going to change over time.

Also, look at your options. You were obviously able to get a teaching position. You have assistant experience; maybe you could be an assistant in another industry. Or you could go back to school and study something else entirely.

In short, calculate your odds for success; decide whether you’ll be happy (or content) if you’re not successful. Weigh that against your potential happiness in other fields.

But of course, we’re terrible at predicting whether we’ll be happy or not. Which is why it’s so hard to know if you’ve made the right decision.

Basically, what I’m saying is, I know tons of people in your position, and I have no good way of resolving it.

Being a grown up sucks.

Footnotes    (↩ returns to text)

  1. Been getting a lot of these lately.
  2. You don’t have to have all of these things, but no successful writer has none of them.
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4 Responses

  1. I just want to say, I am going through the same thing right now. I’m not making any money to support myself and feel like I am at a crossroads as to whether I keep on trying to succeed in the entertainment industry or I find something else. The problem is I don’t think I would be happy working in any other industry yet at the same time I am so unhappy in my current job. I don’t feel like I can offer any advice but to say I know how you feel and it sucks.

  2. Lauren, I have suggestions! I’ve had a variety of entry-level roles in the industry, and was able to do plenty of jumping around with some good old-fashioned spinning – the lifeblood of Hollywood. When applying for a position that’s outside of my past experience, I stack my resume with relevant experiences, even frankly minimally relevant ones. In your example, maybe highlight ANY things you’ve done that were relevant to working at a talent agency (even just mentioning being thick-skinned, good at multi-tasking, and excellent at taking initiative in your cover letter with some back-up examples might help).

    But it sounds like you have the resume thing down. At the interview, before they even ask you that question about your B.A. in animation, they probably ask you this awful question: “So, tell us about yourself,” right? In your case it’s an awesome chance for you to crush their confusion before it’s voiced (which they want, otherwise why would they have called you in for an interview in the first place?). You could say something along the lines of, “You can see that I have a strong background in the industry. The bulk of my experience has been in animation, but this got me excited about [talent management; promos; publicity; whatever] because through that experience I did a lot of… [spinning of whatever skill you think will get them nodding – even if whatever it is is something you did one day for like 20 minutes]. It’s not lying, exactly – just expressing an enthusiasm for the opportunity you’re interviewing for. You know you can do the job. And they just want to know you can both do job and not leave them in the lurch if an opportunity comes along in animation.

    There’s also the possibility that they only mention your B.A. because it stands out and they’re not starved for good interview questions. Perhaps your facial expression or response is less than confident, and this is what’s hurting the interview? Project confidence and don’t apologize – it’s amazing how far this goes (almost scary-far).

  3. I don’t want to be the one comment here that sh*ts on your point, but I have been in this reader’s position for at least 4 years now and have come across some additional problems after taking a step back and making a decision. My choice was that I’d be pretty happy doing almost anything in the industry and so, having a lot of experience in administrative assistant type roles, I tried to break away from strictly animation, (my initial dream,) and applied for jobs at talent agencies, publicity, live action TV shows, film, etc. I got a few interviews and they all ended up rejecting me because of one thing: This is not what I truly wanted to do with my life. They saw right through me. Even though I was widening my horizon, keeping a positive outlook, and trying to open new doors, these people seemed to shove me back and claim I was not welcome. I actually got this TWICE: “I see you have a B.A. in screenwriting and animation, so, why did you apply for this position? We’re a talent agency . . .” followed by confused look and, before I could open my mouth to answer, rejection. What do I answer to something like that?

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