On July 8th, I packed up the majority of my life, shoved it into a car, and began the cross-country trip to Los Angeles. I had no job lined up or opportunity awaiting me. My Dad and I spent a week driving through the US, stopping at Niagara Falls, Pikes Peak, the Grand Canyon, and a couple others along the way. If you’re moving somewhere, I highly recommend making it into a sightseeing adventure.
Five months later, I have a job; I’ve worked on some extremely cool projects, and met an amazing group of people who have been welcoming and supportive. Starting a new life and career is challenging anywhere, so here are some things I’ve learned that made it easier.
I’ve found that making lists is the best thing ever. If you already do this, congratulations – I wish I had figured it out sooner. There is something so fulfilling about creating a list, and then crossing off each item as it’s completed. Having a list gives you the feeling that you accomplished something that day, even when work is slow. I like to add simple tasks to it as well, such as “get groceries”, or “take a walk”. Anything that I know I need to do that day, but might not do without some prompting, goes on the list. And at the end of the day, I feel productive and satisfied.
Having lists helps create routine, and routine is something difficult to come by when you’re working freelance or assisting someone with odd work hours. All of us are creatures of habit, and routine helps create that habit. Although people tend to complain about their 9-5 jobs, at least they know when they’re on or off the clock. Having that certainty creates momentum, allowing you to progress through the day with direction. Too often in creative fields, you’re always on the clock, and this can leave you with no direction and no “break” in sight. To balance out a wacky work schedule, try and make the rest of your life somewhat consistent.
Competitors Or Allies?
At Berklee, we talk about how we shouldn’t view our peers as competitors, but as allies, and I’m not sure that really sunk in until now. Teachers often tell us that when your friends have too much work, they may pass it on to you. While this is true, I think it’s so much more than that. All of my audio friends comprise the support network I have in LA, and they understand my career, my goals, and me better than anyone else. I can express frustration, excitement, or just geek out about some piece of gear or music. They’re the people who care about my success the most, and are willing to go the extra mile to make it happen.
Unfortunately, it’s very easy to become jealous over an awesome opportunity or project a friend has, and become upset and frustrated as a result. A lot of my friends work on amazing projects, and my initial reaction is often “I want to be doing that.” But dwelling on that doesn’t do any good. Instead, just support them like how you’d want them to support you, ask them questions, and learn from their success. Besides, you’re going to hang out with them anyways. Don’t isolate yourself by becoming bitter and jealous.
Many of us have already put over a hundred thousand dollars into our careers by attending college such as Berklee, USC, NYU, or any place like it. In addition to this, we’ve bought gear upon gear that allows us to create the art we’ve spent so much time learning about. As a result, our funds are quite low, and many of us become frugal with money.
Now we’re graduates, and we need work. Unfortunately, the spending continues a bit longer as you make the first steps into your career. And that’s okay! Just be smart about it. We need to meet people to succeed, so we invest gas money, event prices, drinks, more gear, time (the most valuable), and much more. We invest in our careers by moving to where the work is, by purchasing and learning the gear so we’re prepared when opportunities arrive, by attending parties and events. So what if an event is 15 dollars? Just don’t go out to eat once and you’ll have spent the same amount. I believe in being smart with money, and I don’t spend like crazy, but to avoid going to all industry events because there is a price tag associated with it is detrimental to your career. The money saved isn’t worth the opportunity missed.
Industry of Illusions
So much of succeeding in a creative field is how you present yourself, and the people who do the best are the ones who present themselves in the strongest light. First impressions are always important, but it seems so much more vital here in LA, where people hardly have time to answer emails or return messages. As I grew up, I feel like the lines between modesty and self-deprecation were blurred, and I’ve noticed that myself and a lot of my peers tend to brush off what we’re doing as “nothing much”, or “not important”. But this creates the illusion that you aren’t important, which is exactly what you don’t want.
I’ve started introducing myself with more confidence, owning what I do, and presenting everything in its best light. People here subconsciously categorize you as either a “somebody” or a “nobody”, often based on the work you do and how you talk about it. If you’ve worked on a well-known project, be proud of that no matter how small your role was. Being able to name-drop connections and work is huge, and people tend to take you more seriously when you have larger credits to your name.
That being said, I don’t think people should be discouraged if they don’t have those huge credits. Everyone has to start somewhere, and if someone talks down to you as a result, they aren’t worth working with. At the end of the day, clients and employers want to work with people who they trust to do an amazing job, and they’ll always go with the person who portrays skill and confidence.
Being surrounded by the entertainment world is a great learning experience. Organization, investments, and great friends have all helped make the beginning of my career a lot easier. That being said, everyone’s path is different. Just be genuine, confident, proactive. Things tend to work themselves out when you put the effort in.