Let’s set the scene:
You’ve been cruising comfortably for a while now. College is a few miles behind you. You’re setup on your own. The cool apartment, the social circle, the career. Maybe you’ve even got your very own IRA… Adult life is in place. You’ve got a track, a trajectory, and a title. You know who you are and where you’re going. And so does everyone else around you.
Then one day it happens. You wake and realize just how completely miserable you are. You’re going through the motions simply because it’s routine. You’ve programmed yourself, reinforced the programming and today, for some reason, you’re waking to the dissatisfaction. Quarter life crises? Tragic missteps in your career choice? Maybe you’re just not getting laid enough?
Whatever the source, you’re now sober to the fact that your life is not bringing you the happiness you were sure it would.
So, you’ve got a choice - you can lay back down in the bed you’ve made where, if you’re lucky, you’ll wake up in twenty years depressed enough to get some help before divorcing your wife and buying a sports car. Or, you can walk into the fire. You can crank up the Michael Jackson, take a long, deep look at the man in the mirror, then ask yourself the difficult question: “What do I really want to do with my life?”
For me, that awakening happened a little over a year ago. At the time I was four years out of college, and had been having the time of my life here in Los Angeles. In 2006, after I graduated from school in Florida, I drove across the country, to Hollywood, to pursue my dream of becoming a film producer.
That dream started in high school. I was fortunate enough to be a part of a high school that started what was (and probably still is) a very progressive media arts / technology program. What that meant for me was that at 14 years-old, I was writing, directing, shooting and editing content that would air on our local Fox affiliate. I was editing on an Avid, shooting with industry-level cameras, and most importantly, learning how to tell stories for the screen. I was young, passionate and unstoppable.
Then came college. The natural choice for me was to study film and I was lucky enough to be accepted into film program at the University of Central Florida - a school away from home, but close enough to bring laundry back on the weekends. I had four great years. I was exposed to ideas, people and processes that absolutely changed who I was and how I approached the world. Among these changes were distinctions about how I wanted to operate in my profession - I had to answer that question about who I wanted to be when I grew up. And, at the time, I believed that I wanted to be a movie producer.
So, another four years go by, and I found myself right in the middle an amazing ride. I spent a few years as a Hollywood assistant, working for some amazing people - mentors and bosses - and now I’d landed a job as a Creative Executive at a production company. I was on track to climb right up that Hollywood ladder. My five, ten and twenty year plans were right in front of me.
The job, by day, was all about finding material for my company to produce which meant reading scripts round the clock, meeting with agents, managers & studio executives, and taking pitches from writers. It was a hustle, and a far cry from actual movie making. But, hey, these were the dues. This is what I knew I had to do to get to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
And then the day came. That pot of gold didn’t seem to shine so brightly anymore.
I kept finding myself wondering if yesterday had ended. I was wearing different clothes, the calendar looked different, but everything else was the same. I felt like I was reading the same thing, meeting the same people and having the same conversations.
I told myself that surely everyone hits this wall. Everyone gets stifled and has to do some things they’re not happy about, but that’s ok because it’s all just the means to an end, right? The really scary part was that end started to not look so good anymore. The more time I spent on the inside, the more clear the picture became to me. In reality, the people I looked up to were making a ton of money but they were, in practice, doing almost exactly what I was doing - and they were no happier. The further up the ladder I climbed, the further away I was going to move from the things that I love; the things that I really care about and make me happy. All of the perks were very seductive. But, at the end of the day, I wanted to be on set, behind the camera. I wanted to be the guy working with actors, telling the story with my camera, using my voice to move audiences. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had made a misstep somewhere. Something was off, and I had to fix it.
So, now it’s one year later - where am I? Let’s start with where I’m not. I’m not working at that production company anymore. I’m not sitting in an office, I’m not reading scripts that I hate and I’m not waiting for the end of my work day anymore.
I took some serious time to soul search and figure out what it is I really want to be doing. What I learned is that I wasn’t far off. I wasn’t in the wrong industry, I was just playing someone else’s game. I was sitting on the sidelines hoping that things would feel better when I got more money, more power, or more notches on my belt.
I realized that my real dream is to be a director. It’s to be behind that camera telling the stories that I’m passionate about. It’s something I believe I’ve know in my heart for a long time, but have been too risk-averse to do anything about for far too long.
As exciting as that realization is, it’s fu*king scary. It’s scary to make a shift into an entirely new discipline in your career and professional identity. I don’t have a j-o-b anymore. Aside from a few short films, some corporate / industrial work and a documentary, I’ve not been practicing directing for a long time. And, well, I might totally suck at it. I might look like a complete asshole for a while. At some point, I might even have to take shitty side work to pay my bills. I might flounder, be broke, and be laughed at. Life might not be easy, comfortable or safe for a long time.
In the end, I’ve decided that I’m ok with those things. I’m ok looking like I I don’t have my shit together for a while. I’m ok walking into the unknown because otherwise, I’m not really living. I’m not really doing what I’m here to do. And ultimately, I wouldn’t be happy if I didn’t jump now.
In my journey of self discovery, I found inspiration in this quote from James Cameron:
“In art and exploration, failure has to be an option. Because it is a leap of faith. And no important endeavor that required innovation was done without risk. You have to be willing to take those risks […] in whatever you are doing, failure is an option. But, fear is not.”