I graduated a top ten college in a good job market, with actionable skills and a decent portfolio of work - and yet, out of 300 jobs and internships I applied to, I only landed one.
It all worked out well enough. That first internship, with a small production company in New York, was a sufficient bridge to move me to a big city and keep me in the US, even though it didn't morph into a full-time job as I had hoped. But, with a little luck, it launched me into a full-time video editor position at a nonprofit, which I parlayed into an acceptable freelancing career.
A couple of years ago I had a meaningful insight that continues to have reverberations today. You can't move up without stepping up.
But step up to what? You have to define what you want to be doing.
I knew my end goal (or rather, one end goal) was to direct film and television.
I could have had a successful career as a video editor - and if I really wanted to, I could have transitioned to film editing, and perhaps years from now I might have been able to step into film directing.
But it seemed just as likely, if not more, that I would end up locked into editing as a career.
It seemed obvious, perhaps in ways that wouldn't be obvious to previous generations, that the only way to become a director was to start doing it. (I do think millenials and younger generations diverge in pursuing such ambitions more directly, as opposed to pursuing the "safer" paths of paying your dues and moving up a ladder.)
So I did. Soon enough, two problems unfolded:
- Directing fiction doesn't pay (at least, not for a long time). Do I have to be a starving artist?
- Having a successful career as a director doesn't necessarily mean that you make successful films, and even when it does, what do those films accomplish? Do I want to make entertainment that distracts people from important work, is that what I should be doing?
The first problem is the eternal question of the artist, and the most common answer tends to be: you do other things to sustain the art. That's fine, I'm good enough at other things.
But the second problem was more existential, and not necessarily solvable.
Filmmaking is an expensive endeavor, drawing up resources that could be used in more meaningful ways. It would be difficult for me to justify working as a hired gun just to build or sustain a career. Can I just make the films I believe in? Sure, but that might mean I can't survive from directing alone.
So what else should I be doing with my time?
I've pondered on this for many months now, continuing to freelance, while working on my screenplays on the side, and yet not doing either very intensely because of a pandemic that has brought film and video production to its knees.
I needed a resilient second career, that would help me capitalize on what I do well, doesn't exhaust my creative energy, and get me paid.
In defining that (which is a work in progress, but for me is shaping up to be educational video production), I came up with a fun framework I call WELP, which revolves around four key questions?
- What can I do Well?
- What comes Easy to me?
- What do I Love doing?
- What can I get Paid to do?
As I continue to pursue creative work that may not be sustainable in and of itself for a long time to come, this is a helpful way for me to think about other work I can be doing that I am content to do.
Incidentally, much of the video editing and production work I've done over the years has been for educational purposes, and I've always loved being able to use those skills to an end that has such a clear, positive impact.
As I become more intentional about my path forward, it's also quite comforting to know that my original career of choice doesn't necessarily have to fulfill my financial sustainability (or the high bar of impactful work).