How To Get Ahead In Your Creative Career
You can’t always control your creative career…but you can be ready to make the most of career building opportunities.
These summer months are a time of great turmoil for many young graduates, emerging from the comfort of 20 years of systematic education, now faced with the wide blue yonder of the uncertain future and wrestling with ‘what they’re going to do with their lives’ and exactly how they are going to ‘make it.’
If there is one thing that seems pretty certain about a creative career, it is that you can’t really control it’s trajectory, but you can be ready (or not) to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way. Here a few thoughts on how to get ahead in your own creative career – advice for current and future video editors, photographers, producers and other creative professionals.
Faith, Hope and Reason
As a creative entering into the marketplace for the first time there are a few things that you need to come to grips with. First of all you cannot always control your career trajectory, but you can be smart, prepared and ‘lucky’ in your career.
Why do I think you can’t control your career?
One job leads to another, or not.
One connection leads to another, or not.
A phone call out of the blue can change everything.
Months of pounding the pavement on a project can lead nowhere.
Life is more random than we give it credit for so we should be prepared for everything not to go according to plan, or at least not our plan. And that’s totally ok. If you go with the flow, instead of fighting it, you’ll have a much better time and not be so worried when its not all working out quite how you hoped.
So what can you do to best prepare yourself for opportunities?
I think its important to set goals, some audacious goals, but be flexible with the time and method of getting there. You and you alone are the forward thrust in your career and it won’t be handed to you on a platter. Be active in pursuing your goals, knowing that you are moving forward but in a zig zag fashion. One thing can add to another in unexpected ways but you probably won’t get there by a direct route.
Secondly there tends to be two ways of engaging with the world. One way is that the world is a scary place and you should live cautiously. This thinking means you should shore up for yourself securities of money and always make job safety your first priority. Conversely, you can live your life more openly, viewing the world as a place to be engaged with and a place to make your mark in. If you can start thinking more like the second camp you’ll have more fun and be less afraid. All you need to have starting out is a bit of faith in yourself and your abilities, hope that everything will work out against the odds and a reasonable, yet flexible plan of attack.
Making Your Own Luck
“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” – Seneca
Have you ever noticed how some people (other people) tend to get lucky more than you? They always seem to be in the right place at the right time, getting to work on the best jobs and with the coolest creatives.
You can make your own luck. If you’re prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that randomly come your way you can get ‘lucky’ much more often. So what’s the best way to prepare?
First of all, having an open mind as to what an opportunity looks like, means you’re more prepared to spot them. As Thomas Edison said ”Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”. Being prepared to put in the hours of hard and humble work and doing it all with a sense of humor and not entitlement, makes for 90 percent of having the right attitude. Your attitude matters more than your aptitude.
As an example, I was working recently at a post production house that had two interns. One had been there a while and carried herself with an air of over confidence, she acted like every task was a little bit of a burden and she came across as a bit annoying. The other was always hard at work, happy to do any job no matter how mundane and in any spare moment that she had, asked if she could sit in to watch what I was doing, asked questions and seemed generally hungry to learn. Now which one of those two interns do you think I’m likely to recommend to someone else as an assistant? How you conduct yourself as a person is far more influential on your career trajectory than what you know. People work with people they like, and they can train those people to learn new things far more easily than they can train someone to have a whole new personality.
Nobody knows anything – but everyone knows someone.
In every single sphere of life, what really matters is people. Get good with people and you’ll get ahead in your career. Talent will get you there in the long run but its over rated in the short term. The production manager’s nephew is more likely to be hired as a runner than your CV in a stack of CVs. You need to get out there and make your own connections. Attend user groups, join professional organizations, be bold and reach out to other creatives in your community that have the type of career you aspire to.
Community, networking (in the nicest sense of the term) and being good with people are what matters.
“Nobody knows anything…… Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.” -William Goldman
To, circle back round to the beginning of this post…
If you’re fresh from university and looking to find your way in the world remember what screenwriter William Goldman said: “Nobody knows anything.”
At this point in your life, people will start weighing in, telling you what to do, how important making money is, that you need to think about career etc, etc, etc. Of course you should listen to their advice and take it for what it’s worth, but be concerned about your chances of achieving the career you want if you only make ‘the safe choices’.
There is no one way to make it in life. You can break the rules others think are set in stone. Cut your own path, make your own luck and be ready for and open to the opportunities that come your way.
Have advice to share for creative professionals?
Share your thoughts in the comments below!