I had this grand plan when I moved out to Los Angeles in 2010.
Want to hear it?
Year 1 – Survive. Write a lot. Don’t move back to Albany.
Year 2 – Stop waiting tables. Get an industry job.
Year 3 – Get representation.
Year 4 – Work on a television show OR sell a spec.
Writing this list down is a bit embarrassing. It’s hard to look at what I didn’t accomplish yet. I fell short of those big goals (get representation, work on a TV show, sell a spec).
Complete air balls.
Even some of those “easier” goals I only just accomplished:
I thought about moving back to Albany during Year 1… but didn’t.
I did stop waiting tables… only to have to ask for my job back, a year later. When I couldn’t find an industry job.
Then I quit again.
In my mind, Year 1 to Year 4 was a much neater journey. I didn’t expect the detours in casting, in physical production, unemployment, management.
It was never a straight shot along that grand career plan of mine.
Jungle Gyms Not Ladders
Sheryl Sandberg calls today’s career path a jungle gym, not a ladder.
“Ladders are limiting. Jungle gyms offer more creative exploration. There are many ways to get to the top of a jungle gym. The ability to forge a unique path with occasional dips, detours and even dead ends presents a better chance for fulfillment.”
She also advised against too rigid of a career plan. A rigid career plan only takes into account the opportunities currently available to you.
7 Step Hollywood Career Anti-Plan
The jungle gym metaphor has been true for me. In that vein, I thought I’d include a simple, 7-step Hollywood Career Anti-Plan. These are lessons I’ve learned from my mentors. I don’t think it’s easier to follow than the plan above, but it’s definitely more practical.
Will this Career Anti-Plan work for you? I can’t really say. You can read more about my trajectory here, if that helps.
Also, keep in mind: I learned that career success doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, and happiness doesn’t necessarily lead to career success.
If that resonates, please keep reading.
If it doesn’t, the following 7 Step Hollywood Career Anti-Plan is unlikely to change your mind:
1. Throw It Away
Dennis tried explaining to me what gave him an advantage in writing at the start of his career:
“I was okay with failing. I didn’t get precious about the work. If they told me it sucked, I threw it away and tried again. Lot of other people at workshops, they did it for therapy. They had egos about the writing. People would tell ‘em it sucked, and they’d go make tweaks to it. Just throw it out. When I realized this, I knew that I had an advantage.”
Lesson: Don’t polish turds. Don’t let your ego get in the way of the work.
2. Keep learning.
I wrote to Ellie Shoja for advice on blogging and writing about the entertainment industry. Here’s part of what she said:
“Keep learning. Even if you’ve done this for 30 years, keep learning. Attend workshops, go to panel discussions, join a writers group (if you’re a writer). And when you go to these things, be teachable. Say to yourself: ‘I am teachable. There is something here that I can learn.’ And enter every opportunity with the understanding that you don’t know everything, and that you are here to learn.”
Lesson: Across the board, the people I respect most continue to invest in themselves by reading, studying, and surrounding themselves with new thinkers.
3. Schedule Your Week
Scott Dinsmore’s method for scheduling his week brought clarity and focus to my work. And deeper calm during time off. Without fail, I put myself through my version of this planning at the start of every week. I’ll try writing down my version someday. We’ll see if it makes it on the schedule.
Lesson: Plan your week. Use Scott Dinsmore’s method to get started.
All the time. Don’t hold back. Don’t wait. Doesn’t matter the medium or subject matter.
Lesson: Spend the first two hours of your day, everyday, producing.
Lose as much of the baggage as possible. Physical, mental, and emotional. I flesh this out more here, but here’s a quick primer:
Physical – If you haven’t touched it in a year, throw it out or donate it.
Mental – Your memory is shit. Write it down.
Emotional – Forgive him or her. They don’t need to know.
Lesson: I believe the amount of work you put out into the universe is inversely proportional to the amount of baggage you carry. Just my theory.
6. Add Value to Others
Seems like a no-brainer. It isn’t.
Because it’s not easy. You can’t just say, “let me know if there’s anything I can do to help.” That’s not adding value. That’s asking for directions.
If you want to see how much work this is, read #5, here.
Lesson: Start small. Add value to one person today. Send them an article they like. Tomorrow, do it again. There, now you’ve started.
I think balance is underrated. Strength comes from balance. Ask top-performing athletes. Balance (two feet planted, weight constantly flowing in your stance) is essential for strength and consistency. Flying punches, jumping forehands, and bicycle kicks are great for the highlight reel.
But careers aren’t built on highlight reels.
We see great men and women reap massive rewards through risk, and risk by definition is unbalance.
However, it’s calculated risk. It’s a momentary allocation of resources to a position because of the belief it’ll create maximum leverage.
Example: I moved out to LA without a job and no place to stay. On the surface it’s a great risk. But I had money saved up. I had no debt. I wasn’t escaping anything or anyone (see #5 — no emotional baggage).
Lesson: Strive for balance. You can’t work on all of it, all the time. But 1% change everyday, over the course of 5 years earns you a lot of balance. Then you can take more risks.