career

Did You Expect to be Great?

I ask everyone who emails me for advice on moving to LA the same question:

“What do you want to do in Los Angeles?”

Last time, I told you I only get a reply 30% of the time.

Of that 30%, here’s what 99% say:

  • “Acting. Just a little bit. Nothing big”
  • “I’m a musician. But mostly for the change of scenery. Hopefully some new work”
  • “Something in entertainment. Hopefully writing TV or film”

…which is really interesting. Because it means one of two things:

  1. These guys are the most unambitious, unimaginative people ever (hint: I don’t think it’s #1)
  2. They feel weird admitting what they really want

I think we’re getting warmer.

Because it’s not #1. Don’t kid yourself. If you’re looking to move to Los Angeles — with little money, no definitive job prospects, and no housing — you don’t fall into the category of unambitious or unimaginative.

Which leaves #2, and this next question:

What are you embarrassed to admit?

Here’s my guess:

You’re embarrassed to admit you expect greatness.

What is greatness?

Greatness can look like any number of things:

  • For actors. Broadway, film, TV, collecting residuals from that AT&T spot
  • For musicians. Selling out a standing room only venue. Or a platinum record
  • For writers. NYT Bestseller, that Emmy, seeing your play come to life

For most of us, greatness is why we move to LA: We believe we’re destined to be great. Not just good, not “also-ran.” Great.

Yet saying this aloud seems arrogant. So we keep it to ourselves.

How do I know this?

I’m guilty myself.

Another assistant would ask: “What are you looking to do? Do you want to be a screenwriter?”

I’d answer: “You know, maybe…  I’m still just learning about this business and figuring out where I fit.”

Meanwhile, every morning that week at 5:30 a.m. I’m up typing into Final Draft before spending the next 10 hours answering someone else’s phone.*

There’s an audacity to expecting greatness. For example, if you say you expect to be a great screenwriter, you’re also saying you’re better than the millions who “never makes it,” whether it’s because they don’t have the connections or (more likely) didn’t write well enough.

It’s difficult to admit this to someone…

But it’s even harder to admit this to yourself.

Once you admit you expect greatness, you admit that you’re trying. You’re writing everyday, taking classes, you’re joining writing groups. You’re working on the craft while everyone tells you to “be normal” and “don’t be so hard on yourself.”

The downside is you could fail.

For example, the first screenplays I poured hours into were — objectively speaking — shit.

It’s terrifying to realize your expectation of greatness could be nothing but a mirage you’re stumbled towards.

So when someone asks, “What do you want to do in LA?” you’re better off giving a vanilla answer (“Oh, I don’t know… maybe I’ll take up acting.”) It’s not normal to open yourself up to an emotional, devastating beat down. 

But on the flip side, by definition, there is nothing normal about greatness.

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*This is not to say you should pour out your heart and dreams to your Starbucks barista and her mother. If it’s a first date or your current boss, they don’t need to know everything right away.

Photo Credit: Topher76

I am not famous, I am me

Cameron Diaz has words of wisdom for you.

(If you know who Cameron Diaz is, jump ahead to 00:29.)

 

Here’s the part I want to highlight for you:

“When people say, ‘I want to be like you, I want to be an actor, I want to look like you,’ the question I always ask is ‘why?’”

I ask all my readers: “What are your biggest struggles to move to Los Angeles?”

They’ll tell me it’s money, or they don’t know where to live, or if they’ll find a job. All solvable problems.

Then I’ll ask, “Why are you moving to LA?”

I get an answer 30% of the time. The rest, I never hear from again.

“Why?” is a difficult question.

  • It can be hard to articulate (“I feel I could do great things if I move”)
  • It can be embarrassing to admit (“I always wanted to be an actor and no one else knows”)
  • It can extremely personal (“I’m stuck in a corporate job and I finally left my asshole boyfriend”)

But there’s always an answer. Figure out your “why” before doing anything else.

Making money, finding the right place to live, getting started on your career… we can get there together. That’s what we’re doing here.

But “why?”

That’s up to you to figure out.

Bonus: I also love this part:

“Being famous is my job. When I’m with my friends and family, I am not famous. I am me. I am Cameron. Fame doesn’t define me. If you’re looking for fame to define you, then you will never be happy.”

How do I prioritize my first month in LA?

I get asked some awful questions.

For example: “I have no experience, so my resume sucks. Can you look at it and tell me how to fix it?”

In other words:

THEM: Please give me the easy way out, I don’t want to work

My response:

ME: No

Occasionally, I get asked great questions. Shannon W sent in three great ones, and I’ve answered them below. 

Do you have a great, burning question? Leave it in the comments and I’ll answer them in another post.

1) I’m trying to create a rough plan of action steps for me to do in the first month arrive in LA. Through experience, do you have suggestions of the amount of time I should put away to doing certain tasks (finding a job, networking, producing my own work) and questions to ask myself in terms of how to prioritize?

I currently work for Ramit Sethi, who wrote the bestseller I Will Teach You to be Rich.

I followed him for years before joining his team. One of his most influential concepts in the early years is called the Tripod of Stability.

My interpretation: At any point in life, there are few BIG things in your life you try to get ultra-stable in order to be ultra-aggressive in other areas.

This looks different for everyone. A few examples might be:

  • Your job, your home, your relationships
  • Your car, you apartment, your finances
  • Your side business, your family, your health & fitness

You’re moving to Los Angeles, starting your career, and — I’m assuming — opening yourself up to some financial risk.

Your priority is reestablishing your Tripod of Stability ASAP.

Here’s what I would recommend you prioritize. Again this is a very personal decision so your mileage will vary:

  1. Savings. Be liquid. Cash equals options. You can make the move with $5,000, if you have a high risk tolerance. (You can calculate how much you should save using the Moving to LA calculator.)
  2. Living. Your housing. Sort out your living situation. Sleeping in your car at a Wal-Mart isn’t restful.
  3. A job. Any job. It doesn’t need to be exactly what you want. Just start getting paid. I call this a “money job” — take it purely for the money. If you get a job in your industry right off the bat, great. However, don’t let finding the “perfect” job slow down your momentum.

Prioritize these three things. Outside of them, carve out time for working on your craft, meeting new people, searching for a job you love.

2) What are some things I should avoid doing in the first 6 months that I’m here (either because of cost or time i.e.: partying, hiking, touring Hollywood, etc.)

If you’ve working on your priorities, then by all means do as much of all of this as possible.

Do all the touristy things you can your first year in LA, because there’s a time limit on visiting the Hollywood Walk of Fame or a Hollywood bus tour and it starts ticking the day you learn how to pronounce “Sepulveda” correctly.

Catch an Upright Citizen’s Brigade show. Do a pseudo-hike at Runyon Canyon. Ride the mechanical bull at Saddle Ranch in Hollywood and then never go back.

Honestly, I did it the wrong way. When I first moved to LA, I got so wrapped up in “trying to make it” ASAP, I didn’t spend enough time enjoying the city. There’s a cost-benefit relationship to every decision (an hour spent surfing in Venice is 2-3 hours you could have spent writing) and I worried too much about the cost.

What should you avoid? Don’t treat this as anything less than a 5-year game. Five years is the short game. Prioritize the 3 things above, but remember the race is long.

3) How do you find ways to remind yourself that “you can do it” and the tough times are just temporary?

The hardest job I ever had was when I was 14. That’s when I started waiting tables. It was at a Chinese restaurant and I barely spoke Chinese. We added our checks by hand, bussed our own tables, and if there were no customers, we were doing side work (making sauces, cleaning tables, folding napkins, etc.)

I dreaded going in. I started hating the weekends, and when I started working more in the summer, I started hating summer vacation, too.

When things got difficult in Los Angeles, I would think about those days.

Back then, I didn’t have a choice about the work. My parents told me to do it.

But moving to LA and pursuing this career was 100% my decision — and that’s no different for you.

You’re not moving to LA because you need the money. You’re not moving because you’re cornered and there are no other options. There are easier ways to make a living.

It’s liberating to know any difficulty you face is self-imposed. The universe did not do this to you. You did this to you. You chose this for you, which means you can walk away at any time. You can literally do anything else in the world.

At a high-level, that’s how I manage difficult times: Adversity didn’t happen to me. I chose adversity.

At a more tactical level, see answers to numbers one and two. Prioritize, then enjoy it.

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Don’t forget to leave a great question in the comments if you’d like me to answer it in another post.

Photo Credit: Peter Tandlund

Get Your First Hollywood Job: How to Answer Tough Questions

FasctCo featured a list of the weirdest interview questions in 2013, compiled by Glassdoor.com.

Glassdoor’s new list came out for 2014. Here are a few highlights:

“If you could throw a parade of any caliber through the Zappos office what type of parade would it be?” – Zappos

“How lucky are you and why?” – AirBnB

“If you could sing one song on American Idol, what would it be?”– Red Frog Events

Unfortunately, knowing these oddball questions won’t help you when you’re interviewing for your first Hollywood job. [click to continue…]

Get to Do vs. Have to Do

A quick thought today:

I recently got a puppy. His name is Deefer.

deefer

Turns out puppies don’t come out of the box with operating instructions and batteries included. It requires a lot of work to figure them out. You also have to:

  • Walk ‘em
  • Snuggle with ‘em
  • And clean up its shit

I love him. Which doesn’t change the fact, however, that for the last 28 years my only agenda has been the climb. My sole focus for the past 4 years has been moving to LA, getting my first Hollywood job, and when I did that, surviving the 80-hour weeks.

Deefer quite frankly, doesn’t care.

When he wants to play, he plays.

When he wants to eat, he eats.

And when he needs to go bathroom, I better take him for a walk. [click to continue…]