“So you don’t regret your time in Hollywood?” I asked him.
The two of us had been sitting together at the Parisian cafe for several hours. Pure dumb luck seated him right next to me. In that time, I learned my dinner mate produced and directed many of the shows and movies that formed the foundation of what we watch in this decade.
Although the conversation had been generally positive, I noticed a couple disparaging remarks about the city of lights. Did Tinsel Town make really dreams come true? I had to know.
He answered immediately:
“I don’t regret Hollywood for a second. Most of the ideas get shot down, and sometimes you will work on a project for 6 months, only to have it trashed by a phone call. You know what? I’d still rather be doing that than anything else.”
He paused, gesturing to the six-foot blond woman beside him.
“Besides, whenever I need creative fulfillment, I can always take fashion photography.”
The Worst Question in the World
Here’s a quick test to see how deeply you identify as “creative.”
Answer this question:
“What do you do for a living?”
If you’re like me, you hate this question. Even if you spend 98% of your time editing videos, it is difficult to give the answer: “I edit videos.” This feels cheap. Instead, you probably say “it’s complicated, you know? It depends on the day.”
The more you identity as a creative person, the less likely you are to claim any sort of label or career as your own. Creative people fear a cage the most. For this reason, many of us refuse to spend time in any sort of role that feels like one. Like a flaky teenage boy, we split when commitment looms.
There is an enormous problem with this.
Whenever you run too early, you miss opportunities to flex your creativity later down the line. I learned this from my new Hollywood friend. This man moved to America from Poland and worked his way through NYU film school. Even once his career finally started, he spent years as a lowly writer before getting a chance to produce.
Did he always have ideas for shows? You bet. Did he want to be more than “just” a writer? Of course he did. How did he pursue these bigger dreams? He wrote. He learned. He kept generating ideas.
When he got his shot to direct, he was ready.
What do I call you?
I know you don’t want to fit in a box. This is a trait of all highly creative people. At times, though, we simply need to understand what the heck you are. Imagine you read this on the back of a book:
“Meet Gabriel. Gabriel is a small kid from Nowhere, Missouri. He does some cool things in this town, but they are hard to explain. School is definitely involved at some point. And he’s got this girl who he’s crushing on, but is afraid to talk to her. What’s lurking behind the door? And was his father murdered? You’ll love this memoir/slasher/teen romance book.”
When a reader chooses what to purchase next, they are trying to answer the question: “is this the kind of book for me?” With the example above, they can’t be sure. What’s going on with this book? It’s impossible to say. There are too many mixed signals in the description.
It’s the same with most projects. A brand looking for an influencer thinks “is this the kind of person for me?” A marketing director looking for a graphic designer thinks “is this the kind of person for me?” A board of directors looking for a new CEO thinks “is this the kind of person for me?”
In each of these cases respectively, there is an underlying question: Can you make content which puts the brand in a good light, or can’t you? Can you create great-looking graphics in Photoshop, or can’t you? Can you lead an organization to its goals, or can’t you? All else is irrelevant.
Think back to your last home improvement project. What do you need for Phillips head screws? You need a Phillips head screwdriver. You do not need a butter knife. You do not need a plumbing wrench. You do not need a Swiss Army knife.
The global economy scares people out of this type of specialization, I think. Deep down, you may be afraid to commit to one role. Why? Because one day, you will be replaced by a younger or cheaper model.
It is difficult to argue with that sort of logic. Well, it’s difficult to argue if price is the only variable. Guess what? It isn’t.
A consultant friend taught me this. An early client asked him for a proposal. “Give us your best offer,” they said. My friend really wanted to push himself to charge more at the time. He sent a proposal for twice his normal rate — $5,000.
They balked, but not in the direction you think.
“We really were hoping for your best offer. Do you offer any packages in the $20,000 range?”
Not every client is looking for the cheapest solution. The ones who are probably aren’t worth your time anyway.
How to *Not* Be Trapped Forever
Let me name your final remaining fear.
You worry if you claim any sort of label, it will stick like gorilla glue. This contrasts with the dreams you have for yourself: “Someday I will be a __________.”
I worried that too. I hated the idea of playing any one role. Luckily, my Hollywood dining partner reminded me of an important principle:
The path to “someday” starts where you are right now.
Don’t worry about what you could do tomorrow. Worry about what you CAN do today. Odds are, you are already moving the right direction.
When you jump from job to job looking for glamour, you build bars on your cage. When you take the time to commit long enough to reach industry standard, you’ll find another result entirely.
You’ll find open doors.
You’ll find infinite possibility.
You’ll find freedom.