Headed to Paris from London today. Rocking the Eurostar through the Chunnel. The English countryside has been flying by for the past half hour, looking vaguely like New England until a random castle pops onto the landscape out of nowhere. The train conductor is making an announcement through a squeaky speaker in an accent so thick and unintelligible that he sounds like inspector Clouseau taking your order at a Jack In The Box drive through. I hope it wasn’t something important like “the Chunnel ahead has sprung a leak, please proceed to the lifeboats.” I think if that’s the case we’re pretty well screwed anyway, but still.
People have been commenting on my American accent over the past few days!! Can you imagine? I keep telling them I’m not the one with the accent, but it hasn’t helped. When I realize that I am indeed the different one, I make a quick apology for the Bush administration and we move right along with the conversation.
Back to the train. Most of the seats on this train face each other and I’m opposite a rather large man. We are alternating our foot position to give us each enough leg room. The guy next to me is asleep with his fist against the side of his head, his propped elbow taking up the whole arm rest between us. Therefore, I am now typing in a contorted sideways position, my body twisted against the window and my feet headed in the opposite direction between the fat man’s feet. I would say something, but my accent would be discovered and I would have to start the Bush apology all over again. However, It does remind me about the importance of positioning.
Ah, we’ve come out of the dark tunnel and into France. I just got a text from the French cell provider that my per minute rates are one quarter of what they were in Great Britain. Imagine the joy of the troops coming ashore at Normandy when they realized their cell phone calls just got cheaper. And we wonder how they found the resolve to push on to Berlin…
Back to positioning. How is your career and indeed your life positioned? It’s a tricky question. Are you doing commercials, features, television? Are you at the top of the market, the middle of the market or are you just breaking in? Are you single with very little stuff and no debt or are you married with kids and a mortgage?
None of these scenarios are better or worse than another, but they all point to what your positioning is. You may wish to work at the high end of features but you are working in the middle market of tv commercials and you have a family. Not impossible by any means, but not as easy as the transition of someone without a family, as the financial foundation must be supported and risk is tougher. You have the talent, but the positioning is wrong. You may be single, just out of film school with a few student films under your belt and you are positioning for high end commercials. Your reel is pretty good but your set experience is light and you’ve never worked in the stressful environment of advertising where money changes hands fast. And errors, well lets just say there isn’t much latitude for errors.
Positioning is a starting point at the beginning of a career. Positioning is also choosing a NEW starting point at any time during a career. So, how do you find the right positioning to have the career you want? How do you then move it forward? There is no right way to answer to this, but in my experience I would say slowly. Step by step, day by day get to where you want to go by moving in the direction you desire. If you have financial and family commitments, build up your savings so you can take a low paying feature as an intro to that world. If you are young, join a department at the bottom and work your way up so you are exposed to both the technical and political workings of the business.
If you are pointed one way and where you want to go is in the opposite direction, you first need to turn around. Assess where you really want to go and take the first small steps in getting there. There is a pressure in society to live your whole career in a month. To be a millionaire before you are 30. That happens of course, but only in a minute percentage of careers. Mostly, it’s the image we tend to see in the media, so it’s our own fault really. But, you don’t have to buy into it.
The idea is to be calculating and make choices wisely over a period of time. If you can avoid it, don’t head in directions that are just lucrative and not artistically satisfying, unless of course you have to. There is a point where money will no longer be enough. I heard a great quote by the speaker John C. Maxwell. “To go up you have to give up.”
It’s true. Many on my trip have been surprised and some even appalled that this is my first trip to Europe. I could have gone earlier of course, but I was working mostly office jobs, supporting a family, working my way up. The positioning and direction I had chosen for my life just hadn’t led to Europe until now. It’s ironic of course that many of the clients I work with travel to Europe constantly. Some live there. However, I now realize my positioning has been changing slowly over the past several years and I’ve wanted it to. This sea change has culminated in the creation of WPA, The Worldwide Production Agency. With that name, of course there is going to be a bit more travel involved.
So, assess where you’ve positioned yourself and where you want to go. Remember, steering a career is like steering a big ship. To turn it in a new direction you turn the wheel slowly. To try and spin it around quickly is to risk capsizing.
As Thoreau said: “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.” I’ll add: as you go, be aware of your course and make the small adjustments to keep you on your path.
I’ve always wanted to go to Europe and here I am. It took a while, but now I am on a train, twisted against the window between a snoring arm rest hog and a fat man. Inspector Clouseau is muttering about his “Minkey” over the intercom and I’m loving every second. It’s funny, I chose this long ago and step by step, with some decent and often hard choices, I slowly got here.
Tonight I see the Eiffel Tower. Tomorrow, who knows?