One of the most important days in challenging how I think about work was in graduate school when I visited an adjunct professor at his consulting office on K St. in Washington, DC. He asked me what I did for work, and I told him that I was working at night as an Assistant Editor. His immediate response was, “Wow, I imagine that the level of frustration in your field is very high, because the jobs that are interesting probably don’t pay the bills, and the jobs that pay the bills probably aren’t very interesting.”
At this moment in time I’m very fortunate to have a job that’s engaging, interesting; and pays the bills! But this hasn’t been the norm for large portions of my career. And I don’t think I’m alone. One of the most common complaints I hear when I work with people on their resumes is how dissatisfied they are on their current show.
I believe that some of these frustrations are just an innate part of the entertainment industry. But perhaps there are ways we can learn to think about our jobs to help restore a sense of balance and value in our work.
The website FilmToolKit recently posted an infographic: Simple Ways to be the Best PA on Set. Number three is crushing:
Despite how much I hate this advice with every cell in my body I know that it is absolutely true. Everyone I’ve ever spoken to has seen someone less intelligent or less hardworking get ahead of them because of luck, and who they know. Hollywood is the place that invented the term ‘failing up’ afterall.
The fact of the matter is that Hollywood utilizes very little data in its decision-making process. Sure we track box office receipts or nightly viewers, but we don’t actually know why one show succeeds while another fails. I believe that this lack of data on the production process itself creates an environment where irrational decision-making is the only decision-making available, therefore people defer to their ‘gut’ and are lead by perception. This is all another way of saying the old adage:
“In Hollywood, nobody knows anything.”William Goldman
I think there is also an element of self selection at play. Research has started to suggest that people who need consistency; where it is clear how promotion occurs and when the next paycheck will arrive, tend to gravitate towards stable fields such as civil service. While people who work in the cultural industries have a different set criteria for measuring job satisfaction and may even thrive due to the volatility a life in the arts is certain to entail.
“The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”Hunter S. Thompson
Having a good sense of humor is probably the best way to thrive in the business. But failing wit, a more meditative approach might have more to offer the rest of us. The School of Life has written an assortment of articles about work. I highly recommend starting with this one on: The Creative Itch. Learning to identify which aspects of my job bring me the most joy has helped guide me towards new opportunities. It’s also given me insight into what I should steer clear of too!
You can also check out the The Sorrows of Work. This extended essay on the subject of work reminds us that our struggles are not unique, but a plight shared by the entire working class. There are no perfect jobs, because we work within an imperfect system.