When you're dreams aren't crushed but they still haven't happened yet
I had a pretty clear cut plan of life since I was in middle school. I did choir and drama and expected to go far in those activities in school. Meanwhile, I made videos for YouTube on the side. There were always plenty of projects on which I could work. From there, the plan was to go to BYU and study film. I would simply go on and participate in the projects I needed to, until I was skilled enough or knew enough people to make movies full time.
I always had the skepticism in the back of my mind. I’ve felt that since counselors kept insisting that I do engineering instead and stay in North Dakota. But like so many young creatives, it was easy to push that aside and say no, I’m obviously going to be famous.
Fast forward ten years, and I’m still not famous. I’m still working on my brand - who knew that’s something I was going to have to do? But the main question that remains is where do I go from here? What’s the healthiest option that I can pursue? I don’t thing that the solution is to go back to school and back to North Dakota to become an engineer. For those of us who ended up in the 99% who didn’t end up famous by 25, we can start to go through our mid-life crisis all too early. But unfortunately, there isn’t a definitive answer to what we are supposed to do. Let me share with you my ideas, and maybe they can help you formulate what you need to do.
First of all, let me say something quickly about blogs. I don’t like them! I don’t like them one bit. I feel that blogs are generally non-professional people offering “professional” and “definitive” advice. I think that instead of blogs being the back and forth communication that they should be (and no, I don’t mean stupid debates in the comments section) they become vanity platforms for influencers or places where people can share opinions instead of having to think of their own. So let me say this: my purpose in this blog is to hold myself accountable for writing more consistently, and to have open and non-traditional communication with the world. That means that you can leave a long comment and I will read it and take it to heart. I might not even respond to it, but at least you also made a time investment and put yourself out there.
Now that’s out of the way, I’ll continue. I’ve experienced much of an identity crisis starting with my last couple years of school and my first couple years out of school. Basically a bachelor’s degree worth of anxiety. What that degree has taught me is that the worst things that I could do right now is set goals that involve recognition or things I want to do by a certain age. For example, making my first feature film by 25 or making 4 short films within a year are nice ideas but they did not get me anywhere. My feature screenplay is still non-existent and I sure do stink at coming up with ideas for the scale of short films!
And my efforts to practice, work, and make these goals a reality mostly involve me staring blankly in a computer screen or feeling bad about myself while I watch YouTube videos. While my optimism tells me that I can still transform these experiences into a creative project, it currently hasn’t yielded any content. So I’ve taken a different approach, and so far the beginnings of it are serving me well.
First, the most important thing I’ve done is go to therapy. I often dread going to sleep at night because it feels like conceding another day in which no work was created. I’ve made myself stay up way to late and tried to force myself to be creative to feel good about myself. Therapy helped me realize that these expectations I set for myself weren’t real. It helped me realize that I’m not going through a mid-life crisis because I’m still young. It helped me be the person I want to be, and not the one that will just look good for other people. Freeing up this stress has made my days feel longer, and actually opened up the doors for my creative work.
Second, I’ve stopped putting my efforts into creating, and started putting my efforts into organizing. The difference between the two is that in the vocabulary of my mind, “creating” means starting all over, investing money in equipment, and overhauling my schedule. For me, it is the breeding ground for stress and self-doubt. I tend to get frustrated and depressed when I don’t create anything under these circumstances. In contrast, “organizing” means being creative with the ideas and resources I already have. Make something with that unused raw footage sitting in your hard drive. Rework that short script you wrote for class years ago. Few if any of your brilliant ideas are completely original. So why not cut out the middle man and work with what you have? For instance, I’ve wanted to get into podcasting for a long time. When I first started my podcast “Our Rated Movies” I had the task of coming up with a good theme and trying to find an interesting guest to join me. It was nearly impossible. Years later, I found myself regularly discussing movies with my wife Janely. I found us arguing about which movies to watch. The solution presented itself: Podcast about movies that we make each other watch! There’s no shame in working with what you already have.
Lastly, I’ve stopped expecting results over which I have no control. Dreams are different than goals. Goals are easier and more fun for me to achieve when they are something completely in my control. For example: I have a dream of getting an Oscar. But when it comes down to it, do I have control over whether I can achieve this? Not really. But I can set a goal of writing something, anything down on a particular day. I do what I can to achieve that goal. But here’s the key part: THINGS ARE GOING TO CHANGE. Stuff comes up, real life gets in the way and I don’t achieve my goal. What I’ve only started doing recently is accepting when that happens! I can only choose to accomplish my goal if I have been given time by the universe to complete it. Goals are all about what I will choose to do when I am given the time to do it. Learning to let go is one of the hardest but most rewarding processes I have tried to accomplish lately.
These patterns have helped me enjoy my life more. I feel more at ease, and less like life is one big homework assignment. When I was stressful and put so much pressure on myself, I could enjoy life and feel the emotions that I needed to feel to make art. I wasn’t allowing myself to be happy or be angry, only to be working. But ironically, I wasn’t even working. I had placed so much pressure on myself about where I should be by this age - certainly living in Los Angeles or New York. However, I’m married and have a family amongst whom I need to participate and help. I chose to be with my wife right now and we help each other. I can’t take the risks of paying a lot of money to live in a big city until I am more professionally and financially stable. Other people need to take that risk and be where they can take their shot. There’s another group of creatives who live here in Utah but are on set every single week. They are freelancing and taking every gig they can, even the ones they aren’t passionate about. I respect the grind and for many of these people this is exactly where they need to be, paying their dues and climbing up the ladder.
For me, however, I am on a different path, at least for now. Since I am not ridiculously wealthy, the best space for me is to work a full-time job not in my field but one that will help me get more stability. I can’t take risks when I have no foundation to fall back upon. However, I refuse to let my creativity fall to the wayside or to resign myself to working in an office for the rest of my life. I will let my dreams determine my goals, and make sure that I develop my passions and hobbies until they can become a career. And it’s okay that my path is taking longer than some of my peers. I wouldn’t want to be anybody else.