Not long ago, my mom went back to school to become a Medical Assistant. It wasn’t her first career, she worked in magazine marketing when I was growing up, but being part of the medical field had always been her dream. That dream solidified when she was just a teenager and would watch the evening news and see the amazing work done by the nurses of the Vietnam War.
Yet, as often happens, life made its own plans for her future and she didn’t get to pursue that dream until she had one career, two marriages, and three children under her belt.
When she told my family of her plan to return to school and what field she’d be pursuing, it sounded, well… completely reasonable. Not only weren’t we going to knock her dream, but heck, it was in a growth industry and everywhere we looked we saw reminders of the shortage in the medical field for trained staff.
I don’t believe we get to fully pick what makes our hearts soar, but are instead born with talents and dispositions that we go on to cultivate, or not. I thought my mom was pretty lucky that for her it was something philanthropic, well paid, and in demand.
I, too, have a dream career that I’ve yearned for since I was a kid, and as you can probably guess, it’s to be a writer and to work in film. But where my luck veers off from my mom’s is the last time I checked there were no subsidies for screenwriting and no PSA campaigns encouraging kids to work in the film industry when they grew up.
When you’re just starting out pursuing a screenwriting and filmmaking career, there’s almost nothing external encouraging this pursuit. There are a million good reasons not to do it but only one good reason to do it: Your heart gives you absolutely no other choice.
And that’s the spark that lights the fire of unrelenting ambition and drive.
As I write this, I’m knee-deep in ambition myself. I’m in the final stages of completing my second short film, “Deal Travis In.” The edit is complete, we’re well on our way to finishing up the score, and the visual effects and sound design are in full swing. I’ve invested time, sweat, money, heartache, trust and faith to get this far, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
But don’t get me wrong, it’s difficult and anxiety-ridden work. The full weight of this project rests on my shoulders. Each collaborator I work with brings their best, but it’s up to me to keep the production in sync to create a unified vision in the final film. And that doesn’t even count developing a trailer, a poster, a website, and a press kit. Or juggling funds to pay contractors or filing taxes. Or trying to line up a premiere and hoping and praying a film festival run will follow it.
The other day, as I felt the strain mounting from the weight of this film, my mind flashed back to the last time I worked as a Production Assistant and how fun it was not being the one in charge.
At that time, I had already directed my first short film and had my next directing project lined up. I was in this perfect bubble where my past accomplishments and future plans allowed me to fully relax into the opportunity I had that day. I felt no ego driving me or fear holding me back. I wasn’t worried about my next job or how I could use this one to advance. Instead, I let myself just enjoy the moment.
Since I wasn’t perpetually looking to the horizon on that job, the things I do remember are working on location by a beautiful lake on a sparkling, sunny day; being directed as a stand-in by a well-known actor and feeling both very goofy and very cool while doing it; the camaraderie of the crew and going out for drinks after we wrapped each day and then starting the next day’s work so early in the morning that the moon was still up, and the moon that week was bewitching and full.
As hard as I work to move up the ranks as a filmmaker, that Production Assistant job reminded me that embracing where I am today is where the beauty and joy of my journey resides.
I may not have had the choice of picking where my passion lies, but I do have the choice of how I’ll let that passion drive me. Just as I believe my dogged ambition is creating my future, I’m coming to learn that it is also buying me the freedom to take pleasure in today.
Like all of my filmmaking friends, I of course want to be writing and directing features. I’m currently working hard on a feature script. I’m studying the craft of directing by working hands-on making short films. I’m networking my butt off and building a strong community of collaborators, friends, and fans. I’m doing all I can right now to create opportunities to make feature films tomorrow.
But today is not that day.
Today, I’m finishing up a short that I’ve spent the last year working so hard on. I’m coming to see that I’m not working for the rewards of tomorrow – it never actually is tomorrow – but instead I need to evaluate what are the hard-fought rewards I’ve created for myself that are right here for me today.
Since I have a solid plan for moving toward a feature film, it’s okay for me to relish the unique joys of making a short. I don’t have investors to answer to or ratings boards to consider and I do get final cut. I’m getting to work on a film that takes me through every stage of the filmmaking process, but since it’s a short, none of those stages ever overstays its welcome. That’s a pretty great place to be and I’m grateful to my self from yesterday for using all of her fulfilled ambition to secure this gift for me today.
So what about you? Where are you in your career as of right now? If you’re already working hard toward your goals, your career doesn’t start tomorrow, it’s in play today. What’s uniquely amazing and fleeting about your current writing life? There truly is grace in anonymity, strength in focused work, and joy to be found in the freedom of self-driven projects.
Before all of your hard work moves you into a different professional realm, take a look at your life right now and be sure you’re not missing out on any of the gifts you created for yourself yesterday that are only here for the taking today.