Hi friends! This week it’s my pleasure to have a guest post by my friend and general fantastic human being Jacob Burgess. I met Jacob as a fellow Conference Associate at GDC (volunteering at conferences is such a good way to meet fantastic people!!), and I’ve followed his career as he gets bigger and better roles. He’s got a lot to say about careers (and is one of the best networkers and go-getters I know!) so I’ll let him take it away without any further ado!
Hello Rank Up Readers! Jacob Burgess here. I’m a voice actor and games writer.
When Lauren asked me to write a guest post for this blog, it took me aback. One, I had no idea why she asked me. Two, I had no idea what I was going to write about that was a good as the content that’s already here on the blog. Three, and this is tied to one, who the hell am I to do this? Ah, imposter syndrome. You’re a right bastard.
I asked Lauren what she might want to write about, and she told me a bit about the purpose of this blog, which is to help educate people. None of us in creative careers are really told how to do this. That helped a bunch. She is very smart.
See, as best as I can tell, having a creative career is all a system of cobbling it together using existing models of behavior, the circumstances we find ourselves in, professional fortitude, and no small amount of what looks like luck.
Now before I move on, and this is going to be the main thrust of what I say here, is that everything I say, everything you take in here, is born of my experience and perspective. Salt and pepper to your taste.
Now, let’s explore, in as much brevity as possible, the cobbling together of a career. (Please keep in mind, I’m a voice actor and a writer. My solution to most problems is “More Words”.)
Using existing models of success to further your career is great because then you’re looking at folks that have done it before. There is a huge industry surrounding doing just that. Doing the work of finding out what works for you and what doesn’t lead to your own success involves a lot of trial and error. You need to fail in small and large ways in order to figure out that what worked for a certain person, or in a certain industry, isn’t going to work for you. Take what you will and discard the rest. I would suggest being aware of anyone who says that their way is the right and only way.
For example: I read, a lot. I try and better myself as much as possible. I want my professional life to be as smooth as possible. This involves reading financial books, books on acting, writing techniques, and other folks’ fiction. I take notes on what in those books strikes me, things that just make sense instantly. I take notes on what worked for that person, and on stuff to try out myself to see if it’ll work for me. I take notes on what just seems like nonsense right off the bat so that I can explore it and then discard it.
Same thing in networking. I might be in a conversation where someone is dropping so many names I’ll need to watch where I step later. They might be able to pull it off and impress or dazzle their conversational partner because they have the humility, body language, and mannerisms that don’t play as desperate. It might just be a natural part of their job or manner of speaking. It works for some people because they get that shine from associating with someone known to be successful. The idea is that if the person whose name was dropped knows and associates with the person who dropped the name, then the person who dropped the name must be worth knowing. I know I don’t have that ability. I know enough about myself where I would reek of desperation and it would come across as me just TRYING to be cool. You can learn a lot about what will and won’t work for you by observing the behavior of others both in person an online.
Not everyone has the same starting position in life. But I think that seeing progress as a straight line or a pyramid isn’t a great way to visualize a career path. I like looking at it as a sphere with smaller spheres inside it. We’re all dots in that big-ass sphere trying to find a way to the smaller ones, which are the careers we want to have. We all blink into the larger sphere at different points. It might take us longer to get to the smaller one that our chosen career belongs to. Sometimes we will enter other spheres on our way.
Almost no one has a straight path to where they want to be. Some have shorter distances, sure. Some folks blink in right next to where they want their final destination to be. Others have different feelings the farther they travel, or they decide that it wasn’t right for them to begin with. Use whatever you have around you to get to where you want to be. Your path is your path. There is no need to compare your path to others because where we start is out of our control. How we use our circumstances is only in our control. Comparison, in my mind, is useless. (This doesn’t mean it doesn’t creep in, but using the fact that I think it’s a useless tool helps to mitigate the feeling sometimes.)
For example: I live in Victoria BC, which is on an island in Canada in the ocean about 2.5 hours away from Seattle by boat and about 3 hours away from Vancouver by boat and bus. I need to travel a lot to even have a voice acting career, and I back that up by supplementing other work when things are slow. If I lived in LA or New York I would have a much easier time with it because that’s where the industry tends to be centered. However, the circumstances of my life dictate that this is the way things must be. I have put forth the effort by attending conventions, building my network, and being willing to invest the time and money to travel in order to have my career. Sometimes you need to fill the cracks of circumstance with effort and will if you aren’t in the right place physically, socially, emotionally, or otherwise.
This is the ability to keep going. Not keep going no matter what. Life happens and sometimes things are out of our control. Sometimes you need a break or need to stop or completely redirect. Being unstoppable sometimes means slowing down.
For me, professional fortitude is the ability to accept failure, to deal with the negative emotions that are going to try and use your career to sort themselves out (because sometimes brains and hearts are stupid and don’t always have our best interest in mind. Imposter Syndrome or feeling of worthlessness, for example), not stop (this doesn’t mean don’t take breaks or reflect), to recognize when you should slow down, and not using the need to take a break as an excuse to procrastinate.
For example: I don’t have a solid personal example for this. I just get up every time I’m knocked down or am stymied. I might be crying, and complaining, and cursing the heavens in the moment for making something so damn hard while I do it, but I do it. It’s hard. It’s goddamn hard and sometimes you don’t have anything to propel you forward but Raw. Stupid. Stubborn. Will.
A Small Amount Of What Looks Like Luck:
I say what looks like luck because, from the outside, and a lot of what happens in people’s careers and what we see in media, is that opportunities often times just magically happen. That seems to me to be a running narrative that folks propagate because saying, “I ground out my career for years before floating to the surface/being discovered/being the only one left would could” doesn’t always have a sexy sound to it. I sense a fear that admitting that things were hard or didn’t always go your way is “bad branding.” I’m still chewing on this phenomenon, so my thoughts on it aren’t fully fleshed out.
But, ya know what, sometimes it is just luck. Sometimes it’s is 100% raw, pure, golden good fortune that propels a career. Most times, I’ve found, is that those people have put themselves into places and done things to maximize their chances for those opportunities to come their way. For me, it’s going to cons. Having a online presence. Making friends and not just contacts. Again, whatever works for you given your circumstances.
That’s the key in my mind. In a career, freelance or otherwise, you’ve got to do a lot of self-exploration and find out what the sweet hell works for you, no matter what works for other people.
If I were going to go back in time and tell myself something from 5 years back, it would be all of this. I don’t think I would have listened because, “Do what works for you” is, on it’s own, some bullshit advice. Figuring out what works for you is hard. It takes a lot of self exploration, willingness to fail, and time. Once you do figure out what sorts of things jive with you though, that’s most of the work done.
Like this? Want to know more about Jacob, or possibly hire him? Find him on Twitter @jacobburgessvo