Components of a Career: Guest Post by Jacob Burgess, Voice Actor and Writer

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”.)

Existing Models:

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.

Circumstances:

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.

Professional Fortitude:

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

The Job Search: Where to Start?

Now that you’ve done some introspective, critical thinking about what your ideal future career might look like, it’s probably time for some of you to start looking for your next job (or even your first job!), which will lead you ever closer to the ideal. For those of you who enjoy the job you’re in but who want to pivot or advance, don’t worry! We’ll circle back to you in a bit.

However, dream jobs, or even great jobs, aren’t necessarily lying around on Craigslist (though it’s always worth a look!). It’s going to take a bit of searching (well, it wouldn’t be a job “search” if it didn’t, right?), and, like any explorer, you’ll need to arm yourself with the right tools.

With The Job Search series, I want to examine the job search in-depth, from structuring your search and creating and curating your online presence, all the way through your interview and hiring process to the signing of your contract. By examining both how the job search is “supposed” to look, and ways it works in real life, I hope to offer you tips and strategies to be able to capitalize on your effort and time. I’ll start by focusing on searching for part-time or full-time employment with a traditional employer, but I’ll also cover freelancing and contract work, too.

For now, take a moment to look back at the lists you’ve made throughout the last series. You’ve just spent a lot of time thinking about what’s most important to you in terms of what you enjoy doing, how you like to spend your time, and what you want your future to look like, and now it’s time to bring it all together. Pick out the top 5-10 most critical items for you across the list, and make a master list. This will be your map to check against when evaluating jobs, from looking at the job description, asking questions in the interview, evaluating company culture (in-person if possible, on Glassdoor or through other reviews (preferably peers or company staff/alumni) if not), and negotiating your contract.

Again, I’m going to stress that nothing will be perfect — not even a “dream” job. And job searching is where privilege will become extremely, and unfortunately, relevant. Those of you who can afford to live in or move to a big city where your industry is located will have a much easier time of it than those of you who live in smaller towns/have limited resources for relocation. However! By thinking of each job as a puzzle-piece of a larger career, and by creating different mixes of your master list of wants, you’ll be able to still develop skills and resources that will get you closer to your ideal.

There’s a lot of ground to cover, so next week, I’ll be starting with the basics: Structuring Your Search. Until then!

Finding Your Dream: The End Game

We’ve already covered many ways to go about finding that dream job, but there’s one more way to go about narrowing down the endless possibilities:

Decide where you’d like to end up.

Of course, you won’t be able to choose a future and have it automatically happen—life, unfortunately, has simply too many variables for that. But by identifying the kind of “retirement” you’d like, you’ll be able to consciously make key decisions that will help get you there.

I use the term “retirement” very loosely, because a traditional retirement may not be possible or even desirable. Perhaps you’re someone who would rather split work and vacation time much more evenly throughout your life, or you’d prefer to work your entire life to varying degrees. Perhaps you’d like to stop working at 30 and travel the rest of your days. Fantastic! It’s not up to me to make that happen for you (though I would if I could!), but by establishing your long-term lifestyle goals now, you can start identifying the things you’ll need to achieve them.

For instance, how much money will you need to retire in the way you want? Start developing a budget by calculating living expenses, travel expenses, health expenses, etc, while adjusting for future inflation. If it were me, I’d multiply your numbers by 130% to give yourself a buffer in case of medical emergency, natural disaster, or any of the other myriad ways life can go haywire. AARP and NerdWallet (among many, many other sites) offer retirement calculators you can use to estimate what you’ll need, but they’re imperfect tools and require some tinkering with.

Another consideration is the where: Do you envision yourself in a mountain cabin or NYC? Do you want a yacht in the harbor or a yacht as a primary residence? How important is home/property ownership?

Mostly what I want you to think about is the bigger picture: Do you want to be the VP with the corner office? Owner of a beloved local antique shop? Head of a video game studio, or just lead developer? Do you want to keep working at some point, or will you stop entirely?

Once you’ve identified answers to some of those questions, you can answer (to the best of your ability) the following: Are there ways to continue to make money doing what I do now? Do I have skills that would be applicable to part-time or freelance work? Do I have the skills I need to have the job I want through retirement? Are there other ways of making money that would support me in retirement without me working?

I know these things can feel incredibly foreign to someone early in a career, but often an end goal will help you focus. Even if your goal is as amorphous as “spend my life near an ocean,” it will still help you choose between an offer in San Diego and one in Chicago. Or it’ll start you on the path to looking at a career in marine biology, or what licenses it takes to become a sea kayaking tour guide. These are (as usual) random examples, but I want you to use the lens of the future on the lists you’ve been developing, and further refine them into something that gives you a baseline of where to start.

Next week, my dear friend and absolute treasure Morgan Beem shares her experiences on pursuing her lifelong dream (spoiler: successfully) of becoming an American comic book artist!

Finding Your Dream: The Day-to-Day

Something I think is really overlooked in the current approaches to career development is the most critical part of any job:

What do you want to do every day?

I don’t mean “work with books” or “be a sports writer” — I mean, “divide my time between emails and meetings,” “work with my hands and body producing tangible work,” “be heads-down with documents for hours on end, and spend very little time chatting with others.”

These are some of the most critical questions to ask yourself — after all, this is what you’ll be spending your valuable time doing, day-in and day-out. And it’s going to make or break a job for you. The job you’ve coveted at the nerd company of your dreams may be ruined for you when you find out they require your time be spent in meetings and constant collaboration, when all you want is to be left alone to work in peace on the things you love! Or if you’re someone who thrives on the energy of working with others, doing a job that requires hours of self-driven, solitary work may be stifling.

Think back on your jobs up to now; or if you haven’t worked enough to know, think back on elements of your school, or your life. What do you enjoy doing? Have you liked being on a team, or would you rather work on your own? Do you enjoy meeting new people, or would you like to come in every day to a few people you know well? How do you feel about constant meetings? Do you like to travel? Do you enjoy managing people, or would you rather have process expertise? Or both?

This includes what you want your commute to look like: Do you want somewhere you can walk to or get to by public transportation? Can you tolerate long hours in a car? How about where you live — are you okay with living in a city to do what you love, or would you rather live somewhere else more cheaply? Are you someone who would prefer to work from home? And how does your ideal job balance with your non-work time?

I, for example, had planned to move back to Denver after I finished graduate school, when fate led me down my current path. When I took my current job, it meant giving up the gorgeous Rocky Mountains to go live in densely urban NYC, which is not somewhere I ever thought I’d be. I’m someone who loves getting out on weekends: hiking, snowboarding, paddle boarding…things not normally associated with New York City! However, knowing that taking my dream job would mean a sacrifice in a lifestyle I valued, I made it a point to find areas in my life where I could adapt my need for nature, enabling me to enjoy my time at work.

I encourage you to sit for a few minutes and write out what your ideal work day would look like. Of course, you may never find a job that offers you that perfect mix, but by knowing which elements of a job offer you fulfillment, you’ll be well-equipped to ask questions in your interview to see if the job is a good fit, or may enable you to adapt your current job to allow your to spend more of your time doing the things you prefer. There are so many different jobs and different kinds of work in the same industries, so figuring out what you want to be doing on a daily basis can help you find niche jobs in industries you love that you may never realized even existed!

Finding Your Dream: Using the Process of Elimination

When you don’t know what you want to do in your next job or even as a career, it can seem overwhelming to try to figure it out. You may have a general idea of what you want: Maybe you want to work with animals, or have a job that lets you work any hours from any location. Or maybe you just need a job that pays. It’s all good!

One strategy for figuring out what you want is to figure out what you don’t want, and adjust accordingly. This can be a really good way to approach your job search if you aren’t sure what you want to do, because it advocates momentum, introspection, and positive change. The strategy itself is simple: try a job you think you’ll like, see what you like/don’t like about it, and plan your next move to increase the time you spend on the parts you do like and gets rid of the parts you don’t like.

Of course, every job will have parts you don’t like, that’s the way of the world. But take this example:

You have a job working retail. You don’t love the money (who does love minimum wage?) or the hours (couldn’t you get your schedule more than two weeks in advance?), but you like your coworkers, and you find some joy in helping people go home happy with their purchases (this is a fictional example, bear with me). Thinking about your job, you know you like working with people, but you’d really like a stable schedule, and could do without the uniform and standing 10 hours a day.

So a next, small step would be:

You find a job as a receptionist at a mid-size office. The pay isn’t great, but it’s solid hours, with a Monday-Friday 9-5 schedule, with bank holidays, some vacation and sick leave, and an hour a day for lunch. It’s also at a big enough company where people have room to move up the ranks; in this case, there may be training you can get to find a position in HR, or even Account Management.

Okay, so a receptionist may not seem the most glamorous job, but that too is a stepping stone, in which you’ve a) moved productively toward b) the parts of your last job that interested you. Crucially, there’s room to grow and training provided to get you another step up in the ladder without having to move companies. This is something you’d look for in your interview, when asking about lateral and upward movement in your company, on-the-job training, and cross-training. This is especially important if you’re someone who is thinking about a graduate program — I find that on-the-job training is more valuable than school, but of course, it differs by industry (there will be so, so much more on this topic in future articles!).

Here’s another example:

You’ve been at your company for three years, and have worked your way up from project assistant to project manager. The work and industry don’t interest you, but the job pays well. The hours are long, but you’ve managed to get some cross-training in other departments, especially with design tools like InDesign and Photoshop.

So you find a similar role at a new company (or even within the same company!) as a product manager or design lead, using your artistic and design skills on projects, perhaps managing products you take an interest in. The pay is still good, and though you may still work long hours, you’re more invested in and fulfilled by the creative side to the work you’re doing.

Again, you’ve managed to shed at least one thing you weren’t interested in (the actual day-to-day work you were doing), and traded it for a new unknown (a new industry/product) that you can test going forward. Perhaps you make the move, and find that you really like tinkering in Photoshop and InDesign, but hate having to use them on a daily basis. Or perhaps the new subject matter still isn’t making the overtime worth it. Perfect: You’ve learned new things about yourself and what you want, and can adjust accordingly.

Of course, everything comes with an adjustment period, and though this paints a rosy picture, there may be other setbacks: Maybe the company you joined never delivers on their promised cross-training. Maybe your coworkers are demanding and have more office politics than you were expecting (and let me be clear right now, every office has politics. This is one thing that’ll be very hard to get rid of, unless you’re freelance. And that comes with it’s own set of politics). Maybe you moved across the globe with the company, and you’re having a huge amount of culture shock. Some of these things can be overcome, and some will be deal-breakers for you. It all comes down to identifying ways in which you can increase the time you spend at work on the aspects you enjoy.

The things you may or may not like might not actually be as related to the career as they are to your life and work style. Go back to your lists you made from last time and see if there are things you want out of a dream career that you already know you like, and put them in their own list (of “knowns”). Then put the rest in a “unknown” category, and see what comes out. What’s in there that’s completely aspirational? Can you find things that are achievable in another pivot or two? Hopefully things will start popping out to you, especially if there are things on your “known” list that you’ve had in every job — these are things you’re probably going to want to stick with, as they are probably quite fulfilling to you!

Next week we’ll be going a little more into depth with this, so stay tuned!

Finding Your Dream: What Do You Want to Do?

So much of the traditional job/career advice out in the world today centers on this one fraught, loaded question: What do you want to do?

For some, that’s easy: They’ve known their whole lives they wanted to be doctors or musicians or comic book artists. Some discover their niche just as the niche is born: YouTube stars, creators and makers, startup developers. If you fall into one of these categories, keep reading — there’ll be stuff for you in here, too.

For the rest of us, finding a career or dream isn’t quite as cut and dried. Sometimes it’s an issue of not knowing where to start, other times, a paralysis of choice. Sometimes a dream career seems out of reach because your own education, skill set, or financial situation stand in the way.

I’m not going to make any promises that you’ll be able to achieve your dream career. Instead, I want you to be open to a broader approach, a more open, flexible way of looking at work and at your career trajectory.

So I’m starting off with the “Finding Your Dream” series of posts. This’ll set you up to have a compass that will lead you on your own personal path to finding a job or career that works for you, and that will hopefully guide you to more fulfilling work throughout your life.

To start, I’d like you to think about what your dream has been up to this point, if you have one (if you don’t, never fear, you can pick up with us in the next paragraph). Write it in as concrete terms as you can, whether it’s “I want to be one of the first people to go to Mars,” to “I want to work with beer,” to, “I don’t want to work retail.” For this task, the more specific, the better — because I want you to break it down. Spend some time with a journal if you can, or a computer, or even your brain…but I think writing is probably best for this, because you’ll discover things as your hands translate your thoughts to paper/keyboard. Even a bullet list is fine, if you don’t feel comfortable writing a passage! But think about why this goal has been guiding you. What about it appealed to you when it first formed in your mind? What about it appeals to you now? Are there things about it that appeal to you in a non-work related way, such as the location of the work, or the time schedule/flexibility it would provide? If your past goal doesn’t appeal to you now, that’s fine — goals can and will change.

Next, I’d like you to create two lists: A list of things you would want in any job you look for at this very moment (including salary requirements, holiday requirements, schedule flexibility, location, etc), and a list of things you want for your future (these can be vague, but things like homeownership, travel funds and flexibility, family, etc). Be as wild and specific as you like on these lists, and feel free to go beyond the constraints of any one single job. If you can group the items in terms of most to least important, great, but that’s not really critical. What’s more important is to have lists of your desires in front of you.

Keep these handy, as we’ll be delving into them in the next few weeks. But also keep them handy so they’re fresh in your mind.

Congratulations! You’re on your way to finding what’s really, truly important to you.