No matter what your career goals are, it's inevitable that you will be working towards that goal for awhile before you even get close. Chris Nolan didn't make Momento until he was 30 and Inception until he was 40. Mark Cuban didn't sell his first company until he was 32 years old! Van Gogh didn't even start painting until he was in his 30's. (Maybe a bad example... but still.)
A major key to success is perseverance. The longer you work at your craft, the better you'll get; It will take quite some time before you have made it and you're work is at the level you are likely aspiring towards. That's okay!
What It Means To Make It
Let's take a second and try to define making it or succeeding. This can mean a lot of different things depending on what field you're in. For the most general definition, let's say making it is the moment you can afford to live sole on work that you love doing.
I'm a filmmaker. I want to produce and sometimes write or direct films (or web series). Oh wait... I already do this. Ah! But there's a major difference here. I still can't support even a modest lifestyle off of this passion. Let's tack this phrase onto the end of that sentence: and make a living doing it.
I'm not quite there yet; however, I am starting to make some income from projects I love working on and having to decide which ones to spend time with. That income is growing (very slowly) every year as my skills become more refined. It would be safe to assume that I'll be making a living doing what I love before I'm 30, and that's pretty awesome. Hold on though... how am I supposed to put food in the fridge, pay for rent, and keep up with my student loans until then?
Here's 6 things I've learned about how to make do before you make it:
6. Manage Your Standard of Living (with Balance)
The very first step in making sure you can get by is define what getting by means to you. After college, I cut every bit of extra spending out of my daily life that I could bear. No more clothes that I didn't NEED. No more games or movies for awhile. No more eating out unless absolutely necessary. I found a cheap studio apartment and shared it with a roommate and then later a girlfriend.
All together, my monthly living costs dropped to about $900 a month for awhile. They've slowly grown due to owning a car now and my student loans catching up. I'm still only about $1,200 a month give or take; this is all while living in a central area of a rapidly growing city. Every time I really want to make a purchase that I don't NEED, I ask myself if it's more important that putting that money towards my career... the answer should almost always be NO, it's not more important. It's a lot easier said than done at first, but you eventually will build a habit of only spending money when you need to.
That being said: don't starve yourself, pay at least the interest on your student loans. Keep up with rent and utilities, and treat yourself to a movie once and awhile. You don't want to be miserable, because you won't work well if you're miserable (Trust me; I went a little too far with this at one point and realized it was better to moderately manage my standard of living without completely destroying it.)
5. Find a Flexible Full-Time Job That Doesn't Totally Suck
This can mean a lot of different things depending on your industry. Certain industries you're going to want to find a job in your field as soon as possible; even if it's the most basic entry level position.
However, in cases like mine, there aren't a lot of jobs at that level and most of them are filled with unpaid internship positions. Because I want to direct and produce, working a ton as a production assistant or doing a ton of freelance may not be the best use of my time. I started out trying to do freelance full time but it really drained me because-- while similar to my passion-- it wasn't my passion. Don't get trapped in thinking freelance is your only option, because plenty of people make it without doing freelance full time. The main problem I had with freelance was I had trouble managing sales and creative work when my schedule was incredibly inconsistent. Freelance is very sales heavy; if that's your thing, go for it.
I did restaurants, pizza delivery, and a few other odd jobs to pay bills between big freelance jobs and that was a little better. Eventually I found my current job as an AudioVisual Technician; I was really lucky to snag this job, but there are lots of things out there that will pay pretty decently while giving your the freedom to practice and work on your passion. Finding a full time job working as a video editor is my short-term goal; however, for now this Audio Visual Technician job is great.
Most of these places you really need to fight for that freedom though; they'll try to schedule you on the days you request off for your big movie shoot, but stay strong and usually they aren't willing to lose you (if you're a good worker) over something like that. Especially if you give them plenty of notice ahead of time. Always give plenty of notice!
4. Make Friends With Those You Work With
Making friends with those you work with can mean two things here. The first is that you should befriend people with the same interests as you. Stop looking at other filmmakers, photographers, engineers, etc. as competition and take an opportunity to learn from one another. I end up throwing jobs to other filmmaker friends of mine all the time because I can't take it on or it doesn't fit my interests. I'm also constantly learning from their mistakes and successes (as I hope they're learning from mine as well.)
The second is at your full time job. You never know who else could be doing cool stuff outside that job. Find out what people are passionate about and if nothing else be as friendly as possible. Those people will likely be your first fans and you will look back and be incredibly grateful to those people. Shout out to my Max & Erma's friends that supported me early on!
3. Be With Someone That Supports Your Passion
Relationships are tough when you're passionate about something that isn't a traditional nine-to-five job. I went to a business school, so most of the people there were incredibly confused by filmmaking and many think it's an irresponsible field to be in. Don't hang around those people; They just can't see the long-term goals like you can.
It's very hard to find someone that isn't also a "starving artist" or completely dismissive of your passions. If possible, seek out relationships that add stability to your crazy life but aren't going to try to hold you back. Many of the filmmakers I know, myself included, have really great and supportive relationships. These people see the long term and are willing to stick around while things are just getting started. However, PLEASE do not take advantage of these peoples' support; make sure you work at your relationship as much as possible.
2. Stop Using Drugs Excessively (Yes, That Includes Drinking!)
This is such a huge thing that people often shy away from talking about. STOP PARTYING SO MUCH! I get it; you're an artist. I was there for a long time and although I worked on some projects, they weren't very good. You need every brain cell working full power if you're going to succeed.
I'm not saying you need to stop drinking, smoking, or whatever completely. Just cut back and learn what real moderation is. I had to completely cut it out of my life for a long time because I have a lot of trouble with moderation (which a lot of artistic people do too). So maybe it's best to substitute your addictions with an addiction to working on your craft; which brings me to the number one tip I can give someone:
1. Work Tirelessly At Your Craft
Don't give up opportunities to learn more about your craft. When there is a project you're passionate about, work day in and day out until it's completed. You're going to basically be working two more full time jobs in addition to your paying one, and it'll be rough. It's worth it.
When you start to see the growth in your craft, you'll really feel rewarded. This is hard to stick to sometimes when you're just starting out because you can't see the growth right away. Just stick to it and practice, practice, practice, practice. (just try to stay a little bit sane, whatever it takes.)
So there you have it; my six most helpful tips to my fellow struggling artists, entrepreneurs, and craftspeople. Is there anything I missed? How do you support yourself on your journey towards success? Let me know in the comments or via twitter @craiginzana.
Thanks for reading!