Completely changing course and doing something different. Is it practical and will it lead to happiness, or is it just escapist naivety?
August 3, 2010 9:43 AM   Subscribe

Completely changing course and doing something different. Is it practical and will it lead to happiness, or is it just escapist naivety?

Sorry if this meanders, there IS a question though.

So I have a pretty high paying job in finance, and I'm young (23). Within, say, 3 years I think I can pay down most of my (gigantic) student loans...within 5, if I stayed in my field, I could have some money saved up to do something with. I'd only be 28...which feels like sort of the last chance to really get into something interesting and establish myself in it before I'm just some fogey over the hill, pandering for what I couldn't have in my youth.

The other day I was chatting with a friend, and we were talking about what we'd do if we didn't have debt, didn't "have" to work high paying jobs or whatever...things like culinary school, film school, etc got thrown out. So here's the question: why not? If my dream were to go to film school, would that be "better" than just, I don't know, working in a high paying job and watching movies in my free time instead of being involved directly in a medium I love, but get paid a whole lot less?

I guess I want people to weigh in on this trade-off: making a whole lot more, but giving up the chance to be TRULY involved in things that are truly meaningful to you. Don't get me wrong: I enjoy finance (which is more than I can say for many of my coworkers). But it is not my passion, which in my opinion will keep me from REALLY reaping the upside of the field...and do I really want to spend my WHOLE life doing something I don't care that much? Maybe, I feel most people do. But I don't want to benchmark myself against that if I am capable of doing better.

If I went to film school, for example...maybe I slog it out and can work on movies, TV, whatever. But this would be a huge pay decrease, but ostensibly would be worth it if it made me "happy" (but what is happiness, right?).

Has anyone ever done this? Quit a (very) lucrative field to go into something they "cared" about? Did you regret it? Was it worth it? How do you evaluate a trade-off like that? I like to think that I can live pretty simply, that I don't need a lot to be happy (I've lived in a developing nation and was the happiest I've ever been for example), but then I think about kids, a family, and retirement and wonder if being a little less "happy" about my job might not be best in the long run...but this sounds like a path that will lead to huge regrets.

I guess part of the problem is I just can't imagine myself doing anything outside of finance.

tldr: Is it worth being "happy enough" and making more, or taking the risk, leaving finance, and trying to grab the brass ring?

Just in case, here's an email
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (34 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Woop! I did this last year. I worked in finance for 3.5 years, and quit my job to go back to school to be a transportation planner. Granted, that's not exactly the same thing as film school, and if I had gone back to school for what my actual true 100% real passion is, I'd probably getting my MFA in fiction writing (which I actually almost did instead, but I figured if I was 50/50 MFA in fiction writing or MCP in transportation planning, I should go with the latter). However, I will be making less than I made in finance, so...

It was worth it. Not to spout cliches, but you have exactly one life. You should try things. You can also always come back to finance if it doesn't work out.
posted by millipede at 9:54 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I did this at about your age. Without going into too many details, the brass ring I'd grabbed very promptly turned out to be just that-- brass, not gold-- and I'm still dealing with the professional fallout to this day. In retrospect, I was just very, very romantic as a 23-year-old, and I'd invested my alternate future with all sorts of imaginary delights that just weren't borne out by cold hard reality.

The big takeaway lesson I got out of it was that careers aren't the same as academic subjects; having an intellectual passion for Food in the abstract, or Film, or Animals, isn't at all the same as enjoying the day-to-day business of being a chef or a film student or a zoologist. If you truly enjoy your current job, I'd recommend appreciating that for what it is, and riding it out until you don't enjoy it anymore. Plenty of time to reassess once you've got a few more years under your belt, and have a better understanding of yourself and who you want to be in the world.
posted by Bardolph at 9:54 AM on August 3, 2010 [18 favorites]

I'd only be 28...which feels like sort of the last chance to really get into something interesting and establish myself in it before I'm just some fogey over the hill, pandering for what I couldn't have in my youth.

I was about 28 when I abandoned my first career and took on a second, from scratch. I'm almost 40 now, and the only thing keeping me from doing it again are the responsibilities I chose to take on (house, kids and so on) because my second career makes me so happy. Well, that, and that my second career makes me extremely happy and I see no point in leaving it.

If you're really concerned about this being your "last chance", try to stay focused on not taking on so many responsibilities that you can't change course again if you choose to (that is, that you won't find yourself saying "I made a bad choice this second time, and I wish I could afford to do it again, but the house/the kids/the blah blah blah."
posted by davejay at 9:56 AM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

this is my opinion. you are 23. you are making good money and will be able to pay down your loans and be in a great financial spot once you are 28. from my perspective, i think you should stay the course. you are going to need the money. 28 is not too late to then shift gears and do something more for the heart of it rather than the $$payoff. you will have taken care of some debt, etc, that is going to drag you down later in life when you are busy trying to be happy in a field that doesn't pay you enough money. you will be essentially buying your freedom.

i don't know what your work life is like. do you have the time/energy to take some film classes while you are still working in finance? so you don't feel totally hosed?

i am 36, if that matters.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:57 AM on August 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

I’ve found that in the process of deciding to switch career tracks, no one believes you’re serious unless you’ve been doing it in your off time. So spend a year paying down debt and making movies on the side, get involved in the scene where you are, so that you have a portfolio you can apply to grad schools with and see if you’re into it as much as you think you are. Knowing whether or not you’re willing to give up your free time for it will tell you whether it’s worth the monetary loss.

Data point: The switch I'm attempting to make is away from the happiness art thing to the money thing. Because I've found that employers abuse the love people have for their creative jobs in ways that make the creative jobs suck.
posted by edbles at 9:58 AM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

I was working in finance, totally broke and decided to go to art school. (I racked up an impressive chunk of debt in the process that will be with me for a while.) After graduating, I was un- or underemployed for almost 3 years before I got a steady gig, and I'm still just scraping by. This is not meant to deter you, but following your dream is not always the easy/fun/fulfilling way out. It's a lot of work. "What the hell have I done to myself?" type work. I'll admit, a few times a week I do have a couple thoughts of, "oh, I should have really just stuck with what I was doing 7 years ago, I wouldn't be in this situation." But then I realize that I would be SO, SO BORED right now, and still sitting at a desk looking at meaningless numbers. (This may or may not apply to you.)

I will say I don't regret it. There are a lot of stressful, sleepless nights, but life is too short to look back and think "oh, what if I had just done [X]?" I'm still moving forward, and (yes, it sounds cheesy), but I'm sure I can't even begin to imagine what the next 7 years has in store for me.

And, I (and you!) still have the "worst case scenario" fallback: I have 7 years in accounting experience. There's always someone that needs their books done, right? Also, I just noticed while writing this answer that I am somehow on a 7 year cycle? I'm only 31, wth. Also you will realize that 30 is not the end of times, it's the beginning. Not being snarky or "yay old people!" but just sayin :)
posted by AlisonM at 9:58 AM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

You say you like finance. That's awesome! You make money doing something you like! Treasure that. Don't give up a career you like just because the grass seems greener on the other side.

Film jobs tend to be boring and low-paying. People enjoy working in the industry, sure, but there is absolutely no guarantee that you'll like your life better afterwards. Why do you want to go to film school? Do you want to study film? Do you want to make movies? Do both, it sounds like?

You can compromise more than you think. You can enjoy filmmaking and enjoy your job. Pay down your student loans, but instead of going to film school, go to a place like New York Film Academy and just get some short term training. It sounds like you earn decent money. Buy yourself a decent HD rig - they're not very pricey anymore. Volunteer to PA on shoots until you get enough experience to work for pay on shoots. Use your experience and connections to get to the point where you can attract investors to make a solid short film yourself. Use that short film to leapfrog to other projects and so on and so forth.

If, after all of that, you still find yourself craving an academic experience, go to a graduate film program, sure, but only do that so that you can have the structure and peer group that an MFA program provides.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:00 AM on August 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

...Adding that, while I don't regret doing what I did, I also had zero debt to pay down when I did it. It might be worth it to you to pay off your student loans before embarking on another path that will add to them.

(Also, 28 is not too old to go back to school. I am 28.)

Nthing NY Film Academy-style courses, too.
posted by millipede at 10:04 AM on August 3, 2010

This is a highly individual question, and all I can offer is my life experience (38 and love my work): there is no substitute for truly enjoying your work and finding it meaningful. I have found that to be one of the most fundamental aspects of my basic happiness, that when I work I enjoy it and find it fulfilling, and then when I don't work I get to enjoy my life, too.

I just think that life is too short to have large chunks of most days occupied doing things we either dislike, don't like, or are indifferent to. That's an idealist perspective, but I also feel that I only get one life, so damn right I want to aim for the most ideal one I can achieve. So far, no material rewards have tempted me to forego the day-to-day happiness I've found in my particular career, and I don't see that ever happening.

I encourage anyone to consider first the priorities by which they make these decisions: rather than saying "is this job right or that job?", ask yourself "what is most important to me in terms of day-to-day life satisfaction?" Is it important to you that your work is fulfilling? That it contribute to the world around you in some way? Or is it more important for that work to provide very solid financial security, so that you are relieved of those kinds of existential anxieties? Etc. Figure out as best you can what you'd like your day-to-day life experience to be like, and work backwards from there. Some people are very happy doing work that's sort of emotionally neutral to them--though not unpleasant--because it allows them to focus energy and to have resources for other things. Some people are unhappy unless their work has a larger focus or purpose, or direct benefit to others, and are much less concerned about financial compensation and such. All are valid ways to make a good life, but my point is that you need to answer those questions for you.

On questions like this, I recommend NOT considering practical implications for a bit (like, this much salary for that many years means loans paid off in x amount of time etc.). These things obfuscate what is really important, and what is really important is the quality of your actual daily experience of life.

I also recommend reading some Joseph Campbell (and maybe some Alan Watts, too):
If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are -- if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:05 AM on August 3, 2010 [4 favorites]

Also, re: careers in creative fields: as a musician, the best advice that was given to me as a young man considering a career in the arts was to only do that if it is the only thing you can see yourself happy doing. It's too hard to make a living in creative fields unless you really love the work, and as mentioned upthread, really love the nitty-gritty parts of the actual work (which can be tedious and frustrating, just like any work). Otherwise, keep your artistic pursuits as an active avocation.
posted by LooseFilter at 10:08 AM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

"I'd only be 28...which feels like sort of the last chance to really get into something interesting and establish myself in it before I'm just some fogey over the hill, pandering for what I couldn't have in my youth."

Okay, first, pandering does not mean what you think it means.

Second, 28 is not a "last chance" and past 28 you are not a "fogey." My mother didn't decide what she wanted to "do with her life" until she was 42 and then there were years of education. (I guess I should say, "what she wanted to do with her life, Act II" since Act I was 17 years as a stay-at-home-mother starting at 27ish.) She is highly-qualified, well-regarded, and moved into a managerial role fairly quickly once she started Act II, where she mentors and trains others.

If you don't want to end up golden handcuffed to a job you only sort-of like, be mindful of not taking on the sort of lifestyle where you end up in gold handcuffs.

This is a very quarterlife crisis sort of question, and I'm trying to treat it that way, because I remember the stress of it ... but I think you will find, as you get a little further along in your 20s and into your 30s, that meaning doesn't come only from work. I like what work I do (my work life is slightly complicated) and I do find meaning in it, but I find far greater meaning in my family life and community commitments and volunteer work. A life based entirely on work, even very meaningful work, seems shortsighted and incomplete. Work doesn't last forever (we hope you get to retire!) and a self-definition based on work alone is dangerous -- work can disappear at any moment, your worklife can be upended in an instant. It simply isn't a RELIABLE place to find your self, and there are dozens of studies about how people cope with loss of work when work is their self-definition and their life meaning (spoiler: not well). Service to others, family and community ties, these things last you much longer than work does.

But nobody's "locked in" at 28. You're not a "fogey" at 30. You don't stop doing interesting things in life, well, until you stop doing interesting things. My life has continued to get more interesting (I'm 32) and I look forward to it getting even more interesting in the future. I still haven't decided what I want to be when I "grow up." But I don't think being 32 locks me out of doing it or become expert at it.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:13 AM on August 3, 2010 [17 favorites]

I went into international development thinking it's what I wanted to do with my life, so I didn't leave an ordinary career to follow my passion. I thought it was my passion. But I'm generally unhappy with it. There was always a tiny twinge of discontent and that pretty much grew.

When I was in grad school, though, I thought I was Following My Passion and better than my friends who were not choosing careers based on Following their Heart.

When I first felt that tiny twinge, it was when my learning curve at my first job ended. I'd hope online and look up all kinds of other careers. I'd look at law school, urban planning, applied economics, teaching English as a Second Language, Heath Information Systems, Human name it, I'd be imagining my life that way and sorry that I was stuck in a path.

I think it's how they say some people say what happens when people get engaged. It seems that all of a sudden, they panic and there are so many gorgeous men and women out there, and so many opportunities and paths one could take.

I think I have a tendency to feel trapped. I am going to switch careers (though into something more practical (and boring to some people but I'm good with it) because I originally followed my passion and it makes me tired now), but I didn't just jump onto the course that seemed exciting. I had a number of years in different workplaces to figure out how I worked, what I liked doing, and what I wanted this new course of study to do for me professionally.

I honestly wished I'd given myself different work experiences before jumping into a master's degree program, but I'd blather on about "passion" like I was Oprah. What really sustained me through the early part of my career after the masters was this belief I picked up that I was special and had a purpose and that doing what I was passionate about would alone make me a well paid superstar in my field. If not, at the least, I wouldn't be unhappy. I was wrong on both counts, of course. To continue with that feeling, I would have to believe that stuff about having only one life and that I was actually passionate.

I second guess if I was really passionate or just enthusiastic now or if I was looking for a virtuous identity. I know now that I actually have requirements and needs beyond passion that keep a specific kind of tension in my life. I don't want to work at all costs. I like to work 9-5 and I want a job doesn't get in the way of my ever evolving interests and gives me a good degree of time and financial flexibility.

It is hard to feel passionate when you have so many student loans and you have many interests that you wish you could try. But the sentiment at the time was about "passion" and I know now that I'd like to move across the country and paint one day, write another, be a CIA agent one day, be a movie critic another and be an actress another.

In the end, be careful that you aren't confusing the idea of what you want to do everyday with who you think you want to be (as in, "I want to be a creative director at a magazine because they seem to be having fun and are always dressed nicely" or "I want to be a social worker because they seem like good people and I want to be a good person").
posted by anniecat at 10:18 AM on August 3, 2010 [5 favorites]

A life based entirely on work, even very meaningful work, seems shortsighted and incomplete. Work doesn't last forever (we hope you get to retire!) and a self-definition based on work alone is dangerous -- work can disappear at any moment, your worklife can be upended in an instant. It simply isn't a RELIABLE place to find your self, and there are dozens of studies about how people cope with loss of work when work is their self-definition and their life meaning (spoiler: not well).

Eyebrows nailed it.
posted by anniecat at 10:20 AM on August 3, 2010

If you genuinely want to make movies (or TV, or documentaries, or whatever), you should just start digging around for connections and opportunities rather than wasting the time/money going to film school at this late date. Not to say that film school is a total waste, but it's not necessary to work in the industry. I work in film and TV and my degree is in anthropology. So far it has not been an issue.

If your degree is in business/finance/accounting, chances are you could have a lucrative career ahead of you in accounting for the entertainment industry, right now, without sticking it out in a job you hate. From there, you could take the time and go to film school if that interests you, or just continue to see where the industry takes you.
posted by Sara C. at 10:27 AM on August 3, 2010

I know people like you. They pursued their dreams. They have a life I envy. I spend every waking moment that's not at the day job pursuing art. I tried kicking aside the day job to go for the art, thinking I had wasted my life by not doing it sooner, and that i was running out of time at age 40.

I went back to the job. I make better art on deadline knowing that my bills are paid and that I have health insurance. It sucks, right? It's not romantic. I'm not living in the Chelsea Hotel and I'm not going to write at the Nebraska Artist's Colony in the summers and I don't spend my evenings surrounded by a coterie of bohemian-types. I do my job, I come home, I do stuff that normal people do, and then I push through my exhaustion to do something artistic that day. Some days are better than others.

There is a woman I envy, she is - to me - a talented & successful writer. They are right now worried about how they are going to fund their old age and are envious of me who has a skill that always gets me a job. I am envious of their page count as they sit during the day and work, when I only have nights and weekends to get it done. But I get it done.

It is tough at 23 to have perspective. But 28 is not too old. 35 is not too old. The only age that is too old is never.

My advice would be to get rid of that debt and save save save and then if you want to take 3 or 6 months to do something awesome, do it. But get skills, get something that will allow you to get a job when you've run out of cash or are ready to take a break.

I'd suggest not insulting the fogeys along the way, many of them will be able to help you and offer good advice.
posted by micawber at 10:27 AM on August 3, 2010 [7 favorites]

Hmm, I'm sort of in the middle of this right now. I used to be a technical writer, which I enjoyed, making a very good salary, and I left the field to freelance edit and go to library school. (I was laid off, so I didn't leave of my own free will, but I chose to pursue a different direction rather than dive right back into technical writing.) I now make exactly half of what I did before, but the work is a lot more interesting and engaging.

However, it's been quite difficult. I'm not necessarily sure I'm any happier these days. I don't have the same "sense" of myself as I had in my old field; most days I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing anymore. And I really, really miss my old salary; not having that has been rough.

I guess the most valuable element that's come out of this experience is that it's helped me articulate what's really important to me after all, and it turns out that having a job that I love, even if it doesn't pay all that much, really ISN'T enough for me. A good salary, which affords me the ability to do and buy what I want, and the security that comes with it, has turned out to be more important to me. (That surprised me. I am intensely frugal and felt like it would be no problem to come down to this salary range, but I hate feeling so pinched all the time.) Also, I discovered that it's not as important to me as I originally thought that I have a job I LOVE; I just have to not hate it.

That said, I'm glad I did it, even if I will be equally glad to change paths again in a year or two. I would have always wondered what could have been otherwise, and there's no law that the door will close on finance if you leave it to pursue something else. Also, you're wise to take this time and income to pay down your loans and build up solid savings; any jump or change you make later will be made infinitely easier if you have that buffer to cushion you.
posted by anderjen at 10:28 AM on August 3, 2010

Response by poster: How much do you do film work or whatever outside your job? How much do you read about the subject? How many films do you go to see, have you done 48-hour film competitions, do you spend your time planning your own films and is your computer stocked with film-editing software?

I have friends who are serious into films and filmmaking. It is pretty much how they spend their time outside work--planning films, writing scripts, editing the films they have, going to film festivals. They don't give up their day jobs though, because they understand that having a passion for something is different than being able to pursue a career in it.

In order to make a big step like this, you have to, at minimum, be totally consumed with it outside your work. If that's not the case you likely are not passionate enough to make it through the debt and crap that's going to accrue when you're making such a serious life change (and pay cut), and you also likely don't know enough about the industry itself.

I changed my life about a year ago, moving to a different area to pursue a hobby I'm incredibly passionate about. But it was successful because I had no debt, nothing tying me down to my old life, and I could live on the $8/hour job I had stocking auto parts when I first moved, because it meant I could keep doing the hobby I loved. You have to ask yourself how much you're willing to put up with for the thing you love, as opposed to having a job that gives you the money and lack of stress that allows you to do the thing you love on the side.
posted by Anonymous at 10:31 AM on August 3, 2010

Yes, there's a degree of escapist naivete in your post, but some degree of that is a good thing--it's the fountain of optimism that allows us to take risks. Just don't mistake for anything other than escapest naivete.

There's no such thing as a "last chance" based on your age.

Lastly, and most importantly, there's nothing (NOTHING NOTHING NOTHING) so helpful to following your dreams as financial independence. NOTHING. Stay in your current job, which you like, and pay off your student loans, and save up a grub stake. Follow your dreams (or explore a few different ones) on the side--dabble a bit in everything. In a couple years you'll be debt-free in your 20s, well-educated, have valuable work experience, and most importantly, a much clearer idea of what you want to do next and nothing holding you back.
posted by fatbird at 11:00 AM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's a lot easier to go to school than it is to really make it in your new career. That's why so many people go the cooking school rather than just getting a job as a chef when they have their midlife crisis.
posted by smackfu at 11:14 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Finance isn't going anywhere... but neither is film school.

Absolutely pay off your debts, especially your student loans, before accuring more student loans. Unless you really take off in film, the jobs you will be able to get with a degree in film are exactly zero. You may get stuck working in finance again to pay back your debt, only this time, you'll have more debt than you do now, which would make you actually seriously stuck in it.

I went to art school. I don't regret it. It did not in any way land me a job in which I can immediately pay back my loans. Sure, they'll get paid, but certainly not in the next 5 years.

Pay the loans first. Do film on the side. If, once you have full financial independence, you really feel like you need to break out - do it. It's never too late to change gears. Not at 23, not at 28, never. As long as you're breathing, you can change what you're doing. It's just so much easier to do so when not saddled with debt.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 11:14 AM on August 3, 2010

There is a difference between what you like and what you like doing. Make sure that the career is something you like doing. For instance being a chef is actual manual labor. Make sure it's not something you enjoy the realities of.
posted by magikker at 11:17 AM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I left a finance job early in my career with thoughts of pursuing "something different." I've talked about it on AskMe a couple times (here, here, here). In short, it didn't work as I planned--I ended up back in finance, but in a different capacity that I really enjoy.
posted by mullacc at 11:25 AM on August 3, 2010

My main concern reading your question is the assumption that everything is going to progress for you in a linear path and that your situation will be exactly as you envision it to be in five years. Seeing how you are in finance, I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with the work of Nicholas Nassim Taleb, and his Black Swan theory. It's quite possible at 28 you will be ready and able to transition to your desired second career after paying off your debts. Or, you could be on your fourth career by then. We could be entering a double dip recession and the finance sector could be decimated again with massive lay offs... or you could end up doing so well that you are offered an incredible promotion by your boss which completely changes your role, compensation and outlook for your career. There's just no way of knowing for sure.

Also your question about being 28 is silly. Think about it, most med and law students are just getting out of school around that age. PhD candidates much later in many cases...I think your plan is a good one but you need to set goals for making it happen. It's very easy to get sucked in when making a lot of money. I would urge you to fight lifestyle inflation at every turn. Live like a student and pay off your debts ASAP, so you can start doing what you want.

Most successful people in the arts get that way after years and years of practice with very little tangible success. A successful "young" novelist for example is usually around 40. Can you picture yourself working for 20 years or more in obscurity while waiting tables at night to make ends meet? Are you that committed to the idea? If not, stay in finance and make movies as a hobby. Good luck!
posted by the foreground at 12:21 PM on August 3, 2010

i know someone who is a nurse (it pays the bills) but he really likes to write screenplays. He recently entered a short-film contest in a major city where he wrote the script and directed it. he never went to film school. i say in the very least, do something like this before taking the plunge. --and, personally, as far as film school is concerned, i say take the money you would spend on tuition and buy/rent equipment and actually start making movies.
posted by mrmarley at 1:24 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Firstly, pay off your loans while you can. To not to so is just foolhardy.

Now, my father did exactly what you're talking about. At age 50 he gave up his law practice, sold his home and moved to Toronto to pursue a career in acting (he'd been doing it part-time for years.) He knew that he had to try it for real otherwise he would die unsatisfied. Also, he hated being a lawyer.

He's been making a go of it for nearly eight years now. He has managed to support himself purely with acting work. I would say that he is generally happier as an actor than he was as a lawyer. But there have been definite trade-offs. First of all, he's more or less broke. He pays his rent and bills and can feed himself and has a perfectly nice apartment in a working-class neighbourhood, but he really doesn't have much in the way of disposable income. He goes to the library instead of the bookstore. For Christmas my siblings and I will give him some giftcards to help him along (in addition to an actual gift, of course). Last year his car broke down and he couldn't afford to fix it so now he takes the bus and rides his bike.

I think that he's happy. He certainly seems relaxed. But I know that he misses his old quality of life. He misses having a nice condo downtown and being able to go out for dinner and drinks with friends a few times a week. And now he talks about returning to law.

This is all to say that it's not a clear-cut choice. The Oprah-esque vision of "following your passion" isn't all roses. It can be a struggle, especially if your passion is artistic. Let's face it, there isn't money to be made in the arts for most people. Very very few get to "make it." You would have to face that reality and come to peace with it if you're to be happy leading the artistic life. If you really hate what you're doing and think that you'll regret not having tried something else with your working life then I would say go for it. But if it's wondering if you'd be a little happier doing something else, well, they call it 'work' for a reason...because it's work.

Oh, also, I would add that my little brother went to film school and loved it. He learned a ton and even got to spend some time working in LA on CSI. He still films and has things on the go, but he's working as a bike courier to pay the bills. He also hits my mom up for cash now and then (I blame that on living in Vancouver where the cost of living is through the roof and not exactly kind to young artists).

This is the stuff you'll have to weigh.
posted by fso at 1:33 PM on August 3, 2010 [3 favorites]

I don't think you are being escapist, but I also highly recommend that you land as many informational interviews as possible in the field you are interested in. For culinary school for example, I know many people who have put a lot of money into learning to be a chef only to finish and get a job and discover their training doesn't make them a chef and their degrees are not a promise of even middle class wages. I have a feeling that many people will tell you to avoid going back to school and instead starting 'showing up' and trying out the work you want to do.

I have a friend who was in the finance business and went to work in Hollywood and the only work he could find that anyone let him do was production accounting. He hated it, because he thought he was Jimmy Kimmel and they thought he was pretty good with balancing budgets. What I'm trying to say, from experience, is fantasy does not meet reality 99% of the time. Only you will be able to tell if you are happy and the stress of the business and the change of circumstance may change you beyond the recognition of others.

It's always worth it to 'be happy' in the space you wish to be in. If you enjoy finance and you want to work creatively, why not open a weekend food stand at a farmer's market?
posted by parmanparman at 1:45 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

You know the expression "don't quit your day job?"

Of course you do -- and for good reason. Almost everyone who wants to do something creative and/or artistic needs to keep working some other "ordinary" job to pay the bills while they hone their craft and try to break into "the business."

Well guess what? Instead of waiting tables or pulling espresso for minimum wage and depending on tips, you have the opportunity to make good money, get yourself out of dept, and, present a much more successful and driven figure then your usual starving-artist type when you're ready to make the leap. A lot of people come up with the rationalization that their present "day job" is too demanding, both of time and energy, and that they'd have an easier time focusing on their art if they were tending a bar instead of bank accounts. That's total bull -- turns out, it takes pretty much all your time and energy to eke out a living doing that.

As for film school, hey, it's great, if your parents can pay for it, but it's definitely not worth taking out more student loans over. You're better off staying where you are, getting yourself out of dept, and in the mean time, learning as much as you can from Barnes & Nobles University. You can also sign up for night school classes - they're not great, but you get your money's worth just by putting yourself in a room with other people who share your goals, so that you have to go public with your Hollywood aspirations, and they don't stay your embarrassing little secret.

Basically, it comes down to this: you're absolutely right that if you know you want to make movies, you shouldn't wait 'til you're 28, but rather, start right now, today even. But that doesn't mean you should get out of finance -- it means be willing to burn the candle at both ends for a while, until you're good enough that it really is time to quit the day job.
posted by patnasty at 1:56 PM on August 3, 2010 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't underestimate the power of money: it provides freedom for you to spend your time how you like. Earn as much as you can for the next 5 years, cultivate your hobbies (film-making?) at the same time, and at age 28 consider your options.
posted by londongeezer at 2:09 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who went to film school (NYU) and actually works in a related field, but makes very little money:

If your day job allows you enough free time to do some amateur film-making on the side, I would encourage you to stick with that for now. The entertainment industry is brutal, and unless you're very lucky or absurdly and obviously talented, it can take years of shitty jobs and terrible pay to even have a chance at a more stable or interesting position. It's a path that's nearly impossible to stick to unless you're inhumanly passionate about it or have excellent connections that can help you skip some of the lower rungs of the ladder.

Keep in mind, as well, how bleak things are in general right now. I just spent a few days in Los Angeles visiting with my friends from film school, my boss at my last studio job and other industry folks. All but one of them (including the boss, who was the creator of a successful TV show) are currently out of work and feeling really discouraged about their life choices. I'm almost 30, and have been working steadily for years, and if it weren't for my husband I wouldn't have enough money to live in my modest apartment.

I do this job because I am actually incapable of doing anything else for any length of time. If I could be happy (if not overjoyed) in a well-paying finance job, that's what I'd be doing right now. I'd love to be able to afford to live in a nice neighborhood, or travel for reasons other than work, or own a car, or any number of other things, but I can't afford them, and I may never be able to.

I don't mean to be a downer, but I'd caution you against romanticizing this kind of decision.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 3:02 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

Everyone I know who chose art over commerce is poor (even around here, where the government will subsidize you to create original content). Some of them are happy. Some of them changed their minds later, and are now five years behind their colleagues in their new dayjob careers. Some of them married dentists.

A lot of people seem to be jumping on the part of your question mentioning film school, which to me looks like it was just meant as an example. My turn!

One of the things every 23-year-old wannabe filmmaker dreams of is for a 28-year-old venture capitalist to walk into their limited-release arthouse short-film festival screening looking for someone to give them a producer credit on the next project. You could set up the opportunity for something like this to happen in your future.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:31 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of people come up with the rationalization that their present "day job" is too demanding, both of time and energy, and that they'd have an easier time focusing on their art if they were tending a bar instead of bank accounts. That's total bull -- turns out, it takes pretty much all your time and energy to eke out a living doing that.

Unless your "day job" is the film industry. In which case it will suck up 50% more time and energy than any other field*, to the point that tending bar to make time for your art actually looks attractive.

Which leads me back to magikker's point from above. Be aware of the actual realities of the careers you're looking at.

Even if you are wealthy and well-connected, and you get into a top-flight film program which zips you to the top of the heap so that you don't have to toil away as a PA (which is not a guarantee - there are NYU grads begging for a chance to day-play on the project I'm currently on), you still have to pay your dues in this industry. You will still find yourself slogging away as a Second Second AD or assistant to somebody, working twice the hours you work now for half the pay, with no lunch break or weekend or air conditioned desk to sit at. And if you somehow manage to succeed (and not many do), you will work harder the further you progress. It sounds romantic to be a director or producer, but those guys never sleep. They don't see their kids. They don't have social lives outside of work. It's more demanding than you can possibly imagine.

If you like the idea of paying your dues in a career and then getting to slide in at 10 and leave at 5, take Friday afternoons off in summer to go enjoy your country house, and all the other stuff the execs get, stay in the job you already have. Because it's never going to happen even if you are successful beyond your wildest dreams in movies.

*I worked till 7 tonight and will be in at 6am tomorrow. I never got breakfast, lunch was scarfed in about 15 minutes (which I felt guilty about taking), and I have neither the energy to cook dinner nor the cash to order out. This is not unusual, or even worth griping about - this is my job.
posted by Sara C. at 5:34 PM on August 3, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm 24. Speaking from my own experience, the short of it is, if you're 23, there is a very good chance that your inclinations, your situation, your interpretation of your situation, or some combination of the above will change within the next two years.

So my advice would for you would be to consider sticking it out for two more years, or thereabouts. It shouldn't be too late to change courses*, and you'll have a better sense of where you stand with your job and situation (I'm guessing you couldn't have finished college and started your current job much more than, maybe two years ago), as well as a better sense of where you want to go and how you want to get there. You'll also have a better financial base, which is nothing to scoff at.

*I don't know about the film industry (I'm a musician), so maybe 25 is too late to start. But if 25 is too late, I'm not sure why 23 would be so much better.
posted by Busoni at 7:10 PM on August 3, 2010

Keep your day job. Post movies to YouTube. Get noticed. Profit ( Monetarily, Socially, Existentially )

I was talking to my friend about this the other night. The possibility of 'blowing up' as an artist is so much greater than it used to be thanks to the interwebs. It is possible that we could have grabbed a HD camera ( That you can afford because you work in finance ), filmed ourselves doing something awesome ( ? ), edited it in Premiere / AfterEffects, posted to YouTube, go viral, and end up on the front page of Digg and then on David Letterman is the course of 1-2 weeks. What were the chances of doing that 10 years ago?

Why do you want to be a film maker? The art? The money? The recognition? For me, I would love to be a hip-hop music producer. I would love to have 5000 people scattered across the world bob their heads to one of my beats that they downloaded on Bandcamp. But I have a great career that pays well and have kids so just quitting my job would be stupid. But I do have the means to build myself a nice home studio. I can spend the little free time I have making beats. Who knows, one of these beats might get 1,000 views on YouTube. That would be AWESOME! That might give me enough recognition to get some fans, and collaborate with some good artists, and who knows, maybe I could create an EP, get someone to properly master it and sell it on iTunes. But even if that doesn't happen, I will have a bunch of beats that I created and can be proud of. And I will still have my career which can finance a second dream.

Separate what you do for money and what you do for love.
posted by jasondigitized at 11:19 AM on August 4, 2010

Don't know if you're still reading this, but I would like to say, that my advice doesn't mean you have to be idle for two years. You can keep your interest alive, build your network, and further your research. Talk to people who know what you need to know, and talk to people who know people who know. That way, in two or however many years, if you do switch courses, you'll be better prepared. Of course, being in finance, your time might be limited. But I just wanted to make sure I didn't come off as saying, stay where you are and do nothing else for two years.
posted by Busoni at 6:11 AM on August 6, 2010

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