What am I doing with my life?
February 25, 2015 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I am happy with my job right now, but I don't have a career. I'm smart but due to certain circumstances in life I haven't had a stable work history until now. I have a career in mind but I'm kind of in a catch 22.

I'm going to be 30 this year. Due to mental health issues I didn't finish college. I attended twice, in my late teens and then in my mid twenties, but it just wasn't for me, I dropped out fairly quickly. I don't want to go back. I had a very spotty work history until last year. I have been at my job a year and I'm doing very well.
I am currently an office manager at a very small non-profit (there are just 3 of us). I'm in NYC and I feel very lucky to have a stable job, especially lacking a degree. My job is the first I've had that I have done well at and that I've stuck with and it has given me the stability I was longing for. I like my job but it won't always be enough for me. I have zero room for growth within this company and being an office manager isn't my dream job.
I know I'm smart and driven, I'm very good with organization, problem solving and working independently. I am insecure however because I don't have a degree and my experience is in a role I just don't want.
I have, for a long time, wanted to get into a producer role somewhere. Ideally I would like to work in the film industry. My boyfriend is in the industry and the more time I've spent with his colleagues, I'm sure it would be a great fit for me. I did spend some time while unemployed helping a colleague of his, who is a producer, and she said I would be amazing at it. I spend enough time talking to him about work and being around his office, to know what it entails. I think I would be great at it. It's an industry I love, the pay is great and it's challenging.
Formal qualifications aren't key in this industry but my issue is that to gain experience I would need to be an intern/volunteer initially and I just can't dedicate time to it because I work full time. I can't quit my job because I'm not financially able to, and I can't switch to producing and turn it into a career because I don't have the time to set the groundwork and gain experience.

It took me a long time to stop beating myself up for being late in the career game but I just don't know how to make the steps to switch to a career instead of a job.

Has anyone else been in this position and can give any advice? Anyone else in the industry that has any insight?

Thanks so much in advance.
posted by shesbenevolent to Work & Money (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Given that you have an in with your boyfriend in the industry, can you use that connection to set up a paid position to transition into? You could also look into volunteering part time/nights and weekends and see if that gets your anywhere. I'd also look at your finances in general and see if you can cut down to living on 2/3 or 1/2 of your current income, and saving the rest as a buffer for your job transition.
posted by fermezporte at 12:01 PM on February 25, 2015

The blessing AND the curse of these current times is that it's harder to break into creative fields that old way - however, it's easier to try to do things in the funky indie digital content way.

What I mean is:

Let's look at my own passion, which is writing. When I was younger, the only way to get my work published/publically available was the old-school print way - write, send it to a publisher, wait for them to decide whether they wanted to use it, get told that they didn't, rinse, repeat. If I was lucky I would get published. If I wasn't....it would stay in my notebooks.

....Then came blogging, and online magazines. Both of which I started doing, and got a lot further with faster.

I'm not "a writer" the same way I thought I would be when I was a kid, where you can go into a Barnes and Nobel and buy a book with my name on the cover or a magazine with my name inside on the masthead. But - if you go to a web page and do a search for my name, you will come up with a list of 26 articles, all written by me, and all things I got paid for. I'm not getting paid enough to give up my day job - but by the same token, I didn't have TO give up my day job in order TO work to the point where I got published.

But how does all that apply to you, you ask.

What I"m getting at is - the digital landscape has made it both easier and harder, simultaneously, to get into a creative field. It's "harder" in the sense that there are a lot more people trying to compete with you if you're trying to do things the old-school way - but it is "easier" in the sense that you are now WAY more able to say "fuck this, I'm still going to just do it around my day job as I can" and actually be able to produce something. You can't quit your job to intern at a shoot - but, I bet you can team up with your boyfriend or some of his colleagues or some people with similar interests and launch a YouTube series, which you produce on the weekends. You won't have to give up your day job, it'll be hands-on experience, and you'll actually have people looking at your work and reacting to it and responding to it, which is INCREDIBLY valuable.

And the "real" arbiters of the different creative fields are starting to pay more attention to digital things. Even in travel writing (my own aspirational bailiwick) - the "best travel writing of the year" books have started to draw from the online travel e-zines when considering what material to include in their anthologies. A couple years ago they weren't (it wasn't considered to be "real" then), but the digitial field has gotten kind of big and can't be ignored.

Try that. You may find that after some hands-on time that you may be satisfied with just that level of involvement after all; or, you may find that you have more of an affinity for it than you thought, and that will show up on your YouTube channel, and if it goes mega-viral then you'll be able to take that and go to more industrial channels and say "so, here's my credentials".

give it a try.

good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:02 PM on February 25, 2015 [11 favorites]

(Oh - I should add that from the time I decided to try travel writing, to the time that I picked up a regular gig online? About two months. Seriously, sometimes the DIY-digital-online method works.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:04 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could work on a volunteer basis for projects at night and on weekends.

Get a job in the entertainment industry. Be an administrative assistant for a production company, then start bleeding your tasks over into production. Get experience that way.

But just know that this is a plum job. People go to NYU film school to get into this work. Even then, the stars have to align just right for them to get a crack at it. Does that mean that it's impossible for you to get into it, and to succeed? No. But the odds are against it.

Continue to build your skill set, get more financially stable. Work in the industry if the opportunity arises.

Here are some examples:

Production Assistant at NBC Universal, 1 year experience required, 141 applicants.

Administrative Assistant, CBS

Sales Assistant, CBS

You see where I'm going with this?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on February 25, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks for the suggestion EmpressCallipygos but being a producer doesn't actually involve any creativity.
A producer is more of a facilitator. So it involves a lot of organizing, problem solving and people skills. It ranges from booking travel, equipment hire, budgets etc. They deal with all the practical aspects of a project so the director can concentrate on being the creative force.
posted by shesbenevolent at 12:08 PM on February 25, 2015

Response by poster: Thanks Ruthless Bunny. I'm aware of the competitive aspects involved with the industry. I'm not necessarily trying to get into big TV/film. My boyfriend is a commercial director and if I had the experience I would be able to use his leads/connections to get work, I just can't back up that work with experience right now.
He actually suggested I find a company within the industry to work at and work my way up in. It's my only plan right now.
posted by shesbenevolent at 12:11 PM on February 25, 2015

Thanks for the suggestion EmpressCallipygos but being a producer doesn't actually involve any creativity.
A producer is more of a facilitator. So it involves a lot of organizing, problem solving and people skills. It ranges from booking travel, equipment hire, budgets etc. They deal with all the practical aspects of a project so the director can concentrate on being the creative force.

I know - I worked in theater and television for several years.

When I was speaking of "a creative field", I wasn't talking about your specific tasks, I was referring to the nature of the business itself (film itself is "creative" compared to, say, banking). And I still don't see why you couldn't do all of that for a series of videos that you've teamed up with someone to create and post on YouTube or something.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:13 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Well my boyfriend is way too busy to be able to help me with any of that and I can't ask friends of his to spend their free time creating a series for me. They're all married and have children and it's just not something I could ask. They all work a lot and have things going on outside of work, it's just not something that is feasible.
posted by shesbenevolent at 12:17 PM on February 25, 2015

Just pointing out something for two reasons -

Usually it's best to not answer back each person who speaks to you in AskMe like this; it's kind of a site policy to just sit on your hands and let people answer, unless they're seriously wrong about something. A comment or two is fine, but not, like, every other comment.

But I also notice that all of the comments you've posted to follow up have almost all been about "here's the reason why the suggestion you've just made will not work". It's kind of sounding like you're deliberately trying to talk yourself out of even TRYING anyone's suggestions, which may start making people wonder whether you actually really want their help.

That said:

Well my boyfriend is way too busy to be able to help me with any of that and I can't ask friends of his to spend their free time creating a series for me. They're all married and have children and it's just not something I could ask. They all work a lot and have things going on outside of work, it's just not something that is feasible.

There are other people in the world aside from your boyfriend and his colleagues. Maybe some of THEM would be interested in getting involved in a video project.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

It doesn't have to be your boyfriend and his friends. I guarantee that if you live in a reasonable-sized city (which you seem to) there will be out there somewhere loads of non-professional writers/directors/actors who'd just *love* to create their own short films, web series etc, but don't know where to start when it comes to producing and getting it off the ground. If someone walked up to them and said: "Do you have a script that needs a producer?" they'd bite your arm off.

Look for local non-professional writing groups, theatre groups, film-making groups etc. and go introduce yourself. In my experience they're generally full of people who want to do the more obviously creative stuff, and are crying out for people who know how to organise a project and make it happen.
posted by penguin pie at 12:30 PM on February 25, 2015 [4 favorites]

And just because I suspect you're wanting to ask: ways you could find those people would be: Craigslist, Meetup.com, posting flyers on telephone poles, networking at your boyfriends' office parties and telling them that if they hear of anything to let you know...or, maybe even just start thinking of some kind of web series you may want to produce on some topic, then look for someone who is especially good at that topic, pitch them the idea, and then the two of you together can start looking for a director and everyone else.

My ultimate point is: there is a way to DIY all of this, such that you won't have to quit your day job and can fit it around your work. If you're wedded to doing things the old-school way, you are going to have a harder time doing things that way and keeping the day job, but if you want to keep the day job, there IS this alternative way, you just need to go into more uncharted territory and think outside the box.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:30 PM on February 25, 2015

Best answer: I can't ask friends of his to spend their free time creating a series for me

I don't think that was the actual suggestion, and it feels like you're being awfully literal. Network with the people your boyfriend knows if you can*, until you find people who are still at the entry-level-ish $0 budget done-in-free-time level of making things, like a web series, or I don't know - book trailers, sketches, public-access. Get into producing that way, by teaming up with people who want to do stuff.

*Also just ask them where they'd go right now to network and start hooking up with like-minded people, or just look up anybody you admire and find out how they did it. My husband first got "experience" via his classmates at UCB needing someone who could spend a Saturday shooting their sketches or whatever, and he had a camera and sound recorder and hobby-level editing experience and a willingness to show up. It was pretty much the same deal for producer, director, costume, hair & makeup, etc - whoever could do it. And then everyone had a little something for their reel.

Everyone I know in the entertainment business got started as a group of people who worked together on stuff**, and over time one of them got a crappy but paying PA job and then got one of the others cast as an extra and then later one of them heard about a writing job that they recommended another friend for and she did well and moved up the chain and got them hired on with her etc etc etc [time passes] and now of the original 20 people or so who started out together, 3 are on TV now, 5 are writing and possibly also producing, 1 is directing, 3 are producing, one's an exec. Very few people do it alone.

**Very nearly always either improv or sketch classes, even if they did not specifically go on to work in comedy, or doing gruntwork in the theatre if they were in a theatre region/culture. You should be taking classes that introduce you to people who want to make stuff and get famous, because they will need help doing that, and that is what you want to do, so it's symbiotic.

The other thing would absolutely be to get an admin job in the industry, so that your face and voice is in the faces and ears of the people who have production work that you will want to get for yourself later. If you can get a job at a production company, even just making spreadsheets and answering the phone, that is an education in production that you are not going to get at your job today, and if you make it known that you are interested in climbing the ladder you will find people who are willing to take a minute here and there to show you things and give you opportunities. I think this is the advice that almost any producer would give you - go work in the industry doing whatever you can for right now.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:44 PM on February 25, 2015 [5 favorites]

You are in New York, which is perfect. People do go to film school there. So if it were me, I'd go looking for people at film schools, programs, etc. who need a volunteer producer or assistant producer but don't have one yet. Your skill set is valuable. See if you can communicate that to zero-budget folks who need what you have but can't afford to pay for it and are willing to let you work your magic at nights and on weekends. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 1:00 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks Ruthless Bunny. I'm aware of the competitive aspects involved with the industry. I'm not necessarily trying to get into big TV/film.

You did see the jobs I linked to so that you could use the skill set you've built in the entertainment field, right?

Otherwise it looks like you asked for help, and are pooh-poohing some very seriously given advice and strategies.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:27 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My personal feeling, at least from experience, is that the grass is always kind of greener. If being a producer is your dream, I am not saying don't go after your dream, but I also think it would be a mistake to a) quit a stable job and hope to get a job as a producer or b) spend your time applying to a bunch of producer jobs when you don't have real workplace experience doing it. I also c) wouldn't let you convince yourself that the job you have now is a crappy situation, because it isn't, it sounds like.

What I would recommend is that you keep your job you have now, and then in your free time (sometime in the 120 hours you aren't working every week) do some side projects in production. Look for smaller stuff that you can get paid for (no matter how crappy the pay is) and will result in finished projects that you can put your name on. I'm just not sure with the experience (or lack of) you have that your energy is best devoted to applying for jobs. I think you'd be better off taking on projects to develop a work history and meeting people in the field who can keep you in mind for jobs.

Without getting specific, I'm in a slightly similar boat, and now I look back and I was a fool applying for jobs so early when I decided, "Hey, I want to switch careers and do this." But I've plugged away at it on a side-job, freelance basis while keeping my stable job, and I've been able to make connections and build a reputation that has landed me some offers. I think what you're trying to do is hard -- not impossible, but will take some time -- so I would keep your safety net, which is your current job.

I do think you can try to get an office manager job or some sort of similar job to what you have now in the industry you want to enter. That may bring you closer to what you want to do and get you acquainted with the right people. It may also help you decide if this is really your dream or not. Just make sure you know what you want to do next from that job and you aren't boxing yourself in with it.
posted by AppleTurnover at 3:09 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Show biz is a business built on connections. You need to network with your friends, his friends, friends of friends, etc.. You can apply for PA jobs (most productions will want an intern to be enrolled in school--internships have gotten a lot of scrutiny in the last few years) or office coordinator jobs or volunteer on student film shoots, etc.. Everyone is a freelancer--I've never had a staff gig and know very few people who have, and I've been in this quite a while.
If your BF is in commercials, he should know people at ad agencies, talent agencies, post-production places--all of these places have entry level jobs that can use your organizational skills.
posted by Ideefixe at 4:23 PM on February 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Best answer: He actually suggested I find a company within the industry to work at and work my way up in. It's my only plan right now.

This is the correct answer. If you work somewhere already and are known to be organized and good at logistics and they need an assistant you have an in. Being good at logistics is insanely marketable, most people are awful.

Ideally you want an assistant job so that you interact with higher ups but any gig will work to make friends and show off your insane ability to plan ahead and problem solve.
posted by fshgrl at 5:31 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm doing this transition right now, except not from a full-time job (unless you count motherhood hahahahasob). I've gained a lot of traction by stalking people on facebook who are working in the way that I want to be working. I produced a film of my own, then actively networked online for a while, then started inviting people out for coffee. Eventually I was invited to production manage a short shoot. I kept going to "industry parties" and such, and just being out in the film world, and because everybody loves an organized person who is willing to work for peanuts, I'm rapidly building a resume with free/low pay short term jobs that I hope to parlay into a paying full-time gig in the next year. Low budget shorts often shoot over weekends, for what that's worth...
posted by lizifer at 5:59 PM on February 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone! Really great advice. I'm definitely going to look into volunteering anywhere I can just to get some experience under my belt. Although I have a lot of appropriate skills, I'm not familiar with a lot of the specific knowledge I need to enter the field yet. I'm not going to make any attempt to get a production assistant position until I know I can do the job. My plan is to transition to a relevant company in the industry doing the same thing I do now, and to build experience outside of work. AppleTurnover I definitely agree with all you said, I have no intention of getting in over my head. My job is definitely good for me at this place in my life and I'm not going to switch any time soon. I don't like to half-ass things.
lizifer I think you're doing a great job of building your experience and I wish you the best of luck! Keep me informed of your progress. I may even send you a private message if that's ok?
And rainydayfilms I appreciate your concern but I'm not looking into this just because it seems shiny and new. I've thought about this for a long time as I said in my question. I don't think that came across because I didn't want to bog down my question. It isn't because my boyfriend is in the industry, and film is my passion. Don't know why you think it isn't. I don't plan on getting into reality TV, it's just not the place for me. I'm aware of how competitive it is, I know it's freelance and that I will have to advance my career myself. I am very aware of the ins and outs of the job itself, I just wanted insight into how people got started. People gave really great suggestions and I'm grateful for everyones insight.
posted by shesbenevolent at 11:06 AM on February 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

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