Hello, career? Are you out there?
One of my favorite pastimes is researching the lives of writers and comedy people I admire. Tracing the paths of someone else’s journey can be so inspirational and oddly comforting.
Because I want to see how they did it. I want the How-To steps for a successful career. I’m one of those weirdos who loves putting together IKEA furniture because you have to follow instructions.
Give. Me. The. Steps.
Guy Raz’s podcast How I Built This explores this idea of what makes a successful career (spoiler: resilience and some luck). Each episode he does a deep dive interview with the founders of famous companies into their histories, successes, and failures.
But while it is helpful to look to others to see how they did it, ultimately it’s up to you to figure out your way.
Musician Jonathan Coulton sums it up perfectly in this interview:
“…And that’s another trap for creative people, is to say, “I want to be that guy. I want to have that guy’s creative life.” You never will. You’re always just going to have your creative life, and the trick is learning what that is, and allowing yourself to be that person.
All to often I’ll find myself trying to emulate exactly how someone I admired did it.
If they wrote a heightened spec, I’ll write a heightened spec. If they draw on certain influences, I’ll make them my influences. Made their name posting silly songs on YouTube? Now I gotta do it. Big on Twitter? Maybe I’ll try and be big on Twitter too.
I’ve written before about my first steps toward shaping my identity as a writer. Part of that has been figuring out where I “slot-in.”
Hollywood loves types. My Canadian friend says it best: “Americans can only handle you being three things, so pick three and stick to them.”
But in searching for those types, I look for types to emulate. And that becomes restrictive. And unrealistic. And it doesn’t serve me as an artist.
Because the truth is when we subsume others’ identities it is often because we lack our own.
The process for figuring out who I am as an artist and writer has been a daunting task for me. I don’t like thinking about myself like that. It feels pretentious. Self-serving. Fake.
But it has been necessary to suss out who I am and what my creative life is all about. For business and creative reasons, sure, but most importantly just for me.
It’s great if someone else’s story and career path resonates. It’s still their story.
You need to cultivate your own creative life. It will be far more valuable to you than someone else’s.