As my accidental “year off” comes to a close next month, I’ve been reflecting lately on how exactly I ended up when I’m at. I’m approaching some real strides in becoming the film kid I want to be and I don’t think I would have ever been able to appreciate my current situation with experience some major achievements and paralyzing setbacks.
I lost the largest anchor of my identity last May when I graduated from college. I went from film student to recent grad and became swarmed with the dreaded “What are you going to do next?”. Now that another class has officially graduated, the statute of limitations has expired on my being able to wear the recent grad title. So what am I? Filmmaker? Haven’t made a film since my senior thesis. Screenwriter? I had a near meltdown while attempting my first real feature script so that’s a no. Where does that leave a girl who loves everything film, yet despite earning a shiny degree, works 9-5 as a corporate drone and lives at home in a small Florida town?
Well this required some tough love. I’d spent months trying to convince myself that at least if I was doing “Twitter hashtag-official business card-email update worthy tasks”, then I would find a way to reignite the spark along the way. It was really the opposite. I had to put on the brakes completely. It was time to stop dwelling on who I used to be or who I thought I needed to be in order to validate my post-grad identity. I had to ask myself in the darkest hours when I felt furthest away from my passionate film kid self: What do I want to do right now? This very second, today?
“Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
I listened to the clear voice that answered. Film Festivals. I began to carve out this vague dream into a specific “write it down on paper” goal. Then a funny thing started to happen. As the wise Emerson shares in the quote above in a much more eloquent way, when you get your shit together, people start to notice. Suddenly, instrumental people, or as I like to dub them “the gatekeepers” began asking me the same question I’d asked myself. My reply grew more and more specific because I was finally being honest.
Gatekeeper: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Me: I want to build a platform to showcase first-time filmmakers of color at a premiere film festival.
Once I stopped trying to force a square peg in a round hole, a lot of wonderful things started to happen. First off, I was a lot happier now that I wasn’t forcing myself to write the next great independent film. Folks I’d never met started taking chances on me. Festival applications filled out on a whim led to phone interviews led to congratulations emails with cushy indoor job positions that were never assigned out to first-timers. Speaking with anyone who would listen about my latest passion, film festivals, led to job recommendations and receiving film festival submission invites which brought on another congratulations email. Being the 11th picked for a job position that the 10th person couldn’t take and snagging a menial day job to earn exactly enough cash to leave the nest. Another congratulations phone call. I choose to believe this succession of events were no coincidence. Finally, things were going right because I was firm in my decision who I did and did not want to be, film-wise.
My next festival adventure is nearing and yet I’m still trying to break old habits. I have to remember that I can’t lock down my passion for film in just one job title or step-by-step plane (created by me or by an expert on the subject). The lesson I’ve learned is my aspirations have to be fluid. From day one, I knew I wanted to work with movies in some capacity. First it was editing, then directing, writing and directing, then just writing and somewhere in between non-profit/documentary outreach. For today, it’s film festival programming. Tomorrow, who knows? If narrowing down my lifelong creative endeavors is similar to shopping, I’d much rather spend hours trying own several different hats and making a lifetime of memories along the way than forcing an ill-fitting one on my head because I need to be something or someone.
The final gem I picked up in this year is to always have a Plan B. Of course, that’s common sense, right? Perhaps. I think a true plan B isn’t a “I’ll go home if this doesn’t work out” but a detour that will still lead to the same destination as Plan A. When applying for this most recent festival job, it felt refreshingly satisfying to know that even if I didn’t get it, I would still be equally content with Plan B because I would eventually end up where I wanted to be.
I’m not sure I would have gotten this clarity if I hadn’t taken the year off, even if I was the last thing I would have planned for myself. It was a luxury to just live, saving up money to journey to new places and meet other film lovers and be inspired. I’m fortunate to be part of a generation that has a real choice in building a career. It’s unnecessary to put this “you’ve only get one shot to make it” pressure on myself because as long as there’s air in my lungs, I can start over. I’ve got to allow room in the life plan for the bouts of breakdowns, setbacks and downright failure that are realistically lying in wait for us all. The key to becoming the film kid I want to be is knowing the destination yet being flexible about the route in which I get there.
To my fellow film kids, I ask only this: Compared to the you from 1 or 5 years ago, are you where you want to be as of right now? Doe it feel like the universe is conspiring against you, not with you? If so, maybe, just maybe its because the present path is not the one you’re supposed to be on.