One of the awesome things that I neglected to mention in my post about the pros and cons of full-time gigs is a serious pro of working at a larger company – you get summer interns! Yes, fantastic, smart, energetic young people come and work for you for peanuts, just to be exposed to your awesome knowledge (well, and maybe that of your organization). Our two magnificent interns at Classroom, Inc. are leaving us to head back to school this week, and it’s had me thinking about the kinds of advice that would have been useful to me when I was their age, the truths of the working world I wish I had known back when.
So, as a salute to all of the interns that make our working lives easier, here are some of my favorite knowledge nuggets I’ve gleaned over the years. These are the lessons learned I find myself coming back to time and time again at work, whether I’m producing a television show, making a game, working with clients or vendors, or even just trying to survive an all-day meeting.
It’s not what you do, it’s who you work with.
On the very first informational interview that I went on after college, I prattled on and on to a very patient and lovely woman about my career ambitions, the kinds of companies I wanted to work for, and the kinds of positions I’d look for as ideal stepping stones. (It should be said, I was convinced I was headed for a career in publishing.) When I paused long enough for her to get a word in edgewise, the woman nicely suggested that I could work at the most impressive company in the world, but if I didn’t find a solid mentor who wanted to share their knowledge and who would nurture me and my skills, I wouldn’t get much out of the experience. She later introduced me to the person who would be my boss for the next twelve years, in children’s television, an industry I’d never had ambitions to join, but where I found a calling. Though I might have loved publishing if I had chosen to pursue it, I also know that my career has been much more shaped by the excellence and generosity of my colleagues and collaborators than by the job title I held when I was twenty-three.
Where you’re standing now is not where you’re going to be.
My aforementioned mentor and first real boss said this all the time at the end of a long day of shooting that seemed to be going nowhere, or a creative meeting that was going off the rails, or a pitch session that didn’t go the way that we’d hoped. What he meant was, no matter how hard a problem feels at the time, you’ll be moving on to other challenges very soon, and the huge obstacle that seems to be blocking all progress will at some point be a memory. It can be hard to see past the crash bug that keeps coming up in the middle of your game or the difficult client who is second guessing all of your creative decisions, but it’s good to remember that nothing is forever, and what feels like the end of the world may well be merely a bump in the road on your way to a better product.
You don’t know what’s good for you.
This is actually not career advice, per se, but a favorite phrase of my dad’s that I find myself thinking about frequently in work situations. When I’ve found myself at a project impasse or a career fork in the road that feels hugely important, it’s nice to remember sometimes that it may take a lifetime to figure out if an individual work decision was a good one. I took a job in television production not because I thought kids media was my future, but because I needed a full-time job to sign a lease in Brooklyn. I didn’t know seven years later that stepping up to produce the website for a PBS series my company was working on would lead to meeting my future business partner and a career in game design and development. I have met so many cherished collaborators on projects that were just terrible, and had high hopes for many a gig I thought would shape my whole future that turned out to be a dud. It’s reassuring to think sometimes about the unforeseen consequences of decisions I’ve made over the years — some were far less important than they seemed at the time, and many far more so.
Say yes until you have to say no.
Whether you’re freelancing for multiple clients, looking for a long term job, or just making contacts at a conference, it’s sometimes hard to know when to say, “No,” but the answer may well be to wait a little while before deciding what to do. When you start to get overwhelmed and potential new work comes in the door, it can be tempting to opt out of further discussions with a, “No thanks, I’m too busy right now,” or nurse a suspicion that a given job isn’t an ideal fit. What if all of those potential jobs come through and you have to disappoint someone? What if you make too many commitments for meetings, or to sit on advisory groups, or sell three television series at once, and then you need to juggle everything? What I’ve learned over the years is that, especially in media, way more projects never coalesce than come to fruition. People will swear their project is a sure thing right before their funding falls through, or ask you to do a job urgently and then postpone it for six months. You’re just not that likely to be overbooked, or overbooked for some long period of time, as you are to look back and wish that you’d had that follow up conversation. Also, saying you’re interested in learning more about potential work is not making a commitment. Everyone involved in a project should be understanding of this, and you’ll know when you’re really committing to something — it generally involved signing on the dotted line.
It’s not your job to tell every jerk they’re a jerk.
This is one of my favorites, a phrase that my sister’s best friend uses regularly, albeit using a significantly less polite word than “jerk.” She’s talking about that person who drives you crazy because they just don’t get it. They’re unreasonable, they’re rude, their expectations are totally not in line with reality, or they’re just plain crazy. Every person I know has run into someone like this in their work life, someone they have imaginary conversations with in their head, in which they calmly explain why the individual’s requests are so unreasonable, how they’re making everyone feel, and how they could behave better in the future. This fantasy generally ends with the person in question seeing the error of their ways and thanking the aggrieved party for pointing out their foibles. Important note — THIS ENDING NEVER HAPPENS IN REAL LIFE.
People are unreasonable, or malicious, or clueless, because that is who they are, and trying to convince someone that they’re insane is a losing battle. When you run into someone you just can’t get through to and you have to work with them, it’s important to remember that your job is to do your job, not to correct the injustices of the universe. Impossible people were likely impossible before they met you, and they’ll be impossible long after you’ve moved on. The best thing that you can do is just not to let their crazy interfere with what you have to accomplish.
Never make a major life decision in a hotel ballroom.
This is actually my very own personal mantra. Conferences and the hotel ballrooms in which they largely reside are an important part of many of our professional lives, but they are also often boring, confusing, and even depressing. I actually mostly like conferences, but it’s a rare three days straight of lectures and meetings that doesn’t spur me at some point to fantasize about giving it all up and becoming a sustainable farmer or going back to school to do astronaut training. Thinking that much about one’s “industry,” not to mention consuming vast amounts of lukewarm coffee while wandering around trying to find someone you’ve never met in a football-field size room of other people doing the same thing can be, well, overwhelming. So before you quit your job, or decide to move to Canada because that’s where all the funding is, or whatever crazy conference epiphany you’ve had, go home and sleep on it for a week. Things may feel really different once you’ve spent some time in the outside world.
So that’s it — my accumulated wisdom from fifteen years of children’s media in six key points. Got any wisdom you’d like to share? Drop us an email at KidsGotGame@NoCrusts.com, follow us @NoCrusts on Twitter, or sign-up to receive email updates.