I held a creative career in a competitive field that takes years to break into and more to get good at.
I was 12 years in, the pay was decent and prestige even better. The hours weren’t always great, but I wasn’t complaining, because I loved my job. But then, I left…
I went to school for and worked in animation for feature films and games.
- 4 Years at The Savannah College of Art and Design attaining a Bachelors in Computer Animation.
- 4 Years in Los Angeles at Rhythm and Hues and House of Moves
- 4 Years in Vancouver, BC at Sony Pictures Imageworks
I had the chance to work on well known projects:
By this point I had earned the respect of my superiors, peers, friends and family. Considering the talent of the artists around me, this was no small feat.
Leaving meant starting from scratch!
There are very few staff positions in film and unless you are staff, there’s an eb and flow to animation work. As projects come and go, studios staff up and down, and animators are in and out of work. A standard project lasts roughly 6 to 9 months, but if you were lucky, a studio would have projects strung back-to-back.
This routine seems undesirable, and can be at times, but turned out to be a blessing – I discovered that finding new work consistently gave me confidence that I could do so if/when I needed to. This worked towards lowering the perceived risk in exploring other opportunities. Plus, it was a periodic sabbatical of sorts, encouraging me to reprioritize career goals on a regular interval.
Career goals should support your life goals. Figure out what you want in life and make sure your career goals fit that vision. Time spent thinking about your goals and prioritizing them gives you a birds eye view of where you want to go contrasted against where you are heading. And, if they don’t match up, you have a problem.
But even if they do, there may be other opportunities better suited to reaching those goals than your current one. I’d go as far to say, odds are there are several. Consider how many ways you know of to make money verses how many ways you think exist in the world that you don’t know of, or are ripe for inventing.
On one of my “forced sabbaticals”, I developed an exercise to help me discover some of them. It’s really simple, almost stupid simple, but I find it effective.
The basic version goes like this:
Make a spreadsheet with jobs you could do in the rows and areas you stand to gain / lose (life / career goals) in the columns.
Then, at their intersections, color in red, yellow, or green to illustrate which jobs result in more benefits.
The job with the most green / yellow and least red wins!
It started out as this glorified pros / cons list, but as I used it more, I got more sophisticated about it, weighting the benefits and calculating total scores via ratings instead of colors.
It’s been so invaluable for me when facing big decisions that I’m writing a tool and subsequent post about it. If you want to know when it’s finished, subscribe below. I’ll never send you bs.
I love animation and was still quite passionate about it, but this prioritization exercise helped me see that I stood more to gain than I realized from another opportunity.
Here’s what my first “Pros Cons Matrix” looked like:
- Kickstarter Project
- Obligatory Barista Escape!
- Start an Animation Company
- Teach Animation
- Grad School for Animation
- A Summer Animation Program in France
- Freelance Animation from Home
- Storyboard Artist
- Software Developer
What I Stood to Gain or Lose
- Freedom to Travel
- Freedom to Work from Anywhere
- Freedom of Schedule
- Ability to Make Things
- Creative Responsibility and Freedom
- Creative Reach
- Build a Personal Body of Work
- Avoid Financial Risk
- Make Consistent Income
- Or a Big Financial Payoff
- Employee Benefits
And after listing them out, I scored them. Software Developer scored the best, hypothetically giving me the best chance at accomplishing more of my life/career goals.
If you have any interest yourself, here’s a quick sales pitch
So, on paper at least, it made my path pretty clear.
With so much investment and success in my animation career, it took years before I summoned the courage to make the leap. Coordinating it with a separate life change helped break the bonds that so often accompany comfort.
It’s what I’ve been doing since 2016. It wasn’t an instant success, and even now, I’m continually honing the craft, but I’ve been taking advantages of those calculated benefits.
I’m able to work from home, when and how I want, and on my schedule, with my wife and now a little one 👶. I’ve been able to make things every day “with my hands” and help others make things too! Plus, the amount of personal growth I can’t even begin to describe.
It took hard work and some calculated motivation, but I was successful in large part to the generosity of others who freely share their insights and expertise. To keep the cycle alive, I try to do the same, so others can learn from what I have learned …from others.
My destination wasn’t a sure thing and I never reached a point where I knew everything was going to work out before I leapt, but that’s ok. What’s important is to be smart about it, and once you’ve calculated that optimal path, you grow the courage to take it!
Where are you on this journey?
- Happy with your work with no plans to change?
- Are you considering a change?
- About to make one?
- Have already made one? two? more?
- If so, how has it gone for you?
If I learn anything insightful, I’ll add an addendum here with anonymized findings.
Either way, wherever you are on your journey, I wish you luck. It’s not easy – it wasn’t for me. But, I calculated it would be worth it and it has been.