Last week, a young woman on Twitter told me she had read an old blog post I wrote and immediately related to it and needed more information. The post, titled “Professional Fears”, was published on February 5, 2010. As a recent graduate, she told me she was being held up with exactly what I wrote about and wanted to know how I moved past it.
My initial reaction: wait, I’ve moved past those fears? Says who? I’d forgotten all about this post and hadn’t read it since I wrote it and sent it off to the internet six years ago. That’s not to say I haven’t been in the throes of job-related fears ever since. Of course I have. Everything is scary and loud and I have to make my own doctor appointments and pay bills and everything.
But I hadn’t been obsessing over a specific list, so I wondered what I had decided to commit to internet paper as a formal post and re-read the blog.
And I was surprised. I was surprised at how quickly I could return in my head to this place six years ago where I was feeling overwhelmed and ineffective, desiring direction and getting none. I remembered it all immediately.
But I was even more surprised that I have conquered every one of these things, mostly without really acknowledging it. That’s the thing with growing up: you fall into playing the long game, and your accomplishments and successes (and failures) are a part of every day life.
Here’s my list of the biggest, scariest, most crippling fears I had six years ago, and my thoughts about them now.
“1. that I don’t know as much as I should know right now. Like maybe I’m not reading the right things, studying the right books, finding the right projects.”
Maybe I knew what I needed to know, maybe not. A lot of young people fear that they didn’t get everything they needed out of college. Whether you did or didn’t, it’s your responsibility to continue learning beyond your degree or other training, forever and ever. And obviously I was reading the right things and finding the right projects, because I also blogged about them around this time — and understood the importance of continued education and building relationships.
“2. that I want to be an assistant editor yet I would have absolutely no idea what to do.”
Turns out there are a ton of amazing resources out there for whatever you want to do, and you just have to ask people about their experiences and advice to get the most valuable information out there. And for what it’s worth, I never ended up being an assistant editor, but I train people to perform many of those tasks now.
“3. that I will get a great project and totally blank out and screw up the edit.”
This never happened. Not even close. This is pure anxiety — if you think these thoughts, please remind yourself that you’ve got your work under control.
“4. that I don’t know Final Cut well enough to compete.”
Pure anxiety too. I knew FCP better than anyone in my college class, and I worked endlessly to get better. If you try to do something and you want to do it, it’s not that difficult to be competitive.
“5. that I’m spending too much time learning Final Cut and forgetting Avid. Should I dig up Avid and some books and dig into the technical side of it? Or will it become natural?”
So I learned both. I took on the rough cut of a feature and did it in Avid. It was hard, but I did it because software is finite and can be learned. Now I worked in Avid every day, and solve Avid problems 24/7. The other aspects of being a good worker are harder to learn — but you can buy books on Avid Media Composer. (And if you want to work in TV or film at a high level, please do learn Avid. It’s just software, but it does take a little time.)
“6. that I don’t know enough about After Effects. Do I need to learn more? I want to for my own interests, but if I want to edit movies someday, how does this play in?”
I struggled with After Effects in college (and wrote about this at length for the COW) because I didn’t really grasp that it wasn’t an NLE and I resented that it didn’t come naturally. When I was hired at my first real editing job, I realized that a majority of the work was going to end up being in After Effects. I was a little panicked at first because I wasn’t super fluent, but I just dove in and figured it out. I challenged myself to do something new with every video I produced so I would continue to learn instead of just relying on a handful of tricks.
I don’t necessarily want to edit movies myself now, but I think it’s perfectly clear how After Effects can help an editor. Whether I approve or not, everyone that watches a rough offline cut wants to see something finished looking — having comping skills is seriously helpful to an editor nowadays. And if you aren’t cutting movies, it’s really useful to be able to take on title sequences or have a good understanding of making a nice lower third or adding other effects to push the production value without adding labor.
“7. that the fact I don’t have 3D experience will bite me…somehow..”
Nah. While there is an overall push to be a generalist and it’s good to have an idea of how things work, I believe everyone should have their specialty. I don’t see a trend for generalists to also have 3D expertise even now.
“8. that I will get a freelance gig, go to their edit suite, and get performance anxiety. especially in front of a producer.”
Never happened. Not even close. It was obviously hard at first, but nothing like this.
“9. that I will not be able to edit at the caliber in which I want to edit.”
I think anyone thinks about this at any stage of their career, whether they’re an offline editor or some other area of post. They want to be the best. You can’t be the best until you’ve put in the work and the time. That’s the hardest part about growing up and growing as a professional: this takes time. Be patient, appreciate the skills you currently have, learn from those who have come before you.
“10. that I’ll start being told that my work sucks.”
Everyone worries about this until the end of time. If they don’t worry about this, they probably don’t care anymore. If you work for someone that literally says to you that your work sucks, maybe reconsider if they should be in charge of you. But be prepared for negative feedback. It happens. A lot. Things don’t work. Clients don’t like it. Learn to interpret negative feedback and figure out what the real issue is, and don’t take any of it personally. This is a process, and it’s a team sport.
“11. that I’m not going to get to edit the stuff I really want to edit.”
This is interesting because what I was really getting at was “I’m never going to get out of corporate trucking videos.” And through hard work, building relationships, and choosing my next moves wisely, I absolutely did. Because of the economy and other factors, I worked in corporate video for four years. I didn’t spend this time wallowing and pining for Hollywood (at least not exclusively) but rather I took other side projects to keep myself happy and learning. I read everything I could find.
I taught people things and asked them to teach me. I met everyone that would meet me. I traveled to events and trade shows whenever I was able — which was not often because I was very underpaid. I took advantage of the fact my video editing job was a 9-5 M-F gig that afforded me the ability to spend a lot of time enriching myself. After a long, difficult road where I learned a lot about my work and my self, I now work on network television and major feature films in a capacity that utilizes my entire post production skill set.
And it’s important to emphasize that I don’t go about my career fearlessly plowing through barriers to get whatever I want. Everyone has anxieties about if they’re on the right path, if they’re doing enough, if they’re working hard enough or too hard. It’s just the way life is for all of us. You have to find a way to prevent these fears from becoming so crippling that they prevent you from action.
Generally speaking, if you’re worried about this and you’re studying and doing the work to make yourself better, you’re already a step ahead of anyone who isn’t thinking about their future on a daily basis. Find good mentors that will help affirm you (or call you on your BS if you need it.) Just keep pursuing what you want to pursue. Acknowledge that you’re afraid, but don’t define yourself by your fears. And if you find yourself getting too hung up on anxieties, try to speak to a professional.
I think most of us get into post production because we thought it was fun. As time goes on and it becomes actual work, it becomes less fun and more about being the right combination of high performing and lucky. There are risks involved, and this industry asks a lot of a young person. Sometimes more than they can possibly offer.
If you’re young and trying to make peace with your new adulthood fears, just listen: be patient. It’s gonna be really hard. But if you do the work, things are going to be okay. There are people who have crawled through the barriers to entry not THAT long ago that are working and recognizing that you need your break, and we’re trying to find you too.