And they come with no warning,
nature loves her little surprises.
Continual crisis!

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Letters to a young creative

Someone I know is just starting college and they're going into one of the arts.

An open letter for person starting their life in the arts

Let me say up front that I'm happy for you and proud of you for making that decision. It might not feel like a momentous one, chasing a life in the arts, but it is. And you will learn how much it is by the time you graduate.

I wanted to let you know a little bit about what is coming. It's going to be fabulous. It's wonderful. It's frustrating. It's difficult. You won't know how you'll make it through. At the end, though, you'll realize that you could do it all the time.

A lot of people are going to give you advice, including these letters. And that's really nice of them, for the most part and you should thank anyone who takes the time to offer advice. That's parts of their lives they are giving you. So even if the advice is complete bullshit (and most of it is), thank them for giving you parts of their lives.

About ten percent of advice is meant to detract you from your goals, at least in the beginning. Some of this is purposeful, but a lot of it is people telling you what they settled for. There are people who are either threatened or jealous of your creativity and they will attempt to sabotage you. Fortunately they are, or will be shortly, easy to spot. The rest of that 10% are people who want life to be easy for you, or don't think you should have something better than them. These are a little harder to suss out.

About another seventy percent is just complete and utter bullshit. There's something called Dunning-Krueger, it describes people who think they know something, but simply have no clue (they may know just enough to make it sound plausible, which is the real danger here). You'll find those people here. They'll try to sound authoritative or come off as know-it-alls when they actually don't know crap. At the beginning it'll be hard to figure this out, but the more you know and learn the easier it'll be to spot these. Another big portion of this group are people who heard something, or saw a documentary, or their distant relative does something similar, or they knew someone who did whatever. Imagine what your parents think you do when you're being creative and you'll get the idea. Until you're directly involved in a industry (and sometimes even those who are) it's hard to understand exactly what someone else does without making assumptions that are usually wrong.

The next fifteen percent of advice isn't for you. Sure, it would work if you were someone else, like the person giving you advice. But for you this is the wrong advice. The person giving you this advice is most likely telling you what they did, or how they succeeded, without taking into account who you are, what your strengths are, what you know, and what your career is like. They might be giving you advice that would work when they were your age and at that stage in your career, but the world changed in the mean time and they haven't seen how different things are. Your career, your path through this world is your own, even if it may look similar to someone else's path. Even on the road more travelled, not everybody walks the path the same way. Their lines crisscross beneath you. And the people who go on the road less travelled, the paths of those before you are even more chaotic. This is the most difficult portion of advice to work through to find out it's wrong. With some of this you may need to try it to see if it's the right advice because in reality it is the right advice for someone, just not you.

And here I will divulge the first secret. If the advice works for you, it's the right advice. If it doesn't work for you, toss it. You need to figure out that part quickly because the right advice that's wrong for you can derail you for a long time. You need to be able to figure out the advice that if you gave it enough hard work would turn out to be good advice and which, no matter how hard you try, will never work out for you. As you go forward you'll develop an instinct to figure out if something is "working" or if it's a waste of your time. That skill is one you have to learn the hard way. Sorry.

The last five percent is good advice for you, that will help you go farther, ease transitions to new levels (leveling up in gaming terms), make your life easier. And this advice should be treated as the gold it is. You should cultivate the people who give this 5% of advice (although some of their advice may also fall into that last 15% category). Be aware, however, that the advice they give may not be the right advice at the time, but will be useful later. In the first twenty years of my career I would find myself thinking back to advice I got from some instructor or job friend years and decades before that wasn't relevant then, but suddenly becomes the exact thing you need at that moment.

Listen to all the advice. If one person says to do something one way or that you should adjust your work in a certain way, it's just, like, their opinion man. However if you keep running into the same concept from different people, there might be something to that. So let's say you get advice from a hundred people, most of it will be bullshit, but if 75 of them agree on one thing, you might want to pay attention to that.

So that's the first one. Welcome to the gang. Pay attention. Some people drink from the fount of knowledge, some people gargle.

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