• Art, Fear, Voicemail

    I originally posted this on Facebook and the story proved resonant enough that I wanted to extend its reach as far as I can. The more people it helps the less upset I am that it happened.

    Guys, I just had a truly bad day. I wouldn’t normally post about it on Facebook, but I feel like the lesson I learned at the end is one I want to share with as many people as will listen.

    Two months ago I applied to yet another career development program for aspiring film directors - a lot of the studios have them. This one was for “diverse directors,” which, as a woman, I am since the number of lady directors is still infinitesimal.

    I’ve applied to several of these programs and fellowships. They are often demoralizing because you spend two weeks really working on your application, you call in favors to get industry friends to write you recommendation letters, and then you don’t hear anything because 500 other people also applied. As the excellent TV writer and friend Richard Hatem once said, “It’s frustrating to have to fight to get a chance to fight for a job.” But that’s the H’wood deal.

    So I apply for this latest program and then hear nothing, predictably. In fact, at one point this last month, I even do a brush up session with my therapist because I’m wondering if I might be doing something unconsciously that’s undermining my career growth. I feel good about my actual directing skills — I’m learning a lot with every project, I’m working hard to grow — but I’m wondering if there’s some core fear or issue that’s keeping industry doors closed. Am I self sabotaging in some way I can’t see?

    And then today, as I’m checking a back log of voice messages that spans several weeks, I realize that I had been called in for an interview with this directing fellowship…two weeks ago.

    Two weeks ago.

    I know instantly that it’s too late. I still call them back. I have my manager follow-up. And he’s able to ascertain what I knew in my heart — I missed my shot. They’ve already filled the slots.

    I’ve always had a pathological aversion to listening to voice mails. They give me anxiety. And now, because of that, I have missed the news that I made it to the interview round. I missed a shot to fight for a chance at a job.

    Yes, they could have also emailed me. Yes, I might not have gotten the gig after the interview. Yes, the program might not have been my golden ticket. But none of that is solace when I’m listening to a voicemail that’s two weeks old that MY OWN IRRATIONAL FEAR / RESISTANCE / PROCRASTINATION kept me from listening to.

    I cry. I scream. I basically freak the fuck out. This feels good, but still terrible.

    This goes on for several hours.

    And then, slowly, very slowly, my brain starts to piece itself back together.

    My first coherent thought is that I’m never going to make this mistake with my voicemail again. Ever.

    I then realize the irony that I spent all that time telling my therapist that “I think I might be unconsciously sabotaging myself” when this voicemail was sitting in my inbox.

    But then the biggest thought comes.

    I applied to this fellowship and hadn’t expected to hear anything back so I wasn’t looking for calls from unknown numbers. I didn’t take myself seriously as a candidate, so I didn’t behave like a potential candidate. I expected to be in the 95% that heard nothing. If I had thought of myself as top tier, I would have immediately noticed the unknown number and listened to the message.

    This is the big lesson: I am the person that needs to take myself seriously.

    I’m sharing this thought because I feel like it’s a call to arms for myself. And, because I am a director, I can’t help telling others to do the same:

    Whatever you love to do, stop wondering if you’re good enough to do it. Keep learning and growing, yes, but don’t stay so focused on growth that you don’t realize when you’ve started to arrive at the place you were headed. Treat yourself like an equal of the people you admire. That’s the only way you’ll be one.

    Thanks for reading, whoever made it this far. Sharing this makes it feel like the day amounted to something other than a lot of used tissues.

    Now stop reading this and go make art, or whatever it is you love to do!

  • A list of classics, but a great list all the same.