The Reward of the Risk
I grew up in a conservative family. We went to church every Sunday and my mother fought, tooth and nail, with me to get me into a cute Sunday dress each week. That is totally not my thing but when you’re 5 you don’t have a choice. There was no question we were a traditional, religious family. My folks grew up working on my grandfather’s farm topping, suckering and pulling tobacco or other crops during the late 50’s and throughout the 60’s. In the south, especially in the blue collar working south, there is typically a belief that emotion of any sort is a sign of weakness. You hit the fields with the morning sun and you worked your fingers to the bone till the dinner bell rings. You didn’t have time to be emotional. You were working and hard. Crying, whining, complaining was out of the question and would most likely mean you met with a switch. Ok, maybe it wasn’t that extreme but I envision it may have been in some households.
I knew, growing up, I was anything but ordinary. I was immensely creative, resourceful and intelligent. I could draw well before I was even able to write my name. My first word was “pretty.” I could see the extraordinary within the ordinary. As a result of this creativity, I was incredibly attune to the emotions, or vibes as I call it, surrounding me. I could, and still can, walk into a room and tell you exactly how everyone is feeling or what they could potentially be going through and many times, I’m right. This sort of intuition, second sense if you will, meant I was abnormally sensitive. Some would say a crybaby. Maybe I was. I don’t define it as such but my family did. Any sign of a sniffle on the road to Tearville was cause for embarrassment so I hid my emotions the best way I could, often failing at it but still trying. I didn’t like my mother’s attitude when I would start to cry. Instead of allowing me to get it out, I had to bottle it because I had to maintain the appearance that I had my shit together. Crying was a weakness. This was the music of our family. You just didn’t do it or you would be ridiculed. Having no outlet for emotion was insanely hard on this creative.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that my family was completely and utterly wrong; that it was ok to show emotion, it was ok to cry, laugh or be angry. To show emotion is to be human. To show emotion is to show passion. To be emotional can be a sweet release amidst the madness of the world.
Anyone who knows me understands that I wear my heart on my sleeve, I don’t sugar coat anything and you know exactly how I feel about anything and everything. I am compassionate when needed, stern when necessary and fearless most of the time. We humans are only born with two innate fears: the fears of falling and of loud noises. Nothing further.
I don’t typically back down from a challenge. I love seemingly insurmountable obstacles in my life. It’s my own form of being an adrenaline junky. I’m afraid of heights so skydiving is out of the question. I’m not afraid to take risks and I’m not afraid to fail. That notion baffles me as that is not commonplace in my family. My family doesn’t take huge risks. Some, yes, but large ones, especially financial ones like, I don’t know, making a movie (or movies)? Nope.
I love my parents, despite their nosey and pushy ways, but our family is not generally one of risk takers. I can think of no member of our family that did anything significant. I have a couple of cousins who started and run their own businesses but aside from that, most of us work for “The Man.”
My father worked his way from the poverty line and got himself to a reputable college and on to a great career. He worked hard for it. He chased his own dream. Mom stayed home at the request of dad. She had the artistic background that she could have done something with but chose to honor dad’s wishes. We don’t talk about it much but I imagine she may do things differently if given the chance now.
The focus of my childhood, from my parent’s perspective, was to push me on through college and into a “proper” career, although they never outright said it. It always seemed that “making money” was the operative rather than finding a career of passion. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly had the option. I didn’t have to go to college but at 18, I was an adult and was expected to take on that role which meant moving out. I elected to go to college. I wasn’t mature enough to handle my own as an adult at 18. College gave me 4 more years to get my life in order. I don’t know that I actually did have it together by graduation but I was hopeful. I was playing music, heavily at the time, and hoped to make a career out of it. I was also screenwriting and toyed with the idea of moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. I’m not entirely sure I would have survived LA given my level of immaturity at the time but it was on the table.
After visiting the college I would ultimately select, East Carolina University, I decided to join the art program and pursue graphic design. I’m not sure if that’s what my family really wanted or not but it’s where my head was at the time and they supported it because it fit their criteria; one of 16 in-state universities. Although, I’m not sure my heart was fully into it. I really wanted to go to film school. I doubt it would have aided in a career in the industry but it was still what I really wanted but I knew I couldn’t handle the financial burden of paying for school on my own so I stuck with the options I was given.
To do it again, I would like to think I would’ve done what I really wanted. Whether my parents were right or wrong in setting that criteria, that is subjective. I see where they were coming from but the accreditation I received from ECU has served me very little in my career. It’s a piece of paper that states I have a higher education so in that regard, it helped get me a “real” job. I’m not unappreciative of what my parents provided for me, by any means, I simply wish I had taken more risk as a young adult and left the nest to pursue my own creative endeavors, even if that path wasn’t clearly paved. I’m happiest when I’m fully immersed in a creative project. Sitting at a desk in front of computer is tough for me, not because I can’t do it, but I think more creatively when I’m moving around or have places to move around to.
When I’m writing, I move around throughout my house. I sit outside and write or I go to a coffeeshop or restaurant to generate ideas. That’s my flow. Sitting stationary and trying to be productive is a daily struggle when I simply want to create content. Great content.
Over ten years later, I’m wishing I had followed my filmmaking dreams sooner but I don’t entirely regret my chosen path. Filmmaking was always something, from the time I was 13, that made my heart skip a beat. I’d light up when a behind-the-scenes featurette would come on television. This was before the days of YouTube and social media.
Everything I’ve done in my thirty-four years is connected. My musical background has allowed me to understand the importance of music in film. As a photographer, I learned lighting and composition. As a performer, I understand what it takes to be in front of a camera which allows me to clearly communicate with my cast as their leader. My time as a dog trainer has offered me the chance to understand what it takes to get an animal to hit a mark or perform a behavior. My time in brand marketing has given me the insight into what it takes to bring a product to market. I’m a Jill of All Trades sort of person. I haven’t mastered any one thing.
In the current film market in which I live, I have to understand it all. I have to have that knowledge. The crews I work with are inexperienced so they need someone to lead them and help them understand their jobs on set. I’m learning to be a manager as a result. I’m not a great one but one day I will be.
In school, I hunkered down, for the most part, worked at it, was originally rejected from the graphic design program my sophomore year and nearly quit. I spent a week tormented by the rejection of not being selected for the graphic design program. I came to a crossroads during that time; change majors to broadcasting, quit school or try again. How bad did I want it? What did I need to prove? I’m not one to give up easily, generally. I can cut losses where needed but I look at things knowing there is always a solution and until every angle is exhausted, I don’t quit. There is always a path. This is a unique characteristic to myself within the framework of my family. My dad has some of that moxie, my mom as well and maybe one or two of my cousins. I wiped my tears and went after it, again. I barely slept for the next 6-8 months until the fall portfolio review came around. I managed to get into the program, this time, but it was hard fought. It didn’t come easy and I could have walked away much easier but that was the point of the art school, to weed out those who didn’t want it. Freshman year is referred to as “boot camp” for good reason and for creative individuals, it is that and then some.
This process taught me the importance of risk, fear and reward. Nothing great comes easy. Nothing meaningful comes without some level of emotion be it anger, sadness or happiness. You can’t reach greatness without stepping out into the unknown. You can’t be extraordinary by following the ordinary but along the way, you will stumble. You will hurt and you will want to cry. It’s acceptable to cry it out but don’t quit.
I’ve watched my dad pass on opportunities that, in hindsight, could have been lucrative or very rewarding. It breaks my heart, really. He is someone I should aspire to be and to a point, I do. He works harder than I do, no question. He has more than I do, no doubt. It all came with hard work. My parents pinched pennies so I could go to college. They went without so that I didn’t have to. To negate their sacrifices for my own selfishness would be unappreciative but I have always been one to learn by observation. Not only did they teach what I should do, they taught me what I should not do from their actions. I shouldn’t sit static because one day, I will be reaching the last days of my life. Do I want to have allowed my life to pass in normal, mundane fashion with little more than a paycheck? Or do I want something more?
Spend merely an hour with me in conversation and you’ll understand, quickly, I don’t settle for the mundane. I’ve traveled across the country, on my own, to make a movie in hopes of turning a hobby into a passionate career. I’ve met thousands of people from around the world. I’ve been a musician, improv comedian, actor, writer, producer, director, graphic designer, web developer, photographer and I could continue on and on.
There was a print advertisement, years ago, in Sports Illustrated. I remember it well although I don’t recall the brand it promoted. A group of people surrounded the casket of a friend at a graveside service. Some gathered were athletes, servicemen, businessmen, women, friends, family, a rather diverse crowd. The general message of the ad, in short, was “Live Epically.” That wasn’t the tagline but it was the message. This was easily ten to fifteen years ago when I saw this ad. It struck a significant chord with me then and it has stayed resonant in my life now. When I go to my grave, I want to have a diverse crowd, from all of my experiences, united in celebration, not mourning. Throw the party down. I had a hell of a ride. I want those I love to know I lived life to the fullest, I didn’t take “no” for an answer and I wasn’t afraid of risk.
What’s the fear in risk? Failure? Please. If I make it to 10 o’clock each day without some massive failure I haven’t done anything with my day. If I reach the end of the day and nothing significant has happened, I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel incomplete because I didn’t shake enough trees, figuratively. Sometimes I need quiet days but I like making things happen, epic things.
I’m not rich, by any means, but what I have is a direct result of never settling for less than I deserve or chase. I don’t rely on others to fulfill what I want in life but I don’t burn my bridges and trample every toe that steps in my path. We can’t live our lives in fear of failing. I remind myself of this daily. No fear, like the sticker.
One principle my parents instilled in me is no one can do for you what you can do for you. Meaning, rely on yourself for what you need, be it food, clothing, a job, a car, a dream, etc. I do the best I can with that principle. I struggle with it often but I still live it. Sure, I accept help when things are out of reach or I need a boost to jumpstart the vehicle back on the path I’m going. There is no shame in asking for help. There is no shame in relying on others when it’s necessary but don’t depend on people to always bail you out. Don’t depend on others to make your dreams and aspirations happen. You’ll be left waiting.
Others will try to squash your dreams and take you down. They will bully, harass, frustrate, upset, scare, anger and betray you. My childhood was full of bullying. I was told time and again I was too “ugly” or “weird” to ever be loved. I was told I would never amount to anything by my peers. I was told by a family member that I would drop out of college. I can look each one of them in the face now and say, “I did it. I made it. What have you done?” I don’t do that, but I could, if I was a jerk.
Don’t get me wrong, if you’re happy in whatever career or life you’ve built for yourself, I applaud you, possibly even envy you. My life is in a constant state of flux because that’s what makes me happy. That’s how I thrive; constant challenge, constant organized chaos (within reason of course). I live alone in my home, that I earned and own, with my two dogs. I’m not in a relationship. I get to travel the country if I choose. I have a good, stable job. I don’t have a lot of drama. That’s the kind of life I’ve built for myself because it’s what I chose, although, I’d love to share it with a significant other. Maybe one day that will change. I want to settle down. I want to get married but maybe there is a greater purpose for me to fulfill before all that can happen. Or maybe the career I’m chasing is where I will meet that special someone to share this crazy journey with. I have no idea but I’m not going to quit chasing, at least not yet, because I haven’t reached the apex of my passion nor the apex of my life.
In closing, do what makes you happy but don’t live in fear of the failure you may incur. Anything of value will always have a risk but it will also, always, have a reward if you don’t give up. You can’t allow yourself to give up. Sure, you can take a break. Set things down for a time so you can collect your thoughts. Even I have to step away from my passions once in a while to gain clarity. Fly High may very well take me another 3 years to complete. I may end up with nearly 10 years of my life dedicated to it and any of the other film projects I’m working on. Any of these films could flop and probably will. Does that scare me? Not really. Healthy fear is one thing. Crippling fear is another.
Chase it. You’re not getting any younger so get after it. Remember, in life, no one gets out alive. You get one chance to make it epic. Make it count.