When I attended Animation on Display in Japantown, I finally got a chance to attend one of Steven Savage’s geek career panels. I went to Fans Without Their Dream Jobs. Believe me, it was more uplifting than it sounds, offering attendees the tools to make steps toward those jobs. Based on my impressions, here are the top five reasons geeks don’t have their dream careers:
You talked yourself out of it
“Geeks are smart,” Steven told us. “Smart enough to delude ourselves into thinking we can’t do what we want.”
If you know you’re smart, and have built up a mental argument for yourself about why you can’t have your dream job, you’re going to believe your own bullshit. If your reasoning is, “fandom is silly and useless” or “jobs aren’t supposed to fun” or “the world just doesn’t work that way,” think again. Is there any factual evidence to back up these long-held beliefs? Probably not.
Instead, Steven thinks these beliefs are established early by an authority figure like a parent or a guidance counselor, or our culture in general, and you just don’t question them. What’s so smart about that?
You think liking X means doing Y
This isn’t your fault, Steven said, since it probably started through the people around you. Perhaps you like to play video games, and would like a career in the industry.
“Oh, so you want to be a video game developer?” people might ask you.
Of course, that’s not the only job in the industry. You could be a game tester, designer, localization specialist, writer, marketer, or a whole slew of other things. Steven suggests brainstorming every job related to your fandom and matching them with skills you already have.
You suck at the job search
Even if you’re the best animator in your class, you still won’t be able to get a job if you don’t have an equally formidable set of cover letter-writing, resume-building, and interviewing skills.
“Your ability to job search is separate from your skills to do the job,” said Steven. “Your talent means nothing if you don’t have the skills to get the interview.”
It’s never made sense to me that the job search process utilizes completely different skills than the ones companies actually want to hire you for. But since that’s the way the world works, Steven said the only way to beat the game is to hone your search skills as sharply as you do your craft. Perfect your resume, develop a portfolio, and learn to network.
You don’t want to sell out
This is really a straw man argument with no basis in reality—“If I make money doing something I love, I’ll become a sell out.”
First of all, Steven asks, what does selling out even mean? If you’re truly honest with yourself, it’s hard to name a successful person in your industry of choice who is a genuine sellout. Usually, that’s just envy talking.
“Selling out is a near meaningless term, and in some cases it’s just people being jealous,” he said.
Steven suggests defining what “selling out” means to you, and making a list of the characteristics of a sellout, like for example, compromising your integrity for money. You can then remind yourself that not only is it unlikely that you’d be put in a position like this, but that you would never allow yourself to accept it.
You think you won’t get rich or famous
And maybe you won’t. Getting a job in fandom is tough, and you’ll likely have to begin at the bottom. This is where you have to prioritize and think about why you want money and fame in the first place.
Steven said that even though we’re taught to think fame and fortune are life’s ultimate goals, neither is a reliable measure of success. (Would you call the Jersey Shore group successful?) He also pointed out that fame can cause misery—imagine an equal number of fans and haters scrutinizing your every tweet—and while money is nice, it’s a tool, not an end result.
And finally, is your current situation going to make you rich or famous anytime soon? If not, why not opt for a field that you at least know is going to make you happy?
Steven mentioned seven other myths that fans buy into that keep them from having their dream jobs. I’ll preserve some of the mystery so you’ll check out his blog and his panel, but I’ll reveal one more thing. The common denominator in all twelve of these reasons is you. Somewhere along the way, you’ve mentally decided that your dream job is an impossible thing, and you tell yourself these excuses to keep from even trying. As Steven would say, you’re smarter than that.
“Geeks created everything that’s cool about the world,” he told the panel. “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be running it, too.”