This post is an answer to Sebastian Marshall's article Passion Emerges From Action, Not Contemplation.
At the end of his post Sebastian says:
"Miguel! I’d love to hear your take on narrowing down your passions sometime since I know you’re working on fascinating stuff."
Well here is the answer:
Note: this is a long article. I recommend you set some time apart to read it with a coffee or tea cup at hand.
The answer to Sebastian question is split in five sections. Click on a link to skip to any of them:
- Take your best shot at number of things
- Reach to the top people on the industry
- Be ready to work hard and step out of your comfort zone
- Develop at least one skill well enough to have always something to fall back on
- Passions fade and why that is good
My process for passion discovery has been exactly the same you propose.
I tried many things until I found the ones I liked. Again, my problem was I ended liking more than one which introduced a new dilemma.
Which one you give yourself to? Which one becomes your work, which one becomes your hobby?
(As a side note, like your friend I also wanted to get into filmmaking so I ended up working on music videos for 3 years.
I loved discovering what takes to shoot a music video. The end product being so beautiful, so creative, music and images flowing together.
I was amazed to discover the hard work that takes to produce a 3-4min music video.
Typically one or two weeks of pre-production where you write the treatment, cast talent, go location scouting, get all the props, rent all the equipment, hire all the crew. Shoot one or two 16 hour long days. Then editing 3-4 days, color correction and final delivery.
I worked on about 35 music videos total, all of them end up on MTV, MuchMoreMusic, CMT. What a feeling to see something you worked on being watched by millions.)
Take your best shot at number of things
There is something to be learned from any experience, from any job you take.
My first job in Canada was door to door sales man. I hated it. It is one of the worst jobs in this world.
You walk 8 hours a day to get rejected about 10 times per hour, under the rain, cold. Horrible.
I stuck with that job longer than most people. Why? I concentrated on the skills I could gain from such a diabolical job.
I learned to sell, to deal with rejection, and walking several miles a day was healthy.
I knew from day one this was not for me, but I knew I could take something valuable from the experience.
And to really take something valuable I had to take my best shot at it.
If I had quitted after the first week I would not have really learned the skills that job had to offer.
I gave it my best shot, I stuck until my head exploded. I talked to over 10,000 people and got over 9000 rejections in four months.
Too me that was a fair try and to this day that experience has been invaluable. I really felt I could tackle anything after that.
Door to door was like life boot-camp. I truly recommend you go trough it when you are starting out because you will be immune to rejection for years to come!
My next job was mechanical draftsman at a big heavy machinery manufacturing company right after I graduated. This was my first 9 to 5 job.
After 1 month I knew this was not for me. Don't get me wrong, I loved being a mechanical designer, I loved the people, but not how the system worked.
I did not like how corporate and serious everything was. The company was over 90 years old, and the engineers were over 50 most of them.
There was no creativity there, the fluorescent light, the old cubicles, how every single procedure had been perfected over the years, how there was a policy for everything.
The morning commute, the traffic jams, 1.5 hours of my life every day stolen from me driving one ton of polluting steel, back and forth, back and forth every day. Oh my God! this is what I had spent 14 years of my life going to school for? this was what life at the work force was supposed to be for the next 40 years. I was mortified. I could not believe this was people choose to do with their precious lives. Working on dull non-creative environments for decades to pay a mortgage for a house they could not afford. Jesus! shoot me right now! I thought after the first week there. But I was not ready to quit, I came prepared to take on the challenge thanks to my previous door-to-door experience.
I felt like I'd just come back from Vietnam to an old-folks home. I was young and a dreamer. Somehow I was going to have fun here, but for that to happen, I would have to break some rules, and so I did,
I stuck on that job for 3 and a half years. About 3/4 of the time I did stuff that I thought it was fun. But here is the approach I took.
After the first week I asked myself. What could I do in this dinosauric company that would be both fun for me to do and valuable to the company at the same time?
After some thinking, I saw the light, ta dam! I would teach myself 3D modeling while at work and animate their machinery.
This was back in 2000 so 3D modeling was just starting to take off. This company had never done anything on 3D and I saw a great opportunity to pioneer this trend across the company. Basically, I decided to model my own job, create the job I wanted for me, That was the only way I could endure the daily commute, the traffic jams, the depressing fluorescent light, the perfectly square cubicles.
First thing I did was not to ask for permission. I knew I was going to provide value, I did not need anyone to approve it, if they did not like it they could fire me, I was ready for it.
Here is what happen next. I downloaded a free 3D modelling software, a very crappy one, there was not animation timeline, you had to literally hard code every move, I think it was called TriSpectives. Anyway, then I downloaded all the CAD blueprints for one of the most complex machines this company manufactured, called a veneer composer. So for the next three months I found time here and there to model this machine and animate it for the first time in the history of the company.
As soon as I finished the animation I sent an email company wide saying "Hey! I animated a composer, here is the animation. Let me know what you think".
Long story short, the marketing manager loved it and offered me a full time job doing what I wanted to do, 3D animation.
I spent the next 3 years animating all their equipment, entire plants. I even won an international modelling competiion by Autodesk and they flew me to Las Vegas for a week to give me a price. Here is a 3D reel with some of the work I did back then -> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZuHPJIFpCRs
Two lessons here. One, however shitty your job is you can take something valuable from it, so give it your best try.
Second, before you run away from your job, see if you can actually make it into something you like while adding value to your company.
Reach to the top people on the industry
Eventually I got laid off from my self-created 3D Animation work. Business was slow and 3D animation was not going to pay the bills. Luckily I was already thinking of my next step. I wanted to learn about filmmaking but I did not want to go back to school again and rack up a huge debt to only find out this was not for me.
I had to come up with an strategy to find out what making movies was all about without spending a penny.
Here is what I did. My logic told me that you are always 1 or two degrees of separation from someone high enough in almost any industry. So recently I had met a prominent local photographer while having dinner out our favourite Spanish restaurant in Vancouver, La Bodega.
Back then I was jobless and single, me and my best friend would spend many nights there befriending the very cute waitresses. Anyway, we caught the eye of the french photographer and he invited us and one of the waitresses to his luxurious home-studio for a exquisite home made cappuccino. We had a great chat, exchange phone numbers and never saw him again.
But one day I thought, Hey! this guy is high up in the photography world, he must for sure know someone in the film industry. So I send him an email and 3 days later I was in the set of a 40 million hollywood set for the movie White Chicks.
The photographer happened to be best friends with the art director of the show so he gave me his cell number and magic happened. I spent 5 days on the set, talking to people, being amazed by the sheer size of the production.
Hundreds of crew members, extras, props, sets, big Panavision cameras. Stuff I had never seen before in my entire life.
I was the only one there that was not getting paid to be there, I was an stranger, and I loved it.
I could have spent years going to school, thousands of dollars to be there and find out I did not like it.
An email to the right person put me in the middle of Hollywood in 3 days!!
It was a fascinating experience. So hectic, so much money being thrown into making this, so many people working together to make the silver screen magic happen.
I even got to chat with their Director of Photography, Steven Berstein, who had before done Like Water for Chocolate and we talked a little about his upcoming movie, Monster with Charlize Theron.
Here I was, a total newbie, chatting up with one of the top DOPs in Hollywood. Being strategic about my next move in life sure was paying off!
After that, I made a mistake. I enrolled in a program that for about 5 grand promised to put you directly in contact with top producers in your area. It was like a shortcut to get into show business. It worked, they put me in contact with a prominent local producer and she put me on the set of several TV commercials.
I say it was a mistake because later on I found out I did no need to pay to get in to the sets of movies or commercials.
I felt a little scammed, in fact, one of the guys that took the program sued the owner and got his money back.
I didn't because in the end they did put me in contact with the right people, but to do that that it really took for them a couple of phone calls. Not 5 grand!
Basically, they were providing producers with free labor. Not only that, they split the 5 grand with the producer because they were supposed to act as your mentor. All the producers really did was call people in town offering free production assistants. We thought this was the only way to get into the industry by working for free and maybe catching the eye of a producer willing to pay you for his next gig.
Later on, I found out that to get into the industry you can either do your own thing, work on music videos, corporate video, or go through the union and get a certification to work as a grip, camera guy, make up, etc.
There is a well defined path to get into big Hollywood movies and it is hard and not fun.
After spending many 16 hour days getting dirty on the sets of several TV ads, I knew this big movie thing was not for me.
People did not seem to be happy on set. It is like a big factory where there are no pleases or thank yous.
If you are a PA you are at the bottom of the totem pole, you are literally everyone's bitch.
Big movies are very stressful, they last weeks or months of hard labor and sleep depravation. At least people get paid good money.
The minimum daily salary for a PA is about $250. The average crew member can easily make $400 or more a day.
But I did not want to get into filmmaking for the money, I wanted to be there to create things, to have fun.
So one day I landed on the set of a music video. This was way more fun.
Everything is a little bit more relaxed. Smaller crews, faster turn around. You feel your work actually counts.
You become friends with the crew, with the producer, the director.
Eventually I got hired on an on-going basis to help produce music videos for a local production company called Triton Films. They are still around and doing great things, the producer Gabriel Napora has produced over 300 music videos and now got heavy into features. One of his first music video directors was now super famous District 9 director, Neill Blomkcamp.
I worked on about 35 music videos. I learned so much at Triton Films. I got to do everything except directing (I would later do that on my own).
Casting girls for the videos was always fun. Me and the production manager used to go out to local strip-bars to recruit hot models for the videos. We told them, do you want to be famous? do you want to be on TV?
It was an easy sell and got us lots of attention from the girls. I had always been so scared to go to a strip club, let alone talk to a hot model. Again, sheer repetition killed all my fears and we actually made some good friends with some of the strippers. Don't judge stripper next time you see them. Some of them are very smart, have degrees and are doing that to pay for school or just save money for something more substantial than drugs and alcohol, trust me.
Lessons learned here. To find your passion will take several tries, several pivots in your life.
You will not have the time or money to go to school every time you want to try something new.
Find strategic ways to find the right people in your network that can give you both advice or a chance to put you well on your way of your new pursuit.
Be ready to work hard and step out of your comfort zone
After reading some of my past adventures trying new things to find my passion you may have unveiled a common pattern.
Every single new thing I tried took a lot of effort, sometimes physical, some times mental, some times both..
My first challenge was to overcome the fear to trying something new. This process would take days or even weeks where I would think of all the things that could go wrong and all the things I would have to confront with my new move.
But once I overcame my fears and jump into the pool, I swam and I did my best to swim hard (incidentally, I am a terrible swimmer).
And working hard was actually the best way to forget about my fears. I was too busy learning new things, trying new things, putting long hours so I had no time to let me fears take over. Once you are in the water you instinctively will do everything you can to stay afloat and you will realize, hey! this was not half as bad as I thought it would be, yippee!
Lesson, to find your passion you cannot seat on your ass and expect opportunities will rain on your lap.
You have to muster the courage and motivation to go out that door and confront your fears.
This is easier said that done and I don't think anyone has a formula to help you get off your ass.
Your motivation will come from a different place than mine did.
But let me share with you one of the main reasons that motivated me to get out there and fight.
My main motivation, to me it was, it is, and it will me time, or better, the lack of it.
Look at our life as a horizontal timeline across the bottom of your computer screen. You know you will live about 75 years. That is 27,000 days no more, that is the window of opportunity that was given to you exclusively to experience this miraculously amazing thing we call life.
Every second every minute, every hour, every day, week, month, year that passes by is one less available for you to take advantage of this God given opportunity. Life is the best prize you will ever win, you already won it, you are a true champion.
The chances that you existed are 1 in trillions. To begin with, you already won a raze against 200 million spermatozoids when your daddy shoot you off into your mommy. 1 in 200 million is a hell of a victory. You were born lucky my friend.
You were given the gift of life, don't waste it. This gift comes with an expiry date, the day you will die. This is a guarantee, you - will - die. Time is consuming you like a candle. Time is deceiving because it seems to flow slow, but every pump of your heart is one pump less you have.
Your timeline starts at the bottom left of your screen. If you are 30 you are 1/3 of the way towards your death.
You have 2/3rds left. the last 3rd you will be weaker, older, uglier.
You must make sure you do everything you can at the beginning of your timeline to have a rewarding last 3rd.
I don't want this to sound like yet another self help book. This is my experience, this is my motivation.
I don't know what yours will be.
I always keep the time concept in my mind. It makes me more appreciative of the moment I live in, it motivates me to do new things.
Time my friend, make sure you fill that timeline with wonderful moments because before you know it you will be no more.
Our lives are miniscule blips of impossibly low entropy. The universe is chaos, the universe is bigger than we can even imagine or measure. They say this planet alone is 4.5 billion years old. For this Earth, 75 years is less than a fraction of a millisecond. I think is your obligation to make the most of that millisecond. Get off your ass bud!
Develop at least one skill well enough to have always something to fall back on
I have heard this one a million times and it makes sense. A well developed skill buys you insurance should everything fall apart. Before you go on a self discovery spree make sure you have some kind of insurance in the form of skills, connections, or money.
To be honest, if you are resourceful enough, no setback will ever defeat you. But a well honed skill will simply help you get back on your feet faster.
Passions fade and why that is good
I don't think all passions are timeless, they do fade away and that is good, we evolve and our passions do too.
For some reason the romantic part of us loves the forever and ever happy ending stories.
Well, they are a bunch of dung. People change, in fact we better change, Change means you are evolving, that you are alive.
Rocks don't change. Are you a rock? no, you are a living breathing animal. You will change no matter what.
Even if you sit on your ass for 75 years, guess what, time will change you. Your body will change.
Your mind should change too, your opinions, tastes, and of course your passions.
I don't have to convince you of this because you already know it. I am just trying to stop you from deluding yourself again thinking that when you find your true passion after doing everything I tell you here, you will be set for life.
Oh I know what to do, cool! let's do this forever and ever and I will be happy. Forget that bull crap amigo.
You love photography today, 30 years form now and one hundred thousand photos later you will feel very different about models, sets, lights, make up, digital retouching, and angry clients. It may be still a passion but will you be so passionate about it as 30 years before? may be but don't count on it.
Passions are like love affairs. When they are new they are most exciting, our mind is in a state of ectasis, our blood full of serotonin, adrenaline and tons of other addictive natural chemistry.
Many never settle down with a lover, or a passion because they are addicted to the rush of the new. Find a balance, be a butterfly yes, but build a solid foundation on the process.
Are you a programmer? well become a damn good one. Then change companies, start your own, travel, speak, write. Try paragliding, skydiving, painting, dancing.. but be a good programmer so when the parachute breaks your lines of code can provide an nice cushion for your fall.
And that is all I have for you Sebastian. I hope this explains the path I have followed to narrow down my passions.
However, my passions keep being many, my new one is writing. I actually have enjoyed writing this article tremendously.
I used to write so much when I came to Canada. I wrote letters to my friends back in Spain, to my mom and relatives, but mostly to my first love Cristina.
I wrote a letter to her every week for over a year. In total, I wrote to her close to 50 letters, each 10 pages long or more, both sides, filled with love words and detailed experiences on a new country. We were so in love and only six months after we started dating I was on a flight to Canada.
I saw her again 6 years later. We both were dating new people. But so much of us was poured into those love letters.
I still keep hers, reading them shows me how much we have changed. Oh falling in love for the first time.. hehe.
My wife says that I put so much romanticism on those letters that I ran out of romance. She is right in part, that part of me left long time ago sealed in 50 envelopes now probably lost somewhere in the middle of La Mancha, Spain.
We should embrace change because it is the best indication that we are actually living our lives and not letting our lives live us away.
Cheers to you finding out your true passions after making many mistakes. Go out and live life!
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