“You're in the wrong business kid! Paper clips. Now that's a business. Paper clips. You've got your big ones, and you've got your small ones. Answer the phone, and just ask ‘em which ones they want. ‘Oh, you want medium ones? Sorry, we don't make those. Try the big ones. You'll love ‘em.’ No stress. No arguments. No haggling. Just make two different sized things that everyone on the face of the planet uses.” This was the sage advice given to me by one of my first employers in this business. You know what? The guy was right, but more on that later.
I asked what the magazine's theme would be for this month, and I was told that it was going to be the club issue. Traditionally, I've always found the club issue fascinating because clubs are where many of my industry friends and I started our careers. It's always fun to commiserate with buddies about what the kids these days are doing in clubs. It makes you feel all warm, fuzzy, and crotchety deep inside.
So as you read this club-themed issue, I pose some questions to you about your own career. Have you “made it”? Do you think you've “made it” but haven't really? Have you really “made it” but deep down are too humble to truly acknowledge it? Do you think you'll “make it” someday? Do you even care? How will things be different when you do finally “make it”? I bet you won't have to deal with all of the crap that you're dealing with right now. I bet you won't have to deal with all of that crap that you dealt with (or are dealing with) in the clubs, right? Well have I got news for you…wrong!
Whether you've been working in this business for a decade or half a century, you've probably asked yourself at least one of these questions during some sleepless night worrying about a difficult project. Worse still is the fact that, if you're anything remotely like me, you still don't acknowledge the fact that you're considered a professional doing what you do for a living. I still find myself second guessing my decisions and wondering when people will uncover the fact that I'm a complete fraud who really doesn't know what he's doing regardless of how many large-scale projects and Emmy nominations come my way. In the end, there comes a time when you have to stop biting your nails and simply recognize the fact that you've got a clue. Then the harsh reality sets in. All that “crap” hasn't gone away. You're still dealing with it after all of these years. What went wrong?
I clearly remember saying to myself at a younger age, “Just you wait until you're at [enter famous designer's name here] level, and you don't have to worry about things like losing half your rig to budget cuts or [enter so-called entry-level gripe here].”
It was about a year ago that I was on-site doing a shootout of digital projectors for an upcoming project. One of those famous designers that I used to reference long ago was standing right next to me also engaging in the shootout. As fate would have it, he and I were hired by the same producer to design several different projects independently of one another. We then started bitching and moaning about the challenges that we were each facing, and it soon became very clear: not only was I working on the same level as this icon of mine, but that “crap” didn't go away for him, and it certainly wasn't going away for me. It's just the nature of the business.
I've never found that things got easier as I progressed through my career. The challenges pretty much stayed the same. What did change was that the scales of various projects became much larger, the amount of money that was on the line got higher, and the feeling of having something to lose got greater. And rightfully so — with all of these increases comes the inevitable added responsibility. You have the increased responsibility of managing someone else's money and making the best possible decisions for them. You have the responsibility to be the best leader that you can be and set proper examples for those working with you. You have the responsibility to uphold your own reputation, which has been built from a body of work that you have vested years of hard work in. Being a professional in this business definitely has its sobering moments.
So what does it all mean? Well, I'm not really sure. I know that we all spend an entire career learning new things and trying to do better on the next project. I know that all of those little annoying things that you were so certain would go away at some point never really do. I know that with every bigger and better project come new challenges, and that is, without a doubt, the most wonderful part of this business. So, I guess that the moral of this story is that, if you're wondering when it's going to get easier just so you don't have to work very hard, you're in the wrong business. Perhaps I can suggest inventing the equivalent of the next paper clip.