My friend Vera recently gifted me “Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice”, which is a companion piece to Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. The journal includes many prompts that really push you to do some self-reflection.
Well, I cracked open the journal and immediately found myself stuck at the first prompt:
What’s your story and how have you learned to embrace it?
My mind raced. What is my story? How — or when — would I start? How would it end? Is there even an ending yet? I feel like I’m still in the middle of my story and the ending is still very much a mystery to me. Hell, I don’t even know what to expect from the next chapter!
It’s an interesting question because it made me realize that we really get to write our own story. And I’m not talking about the future and making choices that affect our journey. I’m talking about looking back at the whole of our life and weaving together the bits that we choose in order to create the tale of us.
Our story is not a complete documentation of our life. Our story is a curated history. We choose what to tell and what not to tell.
Do I only tell the good parts? Well, if you’ve read my blog, you know I wouldn’t do that. But what do I focus on? Is there a main theme? How long is this story?
I’m still not sure how I’ll answer this prompt. I’m sure there will be many drafts. But my goal is to reflect on it this week and try to get something down on paper.
So stayed tuned. Maybe I’ll have a tale for you next week.
“Wait, is it Friday already? I need to write a blog post!”
This is not an uncommon thought for me, especially lately. My schedule’s gotten pretty busy, and each week seems to fly by. Before I know it, Friday sneaks up on me, and like a deer in the headlights, I stare wide-eyed at my computer screen, thinking: “What the hell am I going to write about?!”
So, we’re going to get pretty meta this week, folks. Today, I’m blogging about … well, blogging.
Thoughts on Blogging
The timing is actually perfect for this reflection. I just renewed my domain name for this blog, which means that it’s been almost a year since I’ve started it!
And I do consider creating and maintaining this blog one of my biggest accomplishments during this sabbatical. Sure, my primary purpose for the blog was to keep my family and friends updated on my journey, as well as hold me accountable to actually follow through on my career exploration plans.
But, as I wrote about in one of my previous posts, blogging in and of itself has also been one of those many creative pursuits that I always meant to start for years but never did. So, even though I have weeks where I have major writer’s block, and despite the fact that I eventually had to scale back on the frequency of my posts, I’m still really proud that I’ve stuck with this.
And most importantly, I’m not burned out on the project. I think the key has been allowing the blog to be whatever I wanted it to be and not what I thought my audience (hey, that’s you!) expected it to be. That means I’ve been able to talk about taking coding classes one week and organizing my apartment the next.
So, What Do I Write About?!
Ok, I will admit that my approach to writing this blog would never fly if I was, say, a content manager at a big company. A professional blogger would likely have a long list of content ideas and a content calendar scheduled weeks or months in advance.
But I haven’t seen that blogging paycheck come through yet, so I’m just going to do this my own way! (she shouted defiantly into the void of her living room, shaking her fist to the heavens as her cats looked on with disinterest)
Ok, so here’s my typical, completely unprofessional (but remember, unpaid) process for getting together each week’s blog post:
1. Start with planned posts
Every now and then, I actually do have a planned topic for the week! In these cases, I’ve been thinking about the topic throughout the week and may have even started drafting the post days before. For example, I’m coming up on the one-year mark of my sabbatical, and (SPOILER ALERT) I plan on having a whole series of posts with an update on my career exploration and my plans for the future. I’ll probably start sketching out my ideas and even drafting some of the copy a week or two in advance.
2. Look at major developments
Have I tried something or am I about to embark on something completely new related to my career exploration? Did I wrap up a big project in relation to my sabbatical? Did I have a major revelation about one of the careers on my list? This obviously makes for good fodder for my blog posts. However, lately, because my exploration has been a bit more drawn out and slow, I haven’t had as many of these types of content ideas.
3. Review past blogs
I almost always look back at what I’ve written about in previous weeks. Sometimes, this reveals some hole or opportunity for topics. Other times, I’ll have an idea for a blog post, only to realize that I’ve already written something similar. But usually that allows me to morph the original idea and have some fresh take on the topic.
4. Reflect on my feelings
Yeah, we’re getting pretty hippie-dippie with this one. But some of my favorite blog posts (not to mention the easiest to write and ones that I feel are most true to my voice) have been the ones where I am talking about my emotions at the time. I think back about my very first blog post where I explained the drain that was taxing me or my blog post on loneliness where I expressed the utter isolation I was suffering through at the time. Sure, I was being raw and vulnerable, which can be scary. But it was also a very cathartic and therapeutic exercise.
5. Look for outside inspiration
When all else fails, I’ll scour the internet for ideas. Inspiring TED Talks on finding what you’re passionate about. Tips on changing careers. Exercises on finding the right path for you. Examples of people who have taken a similar sabbatical. It’s sometimes nice to bring in an outside perspective.
6. Be OK with a short post
Like I said earlier, the key to maintaining this blog and not burning out on it has been refusing to box it in or put too many parameters around it. That means some weeks, when I really don’t have the mental or emotional energy to draft something long and thoughtful, I’ll at least write something short, just to get something out. So whether it be a week of major personal drama when the best I could do was share a poem that had helped me get through it or the week I returned from my babymoon, exhausted, and just shared a TED Talk video, I was satisfied that I at least got something published.
Earlier this month, I wrote about pursuing part-time work and applying to a couple of positions. I found that I was a little bored not working, despite taking interior design classes, working on the podcast and this blog, and preparing for the baby. But in taking on a part-time job, I was determined that the work would still contribute to the career exploration that has guided this sabbatical.
Trained as an artist, Susie believes herself to be one at heart. She worked in the art world in both New York City and San Francisco before transitioning into interior design. After receiving her Certificate from the interior design and architecture program at UC Berkeley and executing a major home construction project she began Susie Novak Interiors.
In this position, I’ll have the opportunity to learn and get hands-on experience with the entire design process, as well as gain a better understanding of what it takes to run your own interior design business.
The full scope of work is still to be defined, which means this is a great opportunity to mold the role myself. I was very up-front during my interview that I do hope for this job to serve as a learning opportunity.
Likely duties will includes:
Sourcing and gathering options for furniture, fixtures, accessories, etc.
Trips to the SF Design Center to check out or return samples
Drafting floor plans and elevations
Preparing visuals for client presentations
Figuring out the best way to organize client files and photos
Weighing in on proposed design solutions
Not only will this allow me become even more familiar with the interior design world, but it will also give me better insights into the day-to-day of an interior designer (particularly, an independent designer) and help me decide if this is the path for me.
When I was considering quitting my job to explore and pursue a more fulfilling career path, I already had a lot of inspiration from others who had embarked on similar quests.
And one of those people is my very own husband, Ryan Lee Short.
Ryan currently works as a scenic carpenter and set builder for Bay Area Children’s Theatre, but he started out in a very different field. I sat down and talked to him about his journey:
Laura: Let’s start from the beginning. Thinking about when you were growing up, did you have a sense of what you “wanted to be when you grew up” or what you wanted to do for work?
Ryan: After wanting to be a firefighter or the second baseman for the Oakland A’s as a kid, I kind of lost the focus in that regard. I never really had a … you know, this is what I’m going to be when I grow up. And then as I did grow up, it was never a desire based on something passionate — it was always just like I’m going to go to a fancy school and be an engineer to make some money. I never really had an end goal.
L: And I know you had an unconventional college journey. Take me through that.
R: I spent three years at Cornell University, trying to be an engineer. The major I tried to start was called engineering physics, which was more of a theoretical thing. The pitch for that major was — you are going to be generally specialized in all of the fields. Honestly, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was going to do with that, I just knew I was going to make a lot of money doing it.
L: But outside of your studies, you had this major extracurricular which was working with the Concert Commission.
R: Yes, I started as a stage crew hand and the top of that stage crew was crew heads, and then eventually I ended up the Production Director, which was day of show operations — the head of the show. That was managing a crew of 200.
L: And these were major artists.
R: Yeah, I hugged BB King during that job. We did the Indigo Girls and Dave Matthews and Black Eyed Peas.
L: And you really liked doing that work.
R: I really did. It was my first foray into working in live entertainment, which I still do to this day. But I liked it a little too much. It kind of took away from the focus of my studies. So, after three years at Cornell, I was politely asked to leave.
So, I came back to the Bay Area and was basically attempting to do some GPA repair and get myself to transfer to — at the time is was SF State — to finish out a Bachelors in Business Administration or something generic that I could work at a bank or something, just doing boring office work.
And ultimately, you transferred to and graduated from Chico State. What was your degree?
R: I have a Bachelor of Arts in Music Industry and Technology. My option was in recording arts. So I am technically a degreed studio engineer.
And when you chose that major, did you have any inkling of careers you might want to do with it?
R: I chose it because I had already been doing a bunch of sound stuff, but it had been kind of unfocused and all over the place.
I knew I could get through that degree in a small amount of time — or at least a small amount of effort — and if I had not burned the bridges that I burned, I could have taken advantage of some of the placement opportunities that they had. That might have gotten me down a different path.
L: looking back, are there certain reasons why you didn’t take advantage of those connections and opportunities?
R: I burned out. I was so tired of being in school.
L: So, you were just trying to finish a degree because it’s what everyone expects people to do.
L: What did you do after you graduated?
R: I went back home and after a little while of not really trying to find a job, I went back to the daycare where I had started working at 16. It is a before- and after-school program at an elementary school. My mom runs it and has run it for close to 30 years now. It was familiar. It was something I think I was genuinely good at. But it was just easy and familiar to fall back into that.
It was good enough. I was happy enough just getting by without putting any effort in or challenging myself in any way or really striving for more because I just didn’t feel like it was worth it.
L: But while you were working at the daycare, you started doing side gigs.
R: Yes. So a podcast I listened to, the host had said he had written a play and they were producing it in Alameda and they need tech people. And I was like, I know how to do sound. I don’t know shit about theater, but I know how to run mics and I know how to run a soundboard. And so I reached out to this director and got involved — this was October of 2007, so this was pretty soon after I graduated. And I was signed on to be the assistant sound designer to kind of learn the ropes.
But the main sound designer quickly dropped out, and Bob, the director, asked me, “Do you feel comfortable taking this on yourself?” And I said to him, “Do you feel comfortable with me taking this on myself because I can make this happen, but you know I don’t know how to do it.” So I became the sound designer.
I had a lot of fun. They were theater people. It felt like I had been welcomed into a family. So, I did a few more shows with them. And through outside directors and technical directors, I ended up getting work elsewhere, and learning how to properly [sound] design a show — and really just learning how theater production works more in general. And eventually, I ended up as a resident artist at a few places.
L: And so at the height of that, when you still had a full-time job at the daycare while doing these side gigs in sound design and/or engineering, how many shows did you do a year?
R: I never properly counted, but I would say at the peak, I was doing at least 10 shows a year. Sometimes that was just designing, and sometimes that would be running musicals … or, for instance, running free Shakespear in the park for 13 weeks.
I would never have more than a month in between jobs.
L: So, you recognized that this arena was something you were passionate about.
R: Yes, so, when I started working at Sketchfest, for instance — a comedy festival — it was exciting again in a way that I hadn’t felt about my work since doing those concerts back in Cornell. Having a ton of responsibility and a lot of balls in the air but then being able to do it and coming out the other end having done a good job.
L: And then you quit your full time job at the daycare back in 2016.
R: Yea, I had worked there off and on for 20 years, but it had been about 9 years full-time at that place.
L: And talk a little bit about what it was like switching industries. What was that journey like?
R: It was tough. I was really bad about pursuing new opportunities because I think I had gotten used to taking whatever was thrown at me. So, it felt like I was busy, but it turns out I wasn’t always taking the smart things — you know, considering my own time to be worth a certain amount of money.
I was doing tech at a drag bar, which was really fun but it didn’t pay enough to pay the bills. I tried to pile on sound design gigs, but those stipends didn’t really cut it. And then, eventually — I would say this was early 2017 — I started working for Bay Area Children’s Theatre (BACT) as an overhire, just moving sets around.
I showed a pretty quick aptitude for that, which got me more work with them. They needed some production design for a new performance space. And then they sent me to the shop to put together little things for sets. I had no real experience in carpentry or using tools.
But eventually I learned and became a full time scenic carpenter and set building with them, almost two years ago.
L: But set-building and carpentry was already on your radar as a skill you wanted to learn.
R: That’s true. I had already assisted building a set for a theater that I had done a lot of sound design for.
L: And even before you quit your job at the daycare, you had this role of Technical Director as something you might want to pursue. For people who aren’t familiar, what is that position.
R: Every building, it’s different. But in general, the Technical Director oversees the technical aspects of a production. A lot of the times, they are overseeing building sets primarily, but it’s also going to bleed into electrics and sound. The behind the scenes stuff.
L: And you noticed that these job descriptions for Technical Director wanted certain background and skills.
R: Yes. So, the sound background was there. I had done a little bit of lighting stuff along the way. But I had never done scenic carpentry. So it was like, if I ever want to do this job, I need to get experience with that, which is what drew me to pursue that work at BACT.
L: And do you have a clear sense of what your goal is moving forward with your career?
R: I would like to be a Technical Director or a Theater Manager or some combination of the two. You know, having a larger scale theater that is mine to administrate and lead from a technical side. I would love to do that in an educational setting, if possible, to spread the love — I really enjoy teaching and working with students.
L: And just to wrap up — obviously you wouldn’t be where you are without everything you went through, but are there major things you would have done differently along your journey?
R: I would say don’t be afraid of the kinds of things that people may think of as, say, too artistic. You want to work in the arts? Just fucking work in the arts. Don’t try to pigeon-hole yourself into what’s going to make yourself the most money. Just pursue something that you actually want to do.
Last month, I challenged myself to plan, direct and shoot my very own video. I took on the herculean task of documenting a pretty complicated DIY project for the handmade Christmas gifts we crafted for our family.
The footage is pretty much all shot; however, editing is on hold while I wait for my computer to be upgraded with additional storage.
In the meantime, I had a lot of good learnings from the shooting days and some ideas of how I could streamline and simplify the process for my next video. So, never one to waste an opportunity, I shot another video!
This video centered around the other main topic I’m really interested in creating content around – food! I’ve had this idea for a food series that features a lot of my favorite, but perhaps lesser-known, food destinations.
You always need to start with a plan
The first step was nailing down the concept. I had to think of the audience I’m trying to reach and what would be appealing to them, as well as what might make me stand out from other food-related videos. And of course, I had to think of the logistics of shooting the actual video, and how I could make the process pretty simple and feasibe with a small crew (essentially just me and Ryan).
When I first thought about producing videos about my favorite Bay Area food spots, I had these grandiose plans to create listicle-type videos. Think something like, “My top 10 favorite desserts in the Bay Area.” But after shooting the DIY video, I realized that sometimes less is more, so I shifted my attention to just featuring one food place per video.
For the audience, I mainly wanted to focus on tourists and other visitors to the area that might be looking for off-the-beaten-path destinations, while still appealing to locals who may not have explored the area very extensively. So, if I’m recommending places a little further afield than most tourists would go, I knew I needed to make sure to include clear information about how to get there and other activities or destinations in the area.
I had my concept:
Begin with a quick introduction to the neighborhood and how to get there
Feature the food destination and my recommended dishes
End with a quick blurb about other things to do in the area
With the concept in place, I was able to write my script and plan my shot list. I wanted the videos to include both scripted content and on-the-spot commentary; and the script would be a mix of on-camera speaking and voiceover.
A simpler shoot
Thinking back on my learnings from shooting the DIY project, one of the first ways I was able to simplify this second video shoot is by planning fewer shots. We were also able to optimize the day toward shooting the video, unlike the DIY project video, where we planned our time around completing the actual DIY project (and there were ten pieces we had to make!).
We knew the restaurant didn’t open until 11 am, so we got to the area early to shoot the introduction, as well as all the B-roll footage.
Here is where I simplified even more on the spot. I had planned this long shot of me speaking to the camera for the whole introduction part of the script. However, between the street noise (which was a lot louder than I expected) and complications around grabbing that kind of shot (essentially, Ryan would need to walk backwards for quite a stretch), I realized that most of the introduction would work better as a voiceover with cuts of the B-roll footage of the neighborhood. It was good to have this type of flexibility and willingness to adjust once we were on location.
When we got to the food place, we kept the shots pretty simple. We captured footage of the menu and food. And then we went with a single set-up as I ate the food and gave unscripted commentary.
We hadn’t coordinated with the restaurant to film, so we chose a table outside, where we wouldn’t be in the way.
The final bit of the video was the quick summary of other things to do in the area; for this video, we are featuring a nearby board game cafe. I knew that this part of the video would just be voiceover, with simple shots of the cafe: signage, shelves of board games, us playing a game.
Thoughts and additional learnings
This style of video was a lot quicker and simpler to shoot. We were able to capture all the footage in a few hours.
As with the DIY video, for this food video, we recorded the video and audio on separate devices. This time around, we were a lot better about writing notes, identifying which video file is associated with which audio file. And we made sure to include a large clap or sound at the start of each take, which will make it easier to synch the video and audio during post-production.
As I go into the editing process, I have a feeling that I will opt for having most of the scripted content be voiceover (which I’ll need to record at home), given the level of street noise we encountered. Then, I’ll reserve most of the on-camera speaking to the unscripted commentary.
I also think there is more opportunity for me to bring out my genuine personality in these videos, which will probably just take more practice in front of the camera, as well as leaving more space for unscripted commentary.
Overall, this shoot was a lot more streamlined and fun. I can’t wait to get the final product together. I should be able to start editing next week, so look out for an update on that soon!
The beginning of a new year always feels like a time of renewal. It’s a time full of hope and potential. We set goals for ourselves and look for ways to make the new year different — better — than the last.
I’ve always loved creating New Year’s resolutions. It helps give me focus and motivation to accomplish things I’ve always wanted to. Now, I don’t necessarily follow through on all my resolutions. In fact, I probably break or fail at least 90% of my resolutions. But I think the reason for that is that I set resolutions that are too aggressive – doing a certain thing every day or making a major shift in behavior right away.
So, this year, instead of setting hard and fast rules around my resolutions, I want to just identify areas of focus. These are things that I want to devote a little more energy to in the new year and that I want to particularly prioritize above everything else.
And I thought this would be a great way to approach setting some small resolutions for my sabbatical.
So, without further adieu, here are my 2019 sabbatical resolutions:
Interview people in my fields of interest
My sabbatical so far has centered around mostly self-taught exercises in learning how to do a few of the careers on my list. This helped me uncover my aptitude for the work, as well as how much I actually enjoyed doing it.
By speaking with people who work in these fields, I think I’ll get a better sense of how to actually make a living in the areas of work, whether it be landing a job at a company or starting my own business.
Create a circle of like-minded people
I have been surprised by the sheer number of people who are either taking a similar sabbatical at the moment or who have been feeling the same lack of fulfillment in their jobs that I did. A lot of these people are fellow artists (theater and otherwise), and we all struggle to find the balance among creative fulfillment, reserving space (both time and energy) for our artistic pursuits, and making enough money to survive.
I’ve taken the opportunity to meet with a few people who are taking sabbaticals. It has been great to swap stories, and more than anything, it’s been good to reassure myself that I’m not alone. However, I feel like we could all get so much more out of each other if we banded together and formed a sort of support circle. We could meet regularly (even if it’s just once a month) to share experiences, challenges, goals and maybe lend ideas or offer assistance.
Explore part-time work
I’ve quickly realized that the best thing I can give to my sabbatical is time. In my first few months, I was mostly able to focus on 3 of the 9 careers, two of which I feel warrant further exploration. I really don’t want to rush through this and I definitely don’t want to jump back into a full-time, permanent job until I’m confident it’s a path I’m passionate about.
Therefore, to give myself as much time as I need, in 2019 I’m going to dedicate a little more energy to looking for gigs, contract jobs or regular part-time work. We still have plenty of savings left, but I don’t want to deplete it completely. I would also rather start looking for part-time work early, before we’re desperate for the extra income, so that I can be more selective.
Whatever type of extra work I take on, it needs to allow for a relatively flexible schedule and it can’t get in the way of my career exploration. If you have any ideas or leads, leave a comment.
Make time for non-career focus areas
Not only has this sabbatical given me the time — and really more importantly, the energy — to explore new careers, but it also affords me space to focus on non-career aspects of my life that I’ve been neglecting.
I want to take advantage of this extra time and energy to focus on:
Health and getting into shape
Staying more connected with my friends and family
Getting my home organized and decluttered
Exploring new artistic outlets
New year, new beginnings
2018 was quite a bumpy year, with a lot of ups and downs. But it’s also been a year of big learnings and long overdue reflection.
I’m sure 2019 will have its fair share of rises and dips, but for the first time in a long time, it feels like I’m the one steering. So, where to first?
When I decided to blog about my sabbatical, my motivations were two-fold. First, I knew it would be a good way of documenting my own thoughts and experiences as I explore these new careers – a type of record I could look back on. Secondly, and more importantly, I chose to make my journey public as a way of holding myself accountable to actually following through on my plan.
But something else, rather unexpected, has come out of sharing my sabbatical adventure with the world: an outpouring of not just support but people telling me, “I’ve been there.”
There are the people who have taken similar types of sabbaticals in the past. Their experiences have provided a lot of good lessons and tips for my own sabbatical. And a lot of those people took pretty long breaks from work, which has encouraged me to really take my time and not rush back into something until I’m confident it’s the right path for me.
Then, there are the people who are currently taking a sabbatical! It’s been great to swap stories, share strategies and act as each others’ cheerleaders. These are the people I can turn to when I have doubts or are worried about not working because they’re going through the same thing.
And finally, there are the people who’ve reached out to me privately to tell me that they are feeling just as unfulfilled in their jobs but don’t have the means or are not in the right place to take this type of sabbatical. And surprisingly, some of these people have been people I worked with, who always seemed so happy and successful in their job. I guess a smile can hide a lot of things. Their stories are heartbreaking, and I feel a little guilty that I have the privilege to take this break from work but so many don’t.
While it’s been comforting to know I’m not alone — that I’m not crazy for feeling this way or deciding to make this drastic change — it’s a little concerning just how prevalent this dissatisfaction is among my peers.
Is it something about work these days? Or does it start earlier than that?
I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I fell into my own path. Growing up and even into early adulthood, I never gave myself the opportunity to really think about what I wanted to do with my life. In school, it was all about getting top grades. But for what? And once I was out of college, I just knew I wanted to make a decent amount of money and have a good job title. But was that really what I wanted or just what I thought I should want?
So many of us grow up with a specific path laid out for us: You work hard in school to get into a good college. And then you get out of college and get a job and start working your way up the ladder. But is it realistic to expect a 22-year-old to know what they want to do for the rest of their life?!
If it wasn’t obvious, that question was rhetorical. Oh sure, there are people who know exactly what they want to do, which makes the rest of us feel like we should know what we want to do. So, we fake it. We talk ourselves into a career path.
But what’s the rush? Why is it so important to know so early? Shouldn’t we go out and experience the world, first? Try different things. Meet different people. Form our own opinions. Forget college internships. We need adult internships!
It’s too late to change the path I’ve already taken. But now, as I stand at yet another crossroads, realizing that not only am I not alone but these crossroads are quite crowded, I’m wondering how we can all band together. How can we all help each other to get out of this mess?
I don’t know if I have an answer yet. I’m not sure if I ever will. But I think a good first step is just sharing our stories, being open and honest about what we want, not being afraid to ask for help. And in turn, when we see the opportunity, we can offer help, dish out advice, connect others with the right people or just lend an ear.
So, let me start by offering myself. If you need to talk, want to ask advice, would like an introduction to someone I know, are looking for some training on something I have experience with, just reach out.
We are not alone, and we don’t have to do this alone.
This past Sunday, my husband Ryan and I shot the first part of my DIY project video, featuring the handmade Christmas gifts we are making this year. Armed with the draft script and shot list I had put together earlier in the week, along with some basic equipment, we were ready to go!
Since this is my first video shoot running on my own, and it was just two of us working on it, I kept the equipment pretty simple.
We started with an overhead shot, featuring all of the supplies needed for the project. As you can see, this definitely required a lot of Macguyver-ing, as we didn’t have an overhead camera support, so we had to attach the camera to the tripod and then secure the tripod legs to a ladder.
From there, we shot the actual steps of completing the DIY project. Ryan had done a prototype of the project and talked me through steps, which is how I was able to write the initial script and create my shot list. Once in the actual space, I had Ryan walk through the actual motion of each step in order to figure the best angle to shoot and to light the shot.
While the narration of the video will be a voiceover and can thus be recorded separately, I did want to capture sounds of the tools, so we also recorded sound for those shots.
This first project was a lot of fun. It definitely took longer than I expected, and we hit a few snags, but that all resulted in a lot of great lessons for my next video project
#1: Do a test project first
While I had a basic understanding of the steps in the DIY project before the video shoot, I wasn’t familiar with all the tools and how they worked. That meant setting up each shot took a long time, as I needed to first see the action and then decide on the best angle.
If I do future DIY videos, I’ll want to complete a test project before even writing the script so that I can prepare a more specific shot list and make the filming day go more quickly.
#2: Prioritize the video shoot (or accept that it will take longer)
The DIY project I’m featuring in this video is for actual Christmas gifts, and we are making ten of these items. So, obviously, that made the process longer because for each step, we worked on all ten. If I wanted to focus on just getting the video done, I could have gone through and made one item first and filmed that.
#3: Figure out where you can simplify
Another factor that slowed down the shooting process what that I was obsessing over all the details – getting exactly the right angle, setting the perfect lighting, trying to capture the sound of the tools, and getting multiple shots for certain actions to give myself options during the editing process.
It’s not necessarily a bad thing to care about those little details, but with this being my first video, I could have scaled back and really put my energy into one thing. Toward the end of our first shooting day, for example, we ended up ditching the Vidpro LED light and just used the existing environmental light. And I also scaled back on the amount of shots I captured per action.
#4: Embrace the things you didn’t plan for
No matter how much you prepare and how much you plan, something unexpected is bound to come up. Instead of beating yourself up over it, it’s better to just pivot and make the best out of it.
Our shooting day started off with one of these unexpected moments when I realized I left a key supply for the DIY project at home and we had to drive all the way back to get it, significantly delaying our start time. Instead of bemoaning my mistake and how much time I’d wasted, we actually decided to feature the mishap in our video, infusing a lot of humor and personality that I think was missing in the first draft.
So, what’s next?
I’m hoping to finish shooting by the end of the weekend. And then it’s on to editing, which I know is going to be a loooooooooong process because I have some pretty fun, but time-consuming, ideas of how I want to cut together the footage. I’ll definitely be able to use a lot of these learnings from the first day of shooting as I film the rest of the video. And my mind is already abuzz with even more video ideas!
As I explore becoming an independent content creator, I realized there are a lot of things to consider:
What medium do I want to focus on?
What topic will my content center around?
What style am I going for?
As I mentioned in an earlier post, my inspiration for this career choice was drawn from my favorite YouTube channels. So, I thought it might to helpful to examine what I really enjoy about these videos, and what elements I might want to incorporate into my own content.
Kate Albrecht is an amazingly creative interior designer who, together with her husband Joey, executes some pretty impressive room transformations. The channel include different playlists or sub-series, such as videos where they makeover a room on a budget, videos where they feature renovations to their own home, videos where they transform office spaces, and more.
What is the style?
These videos are very similar to an HGTV show. You’ll have the hosts talking to the camera to introduce the room they’re going to make over and interviews with the homeowners. But a lot of the video features the actual makeover process, including, of course, before and after footage.
What I like about the videos?
The personality of the hosts really come out, and they are so genuine — Kate is upbeat and quirky and often has fun banter with Joey. Kate also walks through a lot of the transformation projects, making them seem like things that I could replicate; I always walk away inspired to do some creative project of my own. They have also cultivated a supportive community of what they call ‘creative weirdos’ and will often shout out their online community in their videos.
Chris Broad is a British YouTuber who has lived in Japan since 2012, after moving there to teach English. His videos give us a glimpse into life in Japan, and often focus on food or things to do in the country.
What is the style?
The videos will typically begin with Chris speaking to the camera and setting up what we’re about to see. And even once we get into the core of the content, a lot of the video features a lot of speaking to the camera, along with shots of the food they’re eating or the activity they are doing. Most of the time, the action looks natural and not staged.
What I like about the videos?
Chris is very genuine with his sarcastic, British humor and isn’t afraid to poke fun at himself. He also has recurring guests with big personalities. With the videos focusing on travel, food and Japan, I of course love the subject of the content. Chris will often do videos in response to requests from the comments sections, and I like that interaction with his online community.
April is a seamstress and designer extraordinaire, and in her Thrifted Transformations video series, she takes thrift store clothes (often outdated and ill-fitting) and transforms them into stylish designs.
What is the style?
The videos start with an introduction from April, explaining the thrifted transformation we’re about to see. The rest of the video features a time-lapse of the sewing process with a voiceover from April explaining the steps. We get before and after shots at the end.
What I like about the videos?
Though the projects are probably pretty complicated and require some skill, April walks through the process in a way that’s easy to follow and not overwhelming. I like how she will be honest about the mistakes she has made throughout the process or things she would do differently if she were to do it again, bringing us along on her journey. The transformations are inspiring and also get my own creative juices flowing. The filming process seems pretty simple with just a few basic set-ups, but with the editing choices, the videos are still engaging.
Josh is a language fanatic who creates educational videos about the history of languages and interesting linguistics facts.
What is the style?
These videos are actually animated, often with a mix of still images and animated characters. Josh provides the voiceover. He’ll often include an anecdote of his own personal connection to the subject of the video.
What I like about the videos?
The videos are pretty light-hearted and include humor, while still providing really interesting facts and historical background. I like that the host often talks about his own personal connection to the topic of each video.
There are many other YouTube channels that I follow (special shout-out to Dr. Pimple Popper and Naio Nails) but I figure this was a good mix. The list was varied but there are definitely common elements that I’d love to incorporate in my own content:
Authentic voice and genuine personality
Connection with the online community
Tips or creative inspiration
I think my next steps will be to create a few videos myself, either centered around local food places or crafting projects. I can test out what types of shooting styles work for me, what content topics are fruitful enough for a whole series of videos, and how I can best incorporate my favorite elements from the video series that I follow.
I’m in the middle of tech week and coming off of the Thanksgiving weekend, which means my schedule has been pretty hectic and I haven’t had much time for career. And no, I am not referring to some conference where the newest smartphone or VR device is being announced.
For those unfamiliar with theater, tech week is the period leading up to the opening of a play, so-called because it’s the time when we finally have all the technical aspects in place – lights, sounds, props, costumes, etc. It’s also the period when everyone inevitably freaks out and realizes, “oh shit, we’re opening in less than a week!”
And while my nights are filled with cue-to-cues, costume fittings and dress rehearsals, my days are filled with reviewing my lines, figuring out my hair and make-up and buying last-minute supplies for the show. So yeah, not much time on the career exploration front.
So, in honor of tech week and the impending opening of my new play, I’d like to talk about how acting — particularly stage acting — and how those techniques actually extend beyond the stage.
Can I list Stanislavski as one of my job references?
For years, I’ve reflected on the fact that I’ve been able to many of my skills as an actor and employ them in my day job, in many cases actually excel in those jobs because of them.
And as I look at the list of careers I am exploring, I can already see how my experience in theater will help me in those fields. Yes, there is the obvious — a comfort with public speaking; and I will admit that this skill has serve me well in the past (particularly in sales and training roles) and definitely transfers to many of the careers on my list.
But there are other skills you learn as an actor that can help in your day job:
#1 Understanding your character
When you take on a role, you aren’t just there to memorize lines and move about the stage. A lot of work goes into understanding your character. Where is she from? What was her family like? What happened to the character right before the start of this play? How would she react in a certain situation?
Even if it’s not explicitly explained by the playwright or laid out in the text, an actor will do a lot of work creating the character’s backstory and motivations. Essentially, this is theater-speak for putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.
And it’s clear how this skill can transfer over to many of the careers on my list. As an interior designer or real estate agent, I would need to understand my client’s lifestyle and what would work best for them. As a major gifts officer, I would need to understand what motivates a potential donor to contribute.
#2 Listening, listening, listening!
A good actor doesn’t just wait to speak. She listens and really takes in what her scene partner is saying and how they are saying it in order to inform how she will reply. Did your scene partner angrily yell that line to you? Well, then it probably doesn’t make sense to give a happy-go-lucky reply.
Listening is a vital skill in any client-facing or customer service role. When I was in advertising sales, I had a templated sales pitch, but I always adjusted that as I took in the potential client reactions: Were they delighted or skeptical? Were they interested in having a personal connection or did they just want the facts and figures?
Many of the careers on my list are client-facing careers: video producer, web developer, real estate agent, interior designer, major gifts officer. Being able to listen, and respond accordingly so that the client feels heard is what will help put me above the competition!
#3 Taking direction
A big part of being an actor is taking your director’s vision for the character and story and translating that into your own performance. And I’m not just talking about following instructions – it’s not about someone telling you “move your hand this way and then turn your head to the left and say your line that way”. Well, some directors will actually work that way, but we’re just going to ignore them (and avoid working with them!).
I’m talking about understanding the big picture of what your director wants. Knowing the end goal. Picturing the desired final product. And then giving yourself the agency to dictate how you translate that and get there.
I know this is a skill particularly useful in web development, where clients don’t always have the vocabulary to outline the technical specifications of their request. Instead, the web developer needs to understand to overall goal of the project: What are you trying to achieve? What do you want this site to do? What problem are you trying to address or need are you trying to serve with your website? Then, it’s up to the web developer to translate those needs into the actual code.
#4 Accepting rejecting
Ah yes, the unavoidable part of any actor’s life – rejection. This is definitely one of the hardest and most painful lessons but also one of the most powerful skills if you can master it.
You will not get every role you audition for. It doesn’t matter how talented you are. Because probably more than half of the time, not getting a role is less about your talent and more about the fact that you don’t fit the director’s specific vision for the role. And there’s not much you can do about that.
So, this is all about focusing on the things that you can control. Gleaning learning experiences even from the roles you don’t get. And accepting rejecting as a form of strengthening your resilience.
Whether I become a video producer and have to deal with a company opting for another production company or I become an interior designer and need to cope with not landing that big client, being able to accept rejection, learn from it, and move on will serve me well.
#5 Finding your light
Ok, this last one is going to be a bit more metaphorical.
As a stage actor, you are always told to find your light! What does that mean? Well, much like it sounds, it means that the lighting designer has focused the lights to hit certain areas of the stage for your scene, and you as an actor, need to make sure you place yourself in said areas and not in the dark. However, much to the chagrin of the creative team, this seems to be difficult for some actors. (Yes, you theater techs are all snickering right now)
Finding your light is about feeling that warmth on your face, looking around you and making sure you’re in the brightest spot.
And I think this is what I’m trying to do with my sabbatical. I’m trying to find my light. I’m trying to find that career path where I feel that warmth, where I know I’m in the right spot, and where I can shine!