Saturday, August 14, 2010

What the Biz Rep has Learned -- #6

You've got to take responsibility and ownership of the things that happen in your life, because if you don't, you end up playing the victim.

Years ago I heard Richard Pryor admit on "The Tonight Show":

"I've been married six times. And every time I got divorced, I told my friends, "That bitch stabbed me in the back and broke up the marriage." Around about divorce #5, some of my friends started saying: "You know, Richard? Maybe it ain't the women ..."

In young adulthood, I glided through my working life. College, the navy, grad school and Disney, I moved seamlessly from one thing to another and assumed that was the way my professional existence was supposed to be, and the way it would always be.

But I was disabused of that notion when I got let go from the Mouse House and spent the next four years scrambling from one short-lived, badly paying job to another. And one night, when I was on the brink of washing out of a college credentialing program, cursing my fate and blaming everybody except me for the spot I was in, my wife said:

You're the one who got into the mess. You're the one who has to get out. And you can't quit."

Which of course is what I wanted to do.

Long story short: I stopped my whining and finished the program, taught high school and middle school for a few years, got back into the animation business, and ended up here as an Animation Guild employee. Like all jobs, union business repping has its ups and downs, but it's given me a ringside seat for observing the wide array of artists and technicians that work in Cartoonland, And this is what I've observed:

There are employees who work hard and master their skills sets, take ownership of their career arcs, suffer the occasional setback but pick themselves up and move on, adapting to the industry as it changes.

There are employees who work tenaciously and are talented, but who complain a lot and don't work as steadily.

And there are employees who work, have some chops, but have never taken responsibility for terminations and layoffs, can't get it through their heads that they've got to play well with co-workers, and (mostly) throw themselves pity parties and assume the role of victims.

Fate is sometimes capricious. No sane human believes that they command every wrinkle and happenstance of their life. But if they don't take responsibility for the results that occur inside it, they end up handing the power of their existence to outside forces.

In the end, that makes for way less effective living.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Steve. I've been there, through all the eff-ups and self-pity and blaming fate and all that. Right now I'm working to reclaim my dream of making a (good) living as an artist, and while I've no doubts about my abilities, I've let setbacks get me down. Happy to say I've snapped out of it. The gist of your post should be taught in every art school as a vital part of the curriculum. In hindsight, I'm astonished that the skills needed for enduring bad breaks and broken dreams aren't taught in art universities as a separate class. Often it's attitude and determination that get you through; they're as vital as talent. Such a class should include a study on the life of Walt Disney, given the trials he went through (including nearly life-long financial troubles, getting screwed over twice and the virtual theft of Oswald). Too many kids in art school are disdainful of the Disney story when they could actually be inspired by it. I'm grateful I read Bob Thomas' biography recently; it really helped put my troubles in perspective. Your post augments that nicely. Thanks.

Unknown said...

Coincidentally Mark Evanier discusse a similiar subject on his blog today that everyone in this industry should read:

Floyd Norman said...

I totally agree with Steve because the business is pretty much what you make of it. I've been hired, fired, downsized and retired - but I keep coming back for more.

I've also learned you have to continually reinvent yourself in order to survive. Some have even called me, "a self promoter" as if that's a bad thing. That's such nonsense because we're all "self promoters." It's called paying the bills and meeting your expenses.

I've had my ups and downs like everybody else, but through it all I've survived and would gladly do it all over again.

Steven said...

Taking responsibility for your actions and situation and being, yes, victimized by personalities and circumstances beyond your control are not necessarily mutually exclusive. In my experience, most of these setbacks are some kind of fuzzy combination of the two.

Whenever these things happen to me, far more often than they should, I go through an elaborate, thorough post-mortem. I always want to determine the difference between what I could have done something about and what I couldn't, so I could get better results the next time. The problem is the "next times" start to get fewer and farther apart. We all get a certain amount of times at bat. The problem is, we don't know the number.

What Walt had was vision foresight and optimism. That's what gives us the strength to keep getting up to bat, as well as the energy to keep learning what we need to learn to adapt.

It's not only mind over matter, though. Occasionally, we really are victimized by individuals or circumstances. The trick, then, is to have enough of a self image to not give the "victimizer" agreement.

Anonymous said...

Just try to enjoy the ride.

Steve Hulett said...

Evanier makes a good point about hitting deadlines and not blaming others.

I've had plenty of TAG members come into my office and complain about how UNfair their boss, their working circumstances, their day-to-day life is.

I get paid to listen with empathy and sympathy, and for the most part I do. But most people don't really care about somebody else's problems; they've got their own to worry about.

Bottom line? People who excel in the business do excellent work, do it cheerfully, and play well with peers and supervisors. And turn their failures (we all have them) into learning experiences that lift them to the next level.

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