Friday, September 9, 2011

Leaving the Nest

We struggle so hard for our breaks in this business that it can be hard to imagine that some of our best breaks come when a job ends. Being a child of television (my dad a Zenith, my mother a Panasonic), it was a dream come true to have a chance to work on a number one animated TV series for a top cable network. Even though the show was a hit right out of the gate, few of us on the crew expected that the production would last the almost ten years it added up to.

But, on October 11, 2001, the show’s animation team was called into a conference room. Now, if you have any experience working in animation studios, you know it’s seldom a good thing when there’s a sudden unplanned staff meeting. Often it means an announcement that the production is ending, or already over. On some occasions I’ve heard about, large teams of artists are led out of the building after being sacked en masse at such meetings. So, next time your studio rounds you up into a conference room, hide out in the bathroom until it blows over.

Our staff, still rattled by the terrorist attacks on NYC the month before, were told that we had a whole two years of work left on the series but that the network had decided not to renew the production after that. A two-year notice! Compared to the worst case scenario of the show shutting down that day (a likely outcome after such a disaster and blow to the economy), this wasn't so bad at all. As much as I liked my job, working with this crew, and the project itself, I left that meeting feeling free and full of hope. It was my first light feeling in four weeks.

I wasn't that deep into my career at the time but my confidence was up because I had done a significant amount of freelance outside of my full time job (not to mention a lot of networking), so I had ready connections to future work. More importantly, I was optimistic that the two-year span would help us all ride out the worst of the economic downturn.

But, when I looked around at my pals, some wore expressions like they’d been punched in the stomach. Others had the color drained out of their faces. While I felt that this kind of change was good, for some of the crew this was their first job (and their only job), so they didn’t know what it would be like to work on other projects with other people, or how to even look for a work. So, I can understand the way they were feeling. But, ultimately (even if things were bumpy at first) this forced exodus made all these artists stronger in their craft and savvier on surviving in this freelance-based business. Getting kicked out of the nest can be a great break indeed.

There are a lot of other reasons why it’s good to have to move on. Firstly, compared to working on one long project with the same crew, you gain much more valuable experience working with different crews on diverse projects. You pick new skills and techniques and get to learn from different work and management styles. Secondly, to see value or appreciation on your skills or accomplishments, it sometimes requires working with a new set of people. The people who “knew you when” on your first job always remember you at the level you started at, and/or dilute your specific contributions as simply being another member of the team. It’s mostly in your next jobs with a new set of people that you'll find a deeper recognition of your talents and know-how.

Need more evidence? Add Steve Jobs (once sacked from Apple) and John Lasseter (once sacked from Disney) to the list of people who owe much of their career growth to opportunities gained after losing a job.

These days, long term jobs in animation (or any field, for that matter) are rare, so we might as well embrace and recognize the career-enhancing benefits that come with a life outside the nest. Of course, long term jobs are a blessing, but losing them need not be seen as a curse.


Mike Rauch said...

Couldn't agree more! Some of my biggest opportunities in life have come on the heels of losing a job. There's nothing that can advance your life and career quite like leaving your job... planned or unplanned.

Jim Mortensen said...

I recall George Clooney's speech from "Up in the Air" when he was firing people...

"Anybody who ever built an empire or
changed the world sat where you are now."

Linda Beck said...

The end of a job is sometimes the perfect catalyst for hustle!

Nelson Diaz said...

This is something I'm constantly telling my parents is a good thing. They're used to the old model of having one job for most of your life.

As a freelance artist I feel like I have the upper hand because I'm used to constant flux. Change isn't upsetting, it's exciting!

Chris said...

Sometimes getting laid off feels can put a bounce back in your step and take off 10 years.