It’s my 3-year anniversary at my job, so here is some advice I have upon reflecting that passing of time. This draws from some of my own experiences, and from a few other friends in similar positions as I.
Be mindful of supportive, but neutral people.
There are certain people, maybe those in Talent Development (if your company has that) or maybe even HR, or just upper management that you’ll want to go to for advice. It’s important to remember that, while they seem and usually are supportive of you, often times they are also quite neutral, neither rooting for nor against you, per se. They aren’t out to get you…but they also aren’t on your side exactly either, so much as they are looking at the best interests of the company. No one at your place of work automatically is championing you, and no one is obligated to be, even if they agree to meet with you or offer some friendly advice in the moment. Which is why it’s so, so important to find people who are–allies, mentors, managers who you can speak to confidently and confidentially to assess things and seek advice from. Some times, HR just has so many people to deal with that they will feed you lines just to have something to say. They’ll make a lateral move seem like a good strategy because the company is too small and they don’t know what else to do when there’s no upward mobility and morale is low. This applies more if you’re in a less specialized area like management versus an artist or technical role. Know what is safe to include and leave out of conversations depending on who that person is and what role they occupy.
It sounds paranoid to tell you to be mindful or how much you share or think you can trust different people at your job just because they are polite and offer advice. You just really need to know who is in your corner. I’ve personally gotten too comfortable with the wrong people in the wrong situations and have had it negatively affect me, and a lot of the above are things I’ve heard from others in similar positions.
Listen to the older people in your department.
I’m lucky to work in a department who have people who used to work in 2D animation, way-back-when, at places like Disney. They’ve got the stories. That being said, they are also the ones whose advice I find most valuable. And when people who have been in the industry for 20 years (and much more) and seen it change so much, you listen. When someone who is 40 years old warns you that the opportunities that they thought would come to them after years of hard work never came to them, you take note. You see them now trying to make things for themselves, start asking for things, and you heed their advice sincerely when they say “don’t be me in 20 years.” It’s eye opening and humbling.
Perception is everything, unfortunately.
In so many aspects of life, image is what drives people. While we all wish life was a proper meritocracy, there’s a fair amount of bureaucracy to wade through. This is especially true when you’re at a smaller company. Word travels fast, whether or not it’s true. People who don’t know you at all will think they know you based on a one-sided 20 minute conversation. People will gather in rooms to discuss your future without your input, will misinterpret a comment you made, will make you feel uncomfortable with being yourself and open about your passions. You show interest in something not 100% related to your career path and suddenly you’re not committed. You’ll notice people who seem unaffected by these things, and others who the goalposts are constantly being moved around for. Regardless of intentions or future plans, it’s important to act the part. It’s disheartening when you are sincerely invested and it isn’t seen that way.
Side projects are important.
Even at the world’s greatest job you will have bad days. Even if you are working at your dream job or dream company you will have bad days. It can be dangerous, as an animation fan, to work in animation. It’s sort of like the idea of never meeting your idols. See get to see how the sausage gets made, but you may not be able to stomach the process at times. Which is why I think and am learning myself how important side projects are. That being said, depending on the type of side project you have, you want to keep it on lockdown, or else perception issues will likely arise.
But it’s important to remember that your job or career is not your life. It should not define you. I say that knowing fully well that that’s not even accurate, at least in the US. We do put a lot of emphasis on our identity being tied to our career (just start up a conversation with anyone at a bar or party and the first thing after name is “what do you do?”). You just need something else, be it an escape or the thing you really want to do. There’s nothing wrong with working a job you’re not as passionate about (but still perform well at) in order to support yourself in other ways.
I hope these don’t sound negative so much as honest, solid, and helpful.
It’s been crazy for me to realize that it’s already been so long that I’ve been at Blue Sky. The last five years of my life have not really felt like mine yet. My time at SVA feels like a blur, like I witnessed it through the eyes of a totally different person. And I don’t even mean that in an “I’ve changed so much you wouldn’t recognize me” sort of way so much as things kept happening so fast, things went from high highs to low lows so frequently that all I could really do was hold on and worry about processing it later. Still downloading…