If you ask most people at 15 what they want to do with their lives, they have absolutely no idea. Some people don’t figure it out until well into their 30s.
But not me.
I did well in high school. I had good grades and excelled in both science and art. But the one subject I truly loved was music.
By the time I was a sophomore, I was already on a path towards a career as a performing musician and composer. I played in every ensemble my school offered. I worked out an independent study music theory course with our choir director. I was taking private lessons from a local college professor. My brother and I even formed our own band outside of school, and we played music that I wrote at dance halls, bars, and at parties around town.
I was accepted into several state honor bands, won some scholarships, and followed my dad’s advice to “follow my passion.”
I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
So I went to music school and did well there, too. I got professional gigs on the weekends while studying percussion and composition during the day. As a junior, my dreams got even more specific. I wanted to become a film composer.
After I graduated with a degree in music composition, I immediately packed my things and moved to New York City to attend graduate school—continuing to follow my dreams.
I found work in New York at a music production company that worked on commercials for huge brands like Mercedes and McDonald’s. Then I moved to Los Angeles, getting jobs in the music industry there while I freelanced on the side as a composer for people’s short films.
By the time I was 26 years old, I’d spent my basically my entire life working in the entertainment industry in one form or another.
And… I wasn’t happy.
I had some of the worst and most abusive bosses I’ve ever had, and I hated a lot of the people I worked with. Most of the films I scored were terrible, and the filmmakers I worked with often promoted ideas and values I wasn’t proud to support. Not only did I disagree with them on a philosophical level, but many were completely uninterested in hearing anything that might be construed as disagreement with them.
I knew I wanted to make compelling media, but I wanted to do it in support of a cause I believed in and I didn’t want to spend the next decade working on projects I didn’t like in the hopes that I would one day have enough clout to make the ones I did.
Meanwhile, the few organizations that were promoting the ideas I actually cared about were putting out low-quality creative content… or none at all.
So for the first time in my life, I had no idea what I was supposed to do.
I talked a lot to friends about it. I wrote about it on my blog. I thought about it for a long time, and eventually, I had an important realization: If I wanted to have a career in the arts making content that I was truly proud of, I was going to have to stop expecting the entertainment industry to give me what I wanted and create my own opportunities instead.
In October of 2009, I set myself the goal of making that dream real. I even publicly announced my intentions.
...my goal is to find a new position within a respectable organization or as a regularly working freelancer helping to direct, produce and guide libertarian media into being of much higher quality, more emotionally hard-hitting and meaningful, and as a result; more persuasive - by making the difficult into a reality - by exposing the unseen to people who aren't used to seeing it.
Talking about my dreams and goals wasn’t changing anyone’s mind. Even pitching the ideas to the people and organizations who were best positioned to make the changes I wanted to see wasn’t enough. I had to show people what I meant, what it would look like, and how people would respond.
In November of that year, I wrote,
[I]t certainly seems to me that I shouldn't really wait for anyone else to take this initiative. Given some of my experiences, I may be waiting a long time. So, I think I'm about to create something on my own. It's time to put my own foot forward on this issue…
I needed to show my potential clients some examples of my work, but to do that, I needed to make those examples.
Fortunately, my work experience provided me with a lot of technical production skills as a filmmaker, so I was already a competent writer and editor. Even still, the first several videos I made were a struggle, and I had to learn new skills like graphic design and animation just to get results I could share with anyone else.
But I kept grinding away.
It took a lot of effort to get a foot in the door, but during the first few years, I was paid for enough work to scrape by. I worked as much as I could—sometimes on paid projects, but often working for free—just so I could improve my craft and build my reputation.
Over the next 8 years, my dream became reality.
By 2016, my body of work was good enough that I was hired as the Director of Media at the Foundation for Economic Education where I have had an incredible opportunity to make amazing content that has been seen and shared millions of times, and now I get to work with an outstanding team of people I’m proud to work with every single day.
Your journey may not take as long as mine, or it might take even longer. But one thing I know for sure is that your journey will never really start until you do.
Send the Draft
You want to know what impresses me more than a good idea? A draft. Any draft, even a bad one, says more to me than a well-crafted pitch.