Career Paths, My Gen-X Crisis

Is there seriously anyone who has gone through what I feel? I feel like I’m an unfortunate oddity. But writing things down does give me some relief. So I thank WordPress for giving me a space and place to blow off some steam. This post is simply a personal venting. I don’t have any piece of advice. No words of wisdom for the younger gents or Millennials. Just a stream of conscious, release of words, thoughts and feelings. Bear with me …

I’m Leslie and ever since I graduated college, my life has been about struggles and conflicting internal feelings. What I really want is everything, but it has been tough to reconcile what I love and what I know about myself that I need. I’m this, but I’m also that. Tough to have both. What do I mean?

Well, in college, I followed my life-long passion and was accepted to study film at a well-known university. I had the test scores, grades, essays and recommendations – and actually got in! I figured I owed it myself to give it a shot and not have any regrets as this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. At the same time, I worried about real life realities after graduation. I had a lot of concerns and opposing feelings about “sacrificing everything” for the craft. A few of them:

  • For a variety of very good reasons, I simply can’t afford to be a “starving artist.”
  • Hollywood has a certain reputation and I crave all things responsible and rated-G. How is this a fit?
  • I want to marry a nice, conservative, professional, family-oriented man. How would I find him on a Hollywood film set?
  • How does a young woman who knows deep down that she can only be truly happy doing something creative and meaningful–like film directing– manage her equally strong desires for financial stability and security. In truth, one can work for years as a “Gopher” paying your dues with absolutely no guarantees that you will ever get your “big break.” (Of course this was all before the internet and youtube!)
  • And it’s a tricky thing as there is no clear path to becoming a director. You don’t simply work hard as a “Gopher” and hope one day to get promoted to Director. One does not simply apply for a film director position for a multi-million dollar, big budget film. Working to make ends meet as a production assistant does not naturally segue into directorial opportunities.

Nevertheless, after graduation, I worked a variety of jobs in Hollywood. At first I worked as a paid intern at a major music company –not film, but hey, I’ll take it! The President, a 70-something year-old told me he thought I would go far, which was encouraging. After 3 rounds of interviews, I didn’t get the more permanent position I wanted, but I kept moving. I worked a number of freelance positions, including work as a Production Coordinator for music videos. In my spare time, I also worked on my screen play.

As time passed, however, I began to worry about the risks of not having health insurance, paid vacation nor paid sick days. Not very “carefree artsy” of me, but I also worried about not having a 401k. What would I have for my retirement if I stayed on with this lifestyle?

At the age of 25, I saw friends of mine from college with solid jobs, traveling, shopping, finding nice men and were now starting to get married. Did I want a successful career, marriage to a decent guy and kids by age 30? The whole package?  Absolutely.

I heard the biological clock ticking. But with jobs where I was fetching coffee and pushing generators down a hill with a belt around my waist, I just didn’t feel personally ready. While I pursued the dream after hours, what else did I want to do to earn a living as a day job?  Alternatively, was it possible to find a job with a career path, one that would utilize my talents, one where I could earn a decent salary, at least one with health and dental?  I actually felt lost and confused. What’s more, I was living in L.A., thousands of miles away from my family who were all back in the Midwest where I was from. I was homesick.

At the time, I also had a boyfriend. He was incredibly cute, in fact, in today’s terms you could say he was “k-pop” cute. But this was the 90’s. He was always clad in black, chain smoked and listened endlessly to Kurt Cobain. He was 25 and had studied film like me. He was a transplant from New York, a talent with student film awards to his name, who now lived on Melrose in West Hollywood. I was infatuated by his coolness. But at a gut level, I knew he wasn’t “the one.” I could have been wrong, but I envisioned him at my extended family events, smoking a cigarette outside around the corner, brooding, just wanting to do his own thing. This wasn’t going to work.

In the meantime, the Northridge earthquake struck (felt like a roller coaster), mudslides sunk houses along PCH and fires burned along the skyline. The LA riots and sharing the highway with OJ was still fresh on everyone’s minds. Time was ticking and I was feeling more anxious and dissatisfied. Finally, I decided I had had enough. I put in my notice, enjoyed a couple weeks of California sunshine, then broke up with the guy and left to return home with a plan in my pocket to go to graduate school. And that’s what I did. I temporarily moved back with the ‘rents, got a corporate job with benefits, moved back out to downtown Chicago and then moved on again to complete my MBA in a full-time program.

Still, it was a bit tough. Armed with my new MBA degree, I was ready to take the bull by the horns, but found it was no easy task. I don’t know if it was because the California film school thing on the resume didn’t translate well in the Midwest or because I didn’t have enough relevant work experience. Tech had been booming, but then the dot.com market crashed right before I graduated, which affected the economy. Either way, I had to boomerang back AGAIN to my parents place. After having lived on my own, I was starting to feel the cynicism creep in. From L.A. at 25, it sure was a fast hop, skip and roll right into the thirties. I hated to admit that the movie, “Reality Bites” with Winona Ryder and Ethan Hawke had some relevance in my life.

I would take refuge at my favorite bookstore –a mega store that was all the rage back then.  Of course, comprehensive internet surfing didn’t exist.  Instead, I would wander the aisles, pulling out books that piqued my interest. I would find myself a nice spot in the café area and settle in with a crisp stack of books, some whimsical magazines and a cup of steaming, hot cocoa. The place had a wonderful vibe with philosopher-king patrons and kids with inquiring minds milling about.  The voice of the Saturday night folk singer was melodic and comforting.  I marveled at beautifully crafted stories, appreciated architectural and history books and was especially impressed by succinctly written analytical pieces.  I also indulged in pop psych, pop culture and glorious bridal magazines.  Each author, each artist offered unique insights on behavior, feelings and thought.  Each offered a special way to see the world.  Always, I was inspired.  From the warmth of the heated room, I looked out through the icy pane. And I knew that for all the books that were in the store, I had just as many, if not more, opportunities to choose and write my own story. Which way would I go?