10.6 Knock On Wood

Last week I started working at a new place. I think it’s going well so far. I don’t really want to talk too much about specifics because I hope that it continues to go well. Knock on wood. Let’s just say it’s a role that is pretty much tailor-made for me. It involves production and words and putting together images like they are pieces of a puzzle.

My resume is full of weird professional experiences. There is no real linear trajectory, it sort of zigzags over time in accordance with my curiosity at any given moment. This has been a privilege to follow this curiosity and I feel lucky and appreciative of the opportunities afforded me.

Luck, and hard work. I know when to put my head down and get to it. If someone gives me an opportunity, I don’t want them to regret it. This latest position is probably the first time that I stepped into where I feel like I know exactly what to do. With most other things I’ve done, there was a lot of learning on the job. I’m fine with this and think I pick things up pretty fast. An underrated skill I’ve figured out is how to lay low, listen, learn the personalities of everyone, resulting in becoming a reliable and trustworthy person.

So much anxiety had been burned over the years just trying to figure out what the hell I was supposed to be doing. These experiences taught me so much - those kinds of skills that are not technical in nature, more abstract, more hard won.

In university, I started working at a small production company. In addition, I was volunteering on film sets and making my own movies. At the production company, I learned how to edit and was fortunate enough to develop my storytelling abilities across a wide variety of formats - documentaries, live shows, corporate videos, commercials, etc. The on set volunteering taught me how to communicate to diverse groups of people. The lighting crew has a different language from the camera crew. You speak one way to the producers and another to the director. I was never really interested in being a professional in all of these roles, I just knew that in order to be able to communicate effectively, I needed to understand what everyone’s role was on a production.

For example, working as an editor, I might have a producer ask me to make changes to something we were working on. This hypothetical producer asks for it to be done in an hour. I know it will take three hours. To me, if I am that producer, I want to be able to understand that what I’m asking for will take three hours. Yes, it’s just more responsible, but more importantly, I’m indicating to the editor that I respect their work, am aware of what is required for them to do a good job, and am reasonable in my expectations.

After working away for several years, I burned myself out, and disappeared. The bottom dropped out of what I was hoping to accomplish in my life. During this time, I appreciated the ability to know when to quit. Quitting is something else that is underrated.

More time passed, and I was offered a lucrative corporate job. The kind of position that extends over time on a road that I could see rolling out in front of me. Immediately, it sucked. The people I worked with were terrible. Something I haven’t figured out is why some people put so much energy into intentionally fucking things up. Like, if they put half that energy into building something, it would happen in half the time.

An example, and this happened all the time. I had a big conference call with a big client and one of my dumbass co-workers. Before the call, I established with the dumbass what our position was in order to present a united front. As soon as the call started, the dumbass completely contradicted what I set up, embarrassing me to the point where I interrupted the call, asked if we could take a break and call back.

Anyways. That job didn’t last long. Quitting is underrated.

I disappeared again. There have been points where I felt hopeless and that I was useless to anyone. Both professionally and personally, by the way. Then an opportunity to work at the Olympic Games in Sochi popped up. On the flight to Moscow, I was plagued with the thoughts that this company was flying me all this way only to realize I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. One of the main guys on the production introduced himself to me at the airport, shook my hand, pulled me in close, and said, “Don’t fuck this up.” A very steep learning curve led me to not fucking it up.

Understanding the importance of time and patience can really suck sometimes. To me, the worst thing is not feeling any sense of forward momentum. When I look back, moments of stasis were merely my system rendering. Processing things. My writing mentor, Wayson Choy, taught me timing and patience. I brought a ‘final draft’ of my first novel to him, proud that I had re-written it based on his inspiration. He just smiled thinly and nodded his head. Six months later, I was frustrated because the manuscript had been rejected by so many publishing companies. With a wider smile this time, Wayson explained that I was now ready to get down to work. He said that he knew six months ago the manuscript wouldn’t be picked up. Exasperated, I asked him why he didn’t tell me that. “You would’ve listened to me,” he said. “You were so proud of finishing the manuscript. Now you’re ready to work in a deeper way.” Of course, he was right.

My point, I guess, is that everything matters. Every experience is important. Even the unpleasant circumstances. Even the times that I quit. Especially those times. I do think that we absorb things in a multitude of ways, and sometimes the things that seem unimportant end up informing and influencing our decisions years later.

I hope things continue to go well. Wish me luck. Knock on wood. 

Paul Dore