The Unexpected Rewards of a Circuitous Career Path
On trusting my gut, and taking leaps of faith
Roughly each decade or so, I’ve gotten a little bored with my career, and pivoted to something different.
So what have I learned from all that …?
“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
— Robert Frost
It was exactly 40 years ago today that I got one of my early big career breaks: My first day as a “summer replacement technician” in the Engineering department at WNAC-TV, Channel 7 — Boston’s CBS television station.
Which is a fancy way of saying I’d end up working behind the scenes for the summer, in various capacities … doing technical direction, audio engineering, studio camera, lighting, videotape, video shading, master control, and more … to help create television seen by hundreds of thousands of people.
Quite a step up for an aspiring engineer/producer just trying to make a living in Boston radio.
Before I started the TV job, though, the station’s chief engineer warned me that — because the station was about to change ownership to another company — he couldn’t actually guarantee me more than 3 weeks’ worth of work.
Despite the uncertainty, I took the job anyway … and ended up staying nearly 10 years.
From New England, I took another leap of faith, and moved across the country to pursue a new dream of working in post-production, in Los Angeles.
Armed with stubbornness, determination and dumb luck … after a while, I found myself as a picture editor working on television and video productions seen by millions of people, around the country (and even around the world).
I became part of dozens of projects, airing on many of the major broadcast & cable TV channels … including network primetime specials, documentaries, news, reality, magazine, promos, game shows, poker shows, plus DVD supplemental features, and more.
As a freelancer, a single phone call could mean a gig that’d last anywhere from an afternoon … to a couple of years. Which was an ongoing routine that made me decidedly more agile.
And in working all over Burbank and Hollywood, I continually appreciated being surrounded by the most talented population of creative people on the planet.
Besides collaborating with a number of established directors, producers, and other personnel … along the way, I got to work with up-and-coming talent like Anderson Cooper, Lisa Ling and others — before most people even knew who they were.
Being in the entertainment industry also yielded some unexpected opportunities:
- Co-authoring one of the preeminent textbooks on digital Nonlinear video/film post-production;
- Getting a private tour of the West Wing of the White House;
- Visiting other cool places: backstage at Saturday Night Live … The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson … Late Night with David Letterman … and even a full day on the set of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
And a lot more — whenever I allowed my world to open up, to look outside it.
After about fifteen years of living the dream in Los Angeles, I took another leap of faith, and pivoted into … software development, for mobile apps.
And with some single-minded persistence, things ultimately worked out pretty well.
There’ve been Fortune 500 companies, and small startups, and places in-between … fascinating projects and cutting-edge work … and amazing teams I was privileged to learn from, and be a part of.
Eventually, I was able to mentor others in turn. And occasionally, when I had something particularly useful to share, I was even fortunate enough to offer it to audiences at conferences.
More recently, I’ve focused on mobile software architecture … helping to develop and inspire best practices for software development teams as a whole.
So it’s been a great run. But why recount all of this now?
On this — for me, a somewhat momentous anniversary …
I can’t help looking back, and marveling at the variety of endeavors I’ve been honored to be a part of.
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to have a dizzying number of great collaborators and mentors — including people who took me under their wing, patiently showed me the ropes, and gave me the encouragement and latitude to succeed.
It’s been an exciting journey.
… And my biggest takeaway?
Each time I felt compelled to make another leap and follow my muse — and was able to set aside preconceptions about what I was “supposed” to be doing — it freed me up to explore things I might not have considered.
In Radio … Television … Post-production … Software …
For about 100 companies in 30+ years …
The irony is that by NOT planning out a career too far ahead … giving myself permission to explore different areas along the way that struck me as interesting … and being open to change when it seemed like the right thing to do … I found myself rewarded with a career path more fulfilling than anything I could have mapped out in advance.
So I hope this story inspires you, just a little:
Not to be afraid to reinvent yourself occasionally, and try something new.
Even a dream you dared not hope might come true … may be out there, waiting for you right now.
With a bit of curiosity and openness — all kinds of things become possible.
And to all the wonderful people whom I’ve been privileged to work with and learn from along the way — and especially those who took a chance on me when it seemed I had little to offer beyond enthusiasm and potential … I say:
I can’t wait to see what the next 40 years bring. :)