Pop Goes The Reality Bubble

Producer’s assistant on movie set- 21 years-old, happy and carefree

Staying on theme with last Friday’s post about twenty-somethings.

When I was a little girl, I always knew I wanted to work in the film business. When the opportunity surprisingly presented itself at 20 years of age, I jumped at the chance.

I was in my junior year at Ithaca College when I applied and was admitted to the communication school’s LA satellite program. My father and I drove from New York to California with what I could fit in my ’97 white Ford Taurus. Once settled in LA, my first task was to find an internship. I sifted through the database of internships given to us, but none of them appealed to me. I decided I would cold call companies where I knew I wanted to work (George Clooney and Steven Soderberg’s Section 8, Ben Stiller’s Red Hour, Drew Barrymore’s Flower Pictures), but there was one actor in particular I was itching to work for. I called his office and asked if they needed an intern. They said not really but to call back in a week. I did and with little convincing got them to agree to letting me come in twice a week. The internship was painfully boring. I spent most of my time reading old scripts and surfing the Internet on an Apple Imac G3. I hated it. Is this what Hollywood is like? I wasn’t learning anything!

The semester came to a close and our final project was to interview someone in the business. They suggested that we not be afraid to interview people other than the assistants, so I immediately asked if I could interview the president of the actor’s company. The assistant scheduled a time for me to meet with the president and a few days later I found myself nervously asking him questions on the office rooftop. We talked for three hours and within that time the president asked me if I wanted to move to LA and be his assistant.

That very second has been the most pivotal moment in my life up to this point. If my story were a movie, that moment would have frozen in time and everything that came before then would have fast forward in front of my eyes. I reminded the president that I was only a junior in college and knew absolutely nothing about the business. He laughed and said, “You’ll learn.” I told him that I had to think about it and would give him an answer the next day. My memory has been escaping me as of late, but I’ll probably never forget the 30 minutes after that conversation. The mix of anxiety and excitement. “She’s So Heavy (I Want You)” by the Beatles playing on the radio. I already knew in the bottom of my heart what the answer would be, but I had parents, a boyfriend, and a college to explain this all to.

The first person I called was my mother, “Mom, I’ve been offered an opportunity that I can’t pass up.” I explained to her the details and being the wonderful mother that she is, she trusted my judgement. My father is gung-ho for anything so that took no convincing at all. My boyfriend suddenly knew it was the end of our relationship before I ever did.

I had three weeks after the end of the semester to tie up loose ends and move to Los Angeles. I spent most of those weeks crying. I was not fearful of making a mistake, but rather realizing that I was moving 3000 miles from the people I love and my life as I knew it was about to change forever.

Boy, was I right.

I moved to Los Angeles on June 1st, 2004. 12 days later I celebrated my 21st birthday alone and it set the precedent for a feeling that I would have for most of my five years in Los Angeles.

Being the young, idealistic 21 year-old that I was, I gave my life to that job. I worked countless hours and was proud of where I was. Was I always good at the job? Absolutely not. I didn’t have the industry skills nor many of the life skills yet to deal with aspects of the job and living in Los Angeles. However, I was determined to make it work and gave it my all. I was going to make it in that biz.

Five years later, after consistent bouts of anxiety attacks, drinking myself to sleep, vapid relationships, and phone calls to my parents crying, “What does it all mean?!” I finally had to ask myself, “But make it to what in the biz? What do you actually want, Lauren?”

Director’s assistant on TV set- 24 years old, tired and haggard

Having wanted to work in the film business my whole life mixed with the determination to make work the wonderful opportunity that was offered to me at 20, I was in absolute denial that I was completely and utterly unhappy.

If I wasn’t happy working in the business I’ve dreamed of my whole life- the industry I went to college for- then what the hell am I supposed to do???

According to the NY Time’s article, “What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?”, we change jobs an estimated seven times in our 20’s. Our parents scratch their heads when we tell them that we’re unhappy with our jobs and want to try something completely different. Years ago you stuck with a job- just like a marriage- for good or for bad.

F that.

If I’m unhappy, if I’m having freakin‘ anxiety attacks, then I would be a fool to hang in there.
That’s not to say that I haven’t questioned my leaving Los Angeles. Did I make a huge mistake? Am I passing up a wonderful opportunity?

I spent the summer in between leaving the business and moving to Austin in a bewildered haze.
I’ll never forget sitting at my desk realizing that I had no plan. I felt like a failure and a loser. For the first time in my life I had no idea what the hell I was doing.

After a bit of soul-searching I have now reached a point where I’ve again found career direction and feel optimistic with what the future holds. I also discovered that all of us- in one way or another- has become disillusioned with their major/career. I have an engineer friend who would rather be a teacher, a teacher who up and quit her job this year and had no plan B, a magazine writer who up and quit his job and moved to another city, a biology major working as a commercial editor, a comedy writer who left LA and moved to Austin for the same exact reason as mine. Not only have I found comfort in knowing that we’re sailing this ship together, but that trying and discovering you don’t like your profession is not failure, but just another step in getting to where you’re supposed to be.
Are you working in the field you studied? Have you changed careers? Have you felt directionless before?
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  • Reply holly wynne October 25, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    I'm 31. When I turned 30, I asked myself what the crap I was doing with my life and, a few weeks later, enrolled in massage therapy school. Before that, I had taught English (on and off) for five years total, been a freelance copyeditor and a barista, and held myriad temp jobs.

    I have my M.A. in English, but it took the entirety of my 20s to realize that I simply am not going to find a job in which I can use my degree, at least directly, and still be a reasonably healthy and happy person.

    I finished massage school this past Friday and am waiting to take the national exam and get certified. I'm also about to relocate from Nashville to Louisville, KY, where my boyfriend lives. Everything is changing, and I know I'd not be where I am or where I'm going without how crappy my 20s were.

    I'd still major in something else if I had the chance :).

  • Reply Mrs. Miller October 25, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I love reading your posts and definitely relate to them! I have a degree in fine arts and went from working at a pottery studio and as a private art teacher on the side making no money, to touring with a band and screening their t-shirts and selling merch, to retail. I thought maybe i want to be a teacher so i could use the free time to get into my art again, but working in retail and trying to get the teaching program done has been difficult. So I am here, wondering what's next…

  • Reply Brooke Farmer October 25, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Holy shit. This is exactly where I'm at now, except I'm not in my twenties.

    In my twenties I was too busy living every moment of my life for my son to take the time to worry about whether or not I was happy.

    He moved to his dad's house in Colorado earlier this year and now I realize I'm completely miserable with what I am doing.

    To the point of having anxiety attacks.

    And I am about to quit. I have no plan. I'm totally freaked out. And I am so glad to hear it worked out for you eventually. (Although you were younger and had more time to figure it all out.)

  • Reply Hipstercrite October 25, 2010 at 3:47 pm

    @Holly- My fried is going into massage therapy school next month and I'm so excited for her. The beauty about massage therapy is that you are active (not sitting at a desk all day), connect with your clients, and get to kind of make your own schedule which affords you time to work on other things. The good money doesn't hurt either. I think it's a brilliant idea. Best of luck to you! I'm sure you'll love it!

    @Mrs. Miller- You know what though? All these experiences you've had, they're probably totally worth it, right? It's teaching you a lot. I've had a number of jobs and though some of them seem like a waste of time, I look back and think, "No, it taught me this, this, or this."

    @Brooke- I know a lot of moms find themselves at a loss when their kids leave the nest. Most of these ladies are much older than you though! You are so ahead of the game that you're asking these questions now. I can't imagine being a mom so young. I give you major props.

  • Reply Jenn - There's Your Karma October 25, 2010 at 4:16 pm

    Isn't the generational gap insane? I tell my mom about how much anxiety I have over my job (Job #4 since college, btw) and she's all, "Well, yeah, but, Jenny, you HAVE to have a job," always implying that an unfulfilling-but-stable job is just a part of Life. I can't see how it works that way. I can't wrap my mind around working 30+ years at a job feeling like this every day.

    I thought I was going crazy, but now I know there's a whole lot of us. So there's that. Which is nice.

  • Reply theTsaritsa October 25, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    You gotta do what's right for you! I wish I had a job in the field I studied, but this job market really isn't working for me. Too many applicants, not enough jobs.

  • Reply Kristen October 25, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    I went to NYU for acting, and the semester before I was set to graduate with my shiny new BFA, I realized I didn't want to be an actor anymore. Actors were driving me nuts.

    I'd also gotten a minor in Creative Writing, so I parlayed that into a magazine internship (at a craft magazine), which turned into a job. I lost my job in 2008 when the magazine folded, but I used my knowledge from the craft world and moved to Austin (diy mecca? or at least in the running w/ portland) and started a small crafty business.

    The funniest part for me, is that I haven't acted in over two years, but I FINALLY feel my passion for it returning. It's like – I'm enough of a person to finally become an actor, rather than just being a drone who lives, breathes, sleeps nothing but acting. How can you draw on life experience if you have none? Same goes for writing.

    I can really relate to you on this… I love when you post about it, because you were so brave to do what you did! It's totally terrifying to give up the thing you are supposed to love/thought you would always be doing.

    For me, I think I will get back into acting – possibly comedy – now that I've got a better head about myself.

  • Reply Amy --- Just A Titch October 25, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    This is my first time to your blog (it's awesome, btw) and yeah, I feel directionless all the time. I started as a teacher, left to become a writer in a sales dept. and now find myself missing the classroom like crazy. I think I'll end up back there, but it's definitely weird to feel so clueless. Great post!

  • Reply Jessica October 25, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    I'll be turning 30 in just a few short weeks and have only worked in one major industry (medicine), but that wasn't the original plan.

    I had a total meltdown after my first grown-up job/internship interview post-college graduation (BS – Chemistry/Physics). It wasn't right and I had a made a huge mistake.

    Back to college I went for Degree #2 (BS – Nursing).

    This time it was a much better fit. I felt useful, loved the environment and the way it made me think. It also allowed for a lot of kick-ass travel.

    Now I'm wrapping up my Master's (Public Health) and think I have myself in a good position to keep growing.

    I've also got my eye on another Master's program (Social Work)…which makes me think if money wasn't an issue, I'd probably be in college for the rest of my life learning everything.

  • Reply Carol October 25, 2010 at 8:06 pm

    Particularly good post today, Lauren. It applies not only to people in their 20's, but also 30's, 40's and 50's. Many people long for something else, but that something else doesn't come with paid vacations and medical insurance. Damn you, elusive, low-paying, unstable dream job!

  • Reply Kate October 25, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I love the theme you're on this week. I was a double major in Journalism and French with a minor in Art History. After graduating, I decided to do Teach For America, which was the best decision and worst 2 years of my life. I'm 29 now and this year I got fired from a bar, broke up with my live-in boyfriend, got certified as a yoga instructor and have started writing again. I might move to Paris. Or Boston. I have no idea what's going on. And that's ok. http://www.giftwell.blogspot.com

  • Reply Hipstercrite October 25, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    @Jenn- My Mom says the same exact thing. Oh, and to make sure I have health insurance at that job.

    @Tsaritsa- What field is that?

    @Kristen- Wow. What a story? Which Etsy store is yours?

    @Amy- Thanks for stopping by. I really appreciate it! What do you teach?

    @Jessica- I really want to go back to school. I wish I could afford it. Good for you for studying public health and social work!

    @Carol- Thanks, Carol! Can we also damn the elusive and unstable dream man?

    @Kate- Move to Paris!!!

  • Reply joel October 25, 2010 at 9:15 pm

    i like your thoughts about direction and being directionless. i think a lot of people spend much of their lives in that state.

  • Reply Randall October 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    I've felt kind of directionless for a bit. And I've not really had a career to speak of. Unless you count the writing, which I guess I don't, because I haven't really found a way to make a living at it, and I figure I'd probably keep at it no matter what I was doing. But who knows? Sometimes I worry a real career or even a steady job would take that away from me.

    I always feel strangely left out of these 20-something conversations, partly because most of my 20-something friends here are starting families, settling in to regular jobs, etc. So I don't get the "culture" part of it so much. A move would help that. But I'm also sort of needed here, to help someone I'm close to, which means I never really get the chance to do many of the selfish [and I think, selfish in a good way] sort of things I feel like I should be doing, or getting to do. And there's a part of me that think I might not be able to do it, that there'd be some kind of epic failure at adulthood, because of the lack of money, and the fear of not writing if I started the real, soul-sucking type employment. And because I'm sort of needed here, I don't know what I want to do, and I don't really have to think about what I want to do, and there's this feeling that… were I to finally pick some direction, well then I'd just be putting said direction on hold for other responsibilities.

    But sometimes looking at all that, I feel very much a part of the 20-something thing.

    Anyway, my rambling aside, this was an excellent post. I find where you've been and how you talk about it very charming, and fascinating.

  • Reply eef October 25, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    i'm struggling with this right now.

    i am a 'marketing assistant' which is barely a step above a secretary. i work with really high-maintenance sales reps every day who stress me out and try to blame me for their mistakes. i am not happy where i am, but i am lost as to where i want to be!

  • Reply Nicole October 25, 2010 at 11:15 pm

    I love your blog! And I'm a lot younger. About 12 yrs actually. I'm going to an arts high school for mass media(tv, cinema, books, and theatre). Sometimes I feel so talentless compared to the kids here for music art and dance. I have no idea what I wanna do when I grow up really. I like to write short stories and movie scripts, but I've never filmed a thing. I'm sort of afraid of feeling like you do now when I graduate from high school and I get into the "real REAL world."

  • Reply Yong October 25, 2010 at 11:29 pm

    Loved the post! Very insightful, I'm in my last year of dental school now, and I hope that I'll be able to enjoy dentistry a lot more once i'm out of school. But, then again, it's never too late to change careers.

  • Reply Christopher October 26, 2010 at 12:11 am

    Happiness isn't really portrayed as an ideal to aspire to. Success, success, success is all we ever hear about as the goals of our life. I think at a certain point in all of our lives we pull back and look at what makes us happy and what makes us rich. We then make a choice (unless you're really lucky and its both) that defines us now that we're all grown up.

  • Reply ~jill October 26, 2010 at 2:58 am

    i'm almost 48…empty nesting and have done office work my entire life. i quit my last job 4 years ago and applied to work at Disneyland yesterday. life's too short to spend it wondering "what if?"….

  • Reply ISRAEL CARRASCO October 26, 2010 at 5:14 am

    This reminds me of a quote from rapper Dose One who says something like " I can't get lost I don't know where I am. I'm in the state except I'm jobless and older. They say to follow your passion but last time I checked no one is hiring a full time sleeper. I appreciate your honesty and candidness in your post. It reminds me that there are others out there that are asking themselves, "What the fuck am I doing?"

  • Reply I love bubble wrap October 26, 2010 at 6:05 am

    I had to laugh at that astonishing estimation that we change jobs seven times in our twenties. Personally, I lost count at nine.

    Never stop searching – that's what keeps life interesting…

  • Reply Just Plain Tired October 26, 2010 at 11:57 am

    I waited until i was 40 and then changed careers. Most of my friends and family thought I was nuts. I had a job that paid extremely well, but I wasn't happy. I now have a job that I like very well at about a third of the pay. I wouldn't change a thing.

  • Reply rae October 26, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    Yeah. Good post. I def know where you're coming from.

  • Reply Hipstercrite October 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    @Joel- I think most do and the ones who don't…well…are lying to themselves. 😉

    @Randall- I think you should move to NYC for a year.

    @Eef- How old are you? Sometimes you have to be an assistant for awhile. As much as that sucks.

    @Nicole- Oh, baby doll. You have so much ahead of you. Your life is just beginning! You can pick a major, then change it, then change it again! It's all about trial and error in the next few years. Don't be afraid to make decisions- even if they end up not working out.

    @Yong- You're absolutely right. Who knows? Maybe you'll be a painter or a doctor or a teacher in 5 years!

    @Christopher- You wrote exactly what I was trying to say. Thank you.

    @Jill- You kick ass! Good for you! Lemme know what happens!

    @Israel- I don't usually like rap, but that was a very insightful line. Thank you for sharing!

    @Bubble- Yeah, I think I might be past seven now too. Only changed industries 3 times, but jobs, probably 9 as well.

    @Tired- Good for you! I like hearing stories like that. I'm glad you decision has worked for you!

    @Rae- 😀

  • Reply lauralu October 27, 2010 at 1:39 am

    love this post! i read that nytimes article [ as did.. everyone it seems!] and thought, of COURSE we should be doing that! the entitlement is DUE, we should be treated like human beings at jobs we work at and we should feel fulfilled. i'm working up the courage to take stands like this, myself!


  • Reply SusyPea October 27, 2010 at 2:54 am

    I'm only 17, but I particularly loved this post. I find it very encouraging that you just up and decided to do something, despite the consequences (whether positive or negative)

    I'm planning on moving to Pensacola, FL… Leaving everything know, all the people I care about, for something completely foreign. Other than that I have no idea what I want to do with my life. There are so many things that I could be and that I would be content with. Reading all these comments and your personal story helpa me to see that no one really figures it out, no one actually knows all the answers; life is about trial and error. Take the opportunities while you can, enjoy yourself, and most importantly learn from your mistakes and move on in your life.

    Thank you so much, Lauren.

  • Reply tee October 29, 2010 at 2:07 am

    You know that one relative everyone has who makes a shit ton of money but no one is really sure what exactly it is that they do? I've always aspired to be them. I little bit of this, a little bit of that; my goal is to make the term "freelancer" an option in the drop down list in the current profession field on a form.

  • Reply Jill October 29, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    This article helped me feel less bad about the crappy job i'm in now that doesn't use my English degree hardly at all :/
    It was a brave choice for you to take the job at age 20 and quit school, but you followed your heart, and you can never be mad at yourself for doing that. P.S.-I live really close to Ithaca in Elmira, NY!

  • Reply True story November 6, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I stumbled across your blog just now and I'm loving it.

    This is a great post and coincidentally, it speaks volumes to me, I can definitely relate to a lot of things. Just this past Wednesday was my last work day at the job that I grew to detest. It was my second job after college and I was very, very unhappy in it, I commuted at least 4 hours every day, leaving home at 6.05am every morning. I started to work there a little over a year ago, I was partially fascinated by it being a branch of a "the world's leading company" in several fields and by the prospect of career growth… well, it was all a myth, this big company is run by little people, there's little development room for anyone, they say people are their main asset, but it's far from being true, they're only concerned with compliance on paper (= all papers are in order, doesn't matter how it is in reality, etc)

    Anyway, a little over two weeks ago I made the decision to quit (after playing with the thought for 3 months), enough was enough (incl. my boss calling me at midnight when I was in bed, or in the morning when I was in the shower), there is no plan B except I'll be travelling and doing some thinking when possible at least until the new year. The last 5 or so work days I spent tearing up all the time and bordering on hysteria/depression, mostly because of some people I'm leaving behind. And yes, I was even questioning my decision, but mostly because I slightly gave into the herd instinct with so many people telling me it's wrong to quit and go into the nowhere.

    But now I'm coming back to my senses and I now it's the right decision (although many, many a man have made a point to say it's wrong). Yes, some people I will miss, but they will stay in my life, I won't miss the job itself and the unhappiness that it's brought me. I'm already feeling more content and it's been just 3 days. Next Tuesday night I'm going on a trip. 🙂

    So yes… I can relate to your story 🙂 I wish you well and I hope all people choose what's best for them.

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