I should probably start off by apologizing. Over the years I have not been very good at responding to InMail on LinkedIn, direct messages on Twitter, or those sneaky messages on Facebook that get filed into the 'other' folder that you always fail to notice, and then it's too late and embarrassing to even reply. So yes, I didn't respond to those, and almost a year after the above New York Times article went out, I've decided to just write this, for anyone that may still be interested on my advice for veterans looking to work in television.
The thing is, and part of why it was so hard to respond to messages from strangers afterwards, is that I still feel that I am a struggling work in progress with a long way to go. I do feel extremely lucky, but I also still worry about whether or not I have enough creativity to sustain myself competitively in this industry. I still have anxiety over experience I don't have in comparison to those who are younger than me and have been working in television since they graduated college, or even just industry terms and technical processes I don't understand. I'm just still new.
I get the feeling that I'm not alone in these fears though, so I wanted to share a few tips here. Maybe this will be helpful to you, or maybe it will show you how much of an amateur I still am in this industry. At least now I can at least be a little guilt-free about all those messages I didn't respond to, so everyone is a winner, and I can see where this goes.
1. Be the kind of person you would want to work with
For this, you might have to reassess your Type-A personality, especially if you're brand new to a team and on a lower rung of the ladder than you're used to. Just make sure you don't come off too aggressive, which I sometimes call 'misplaced enthusiasm', and do maintain a level of self-awareness to set yourself up for success. A phrase I've often heard and have used myself is, "I really like him/her because they're just so normal."
You don't have to be a super fan, and probably shouldn't come off as one anyway, for any production you're working on. Someone can also be extremely good at their job, but also difficult/frustrating/annoying to work with. At the end of the day, just remember that you're all working towards the same goal or mission, and everyone has a contributing role to play. There are definitely better ways to be helpful than to try to make everyone laugh, or to share every single fact you ever learned about television.
You don't want to be that guy, you really just want to be 'a guy' or gal, and do a good job with minimum fuss. You want to be helpful whenever you can even if it's a boring task.
Remember, you're the new guy. Don't be the last one to arrive and first one to leave, and always be willing to learn something new even if it's outside of your role. It sounds simple, but you'd be surprised at how much you can really help yourself stand out by just being a nice and attentive colleague who's always looking for ways to help.
2. Say YES to any opportunity
Early on I learned that not only is television a difficult industry to break into, but it's also about who you know. What helped me initially was to take as many opportunities as I could to not only learn, but to also continue to meet people in television. On one of my first real opportunities working for season four of John Oliver's New York Stand-Up Show, what was meant to be one day of work ended up being more to complete the taping of eight episodes for the whole season.
Even though this one role was unpaid, it lead to a handful of more paid opportunities over the next few months, and being recommended to producers of other shows for other jobs. I volunteered myself for different roles, and accepted jobs even if it didn't relate to what I ultimately want to do. The point was to get any kind of experience, and to continue to meet people.
During this time I continued to work around my full-time job. Luckily a lot of these gigs took place in the late evening or during the weekend, and I was able to maintain a steady paycheck and healthcare. Although the hours were long, the experience was worth it.
One of the most important aspects was understanding that I had more time during my day than I thought, and that productions can take place any time and everyday, so you just have to find what works for you. Maybe you end up stretching yourself thin, and not even getting paid at first, but it's also a good way to understand if this is really the work that you want to do.
3. Embrace your veteran status
When I first started working with other veterans on different productions, it became a commonly held ambition among veterans that they didn't want to be known for just their 'veteran' status, but ultimately because they were good at their job and valid in a new field. Sometimes I would even see veterans be reluctant to reveal their military service and background, or even seem a bit spiteful about it, which can be difficult to understand.
I get that everyone's experience is different, but it is a part of who you are.
Also, organizations and people want to help veterans, and someone offering you the chance to shadow them on a job or giving you some sort of side work is part of their way of giving back and thanking you for your service.
Oddly enough, serving in the Marine Corps is what indirectly lead to my career in television. Even though I studied film in college, that degree didn't apply as much as what I had learned during my time on active duty. Aside from understanding leadership and the ability to work under pressure, just being a military veteran opens up so many opportunities to transitioning veterans.
There is a breadth of resources available to support veterans and welcome them into various communities, and these communities (such as American Corporate Partners) are what helped me get to where I am today. In addition to mentorship from industry professionals, I have been a part of productions that have received camera equipment, locations, catering, and other resources for free or at a discount primarily because these vendors wanted to support projects by military veterans.
At the risk of being a nerd (which I'm comfortable with), there's a Marine Corps leadership principle that all of this reminds me of that goes: 'Know yourself and seek self improvement.'
And really, it's basically just that. These are only a few tips among the many lessons I've learned since I left active duty. From a time in my life when it was all about trying to be something greater than myself, now as a civilian sometimes it seems like I'm just trying to figure out myself in a new situation, and what I have to offer in a different role.
We're always a work in progress, and if working in television or any other new industry is what you truly want to do, then you'll find a way to do it. Otherwise you'll find an excuse. So be persistent, but patient, and flexible, but cheerfully stubborn about your personal goals.