I don’t always love musicals. I tend to want everyone in them to calm down. But not this time. I loved everything about La La Land: the singing, the dancing, the romance, and ohmyword the soundtrack. (For those in pursuit of joy: it’s on Spotify).
I also loved that this is a film about following your dreams, the ridiculousness involved with putting yourself out there, and the compromises you have to make to get what you want (granted with more dancing than I’d considered incorporating before, but maybe it’d help?).
It’s funny, one moment you’re laughing in the face of inspirational quotes, clicking away from articles offering career advice, and declaring war on anybody who talks about being ‘meant’ to do a particular job, and then all of a sudden you’re every single one of those guys rolled into one. I blame age – it makes the need to enjoy your life feel so much more pressing.
Whatever your aim – mine is writing for a living – you learn a lot whilst trying to make it happen. So for anyone considering chasing a dream, here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt so far, and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come…
1.You have to learn to SAY it.
What do you say when somebody asks what you do? Or when they ask how the writing/comedy/acting/photography is going? Perhaps you’re more naturally confident than I am, in which case GOOD KEEP THAT UP, but if not, you have to find the courage to answer this question properly.
On the inside I’m absolutely obsessed with writing, with being published, with coming up with new ideas, and with getting better at it. But because there are so many people doing it, and so many versions of what ‘good’ looks like, I’m afraid of looking like a fraud or somebody pursuing a pipe dream. BUT what I’ve learnt is this: a) I’m not either of those things and b) Even if you feel that way, you have to learn to act like you don’t. People won’t give you work or recommend you if you’re too afraid to even say what you want, and you won’t feel confident enough to try if you don’t hear it from your own mouth. And anyway, the more you speak to people, the more ideas you’ll get, so you need to do it. People are asking how it’s going because they’re interested, so take a deep breath and have the chat.
2. A ‘Yes’ strategy is a good place to start
You never know where opportunities are going to lead you, so when you’re starting out and you don’t have any or much work, saying yes to what comes your way isn’t a bad strategy. Of course, there are caveats here – make sure it’s something you want to do, that you’re happy with the money, and that you have the space and time to do it. I just mean that it doesn’t have to be precisely what you want to do in the long term from the start, as the experience will still come in handy. At worst, it’ll teach you what you don’t want which is also a useful lesson.
3. Someone in the crowd could be the one you need to know
Yep, I’ve had that song in my head for days and now you will too. Meeting people, speaking to strangers on the phone, and generally going out into the world and saying “You don’t know me but here’s my heart and soul, want to buy it?” is a necessary part of trying to build a business or a career for yourself. Do not be afraid of this. It is 100% worth it and often fun. And anyway, there is simply no way around it; the odds of somebody coming round to your house out of nowhere and offering to pay you to write/act/tell jokes/sing songs for them is very low, and to be honest I’d be very wary of anybody who does.
4. Compromise is very much part of the deal
Films don’t document people working on Sundays when everyone else is out eating roast dinners or walking dogs; nor do they show people hunched over their laptops, typing away into the night because they have a deadline that they couldn’t hit during the day because they have another job. But this can be the reality of dream chasing. It certainly is for the writers among us. I would describe myself as ‘In a serious relationship’ with my desk, my laptop, and about 45 different Moleskine notebooks. It’s OK, they’re all fine with it.
There’s glamour and joy to be had, for sure – a byline, a pay cheque, your face on TV – but most of the time it’s just me, a blanket, my computer and all the empty packets from snacks I’ve inhaled. I’m happy with that, but I appreciate it wouldn’t be for everyone.
5. Patient friends and family are everything
There’s a bit in La La Land where Sebastian drives to Mia’s house and insists on taking her to an audition because he believes in her. These are the kinds of people we need in our lives. People who won’t get cross when we have to opt out of going to a party because we have a deadline, but who will instead make us a drink before they go – because not only do they understand our life goals, but they also take hydration seriously.
6. You have to learn when to rest
Why didn’t you go on holiday last year, Charlotte?
Oh because I was too busy chasing my dreams.
And what are your dreams exactly?
To write for a living so that I can travel and enjoy my free time on my terms.
Breaks matter. They matter to your health because life is tiring, they matter to your relationships because to have them you need to actually spend time with people, and they matter to your work because you can only create great things if you look after yourself. So you need to get good at figuring out when to work and when to rest. As I discovered early on, if you just wait until you fall over to realise you need to stop, you’re leaving it too late.
7. Comparing yourself to others is NOT helpful
I’ve written about this lots of times before (and most recently in this post), but it needs reiterating to remind myself and anybody else who spends too much time online. It is healthy to look at somebody who has done something you would also like to do and think “How can I learn from them?”, it is not healthy to think “I am a failure because this has happened to them and not to me.” Do you see the distinction? Good, now paint it on your bedroom wall or your phone screen. None of us has enough time to waste worrying about why we’re not somebody else. We’ve got much more important sh*t to do than that.