Why There’s No Such Thing As A Wasted Opportunity

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Many years ago, I trained to be a primary school teacher*. I was fresh out of high school, the world was big and uncertain and I chose to go to Teacher’s College. On the first day in our first class, our lecturer got us to introduce ourselves to one another. There were so many bright, bubbly people who were excited to be undertaking the journey. Some had waited their entire lives to become a teacher.

And…then there was me.

I couldn’t tell you why I wanted to be a teacher. I think partly it was parental pressure, partly trying to suppress my real desire to work in the film industry. So I persisted with this path for 3 years. I did well with the academic work, my teaching placements also went well. I was one teaching placement and a university paper away from graduating when I decided that this really wasn’t for me.

I felt like a complete and utter failure. My parents were supportive of my decision to leave, but I knew they were disappointed as well. In hindsight, it was the right thing to do- schools need teachers who are 100% passionate about what they do and can instill that into their teaching. The classmates I had whose eyes lit up on the first day and had wanted to teach from a very young age were exactly what the education system desperately needed (and subsequently they have gone on to have very successful teaching careers).

But what at first seemed like a complete loss was actually a gift. I may not have gained my teaching degree, but along the way I gained valuable skills which transferred over into everything I did subsequently. Even now, the skills I gained all those years ago are appropriate for the work I do in publicity. There’s not a lot of difference between the research, planning, implementation and review of a lesson plan and the research, planning, implementation and review of a publicity campaign. Teaching taught me how to be adaptable, to manage my time effectively and work with a wide range of people. Better yet, when I did a Bachelor of Arts a few years later I was able to cross-credit some of my teaching courses over into my BA and ended up completing my degree in 2.5 years instead of 3.

I firmly believe that there is no such thing as a wasted opportunity. Even in your bitterest disappointments, you’ll find a diamond in the ashes. You might have to wait a while to find that diamond (because let’s face it- disappointments are awful and you might ruminate for a while), but it’s there. If you’re in the indie film industry, you’ll know that sometimes productions fall through, you might not get the role, or locations that were initially viable at the start of production are taken off the table suddenly. None of this is a waste of time. A production that stalls or doesn’t go through to post is valuable experience. The role you didn’t get gave you the opportunity to audition and put yourself in front of an agent and director and put yourself on their radar for future projects. The location you had your heart set on that was made unavailable may open the way for a better location.

A few years ago I spoke to a filmmaker whose short was crowdfunding on Kickstarter. With Kickstarter, it’s a case of “all or nothing” for funding, and the campaign didn’t look like it was going to reach 100%. The filmmaker was incredibly positive about things. “OK, we’re not going to get the funding. That’s fine,” he said to me, “but having our crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter meant we were able to gain positive awareness around our campaign, so we’ve got a solid grounding for the next steps”.  He subsequently used the data from the campaign to look at what worked, what didn’t and what they could do in the future to ensure they had a successful campaign.

Currently, I am transitioning from working for myself to potentially joining a new PR team and that has meant sending out a lot of applications and getting in touch with agencies. I’m not worried about rejections, because connecting with agencies is another opportunity to network, and at the very least they are aware of me and what I have been doing as a freelancer. I chose to look at this undertaking as being a positive one, no matter what. Eventually, there will be the right position and it may come from somewhere completely unexpected. You can never underestimate the power of networking- there are times when someone will know of another person who is looking for exactly the skillset you possess and can put you in touch.

So if you receive a rejection e-mail, you don’t get a callback or things go kaput on a production- find the gift in it. There’s always some experience or skill you have gained during the process that can be of use later on, you just have to find it.

*= for those of you who are American, primary school is the equivalent of elementary school.

“Be A Duck”: Losing Your Mind and Following Your Heart

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As I prepare for the next exciting part of my journey, I have been thinking back about the past five years of this adventure. While Film Sprites PR is almost 3 years old, my journey in film actually began in 2012 after the Christchurch earthquakes when a flash of inspiration during a dark time basically sealed my fate (you can hear that story HERE). So there was 2 years of networking and training, working almost every day until midnight with very few weekend breaks just to get to the point where Film Sprites PR came into being. I had wanted to work for a studio or distributor in the UK (my maternal family is British and Australian), but wasn’t finding any opportunities….so I made my own. April 17, 2014 I took to Twitter and asked my filmmaking contacts if anyone needed PR and digital marketing assistance for their film and the rest is history. By the end of that weekend I had 3 clients, by the end of the week it was 6 and by the end of the month it was 12. Not bad, considering I had no brand at the time, no official website, no seed money OR a business plan (I don’t recommend doing that, by the way)!

But now, it’s time for me to move on. As much as I have loved what we do here at Film Sprites PR, I’m ready to start moving further towards my original dream and goal and I can’t do that alone. So it’s going to take more training, more networking and more heart than ever before. Here’s some of the lessons I’ve learned in the past 5 years:

“Be A Duck”: It’s a strange little mantra, I’ll admit. When I was first starting out even though I believed in my dream and in my abilities, there was still a little bit of doubt. I would be exhilarated by a new challenge, but inside I was shaking like a chihuahua. So I used a mantra to help me: be a duck. Think about the way a duck swims on a pond: they look so graceful, gliding across the surface with ease like a figure skater swirling around a rink. But under the surface, those little orange legs are paddling like hell. I’d heard the phrase “be a duck” and the accompanying explanation before, and it seemed to fit. It was also ridiculous enough to snap me out of whatever nervousness I was feeling at the time.

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Lose Your (Egoic) Mind: Yes, you have to lose your mind a little in order to accomplish things you’d never thought possible…but I mean your egoic mind. And not the Freudian definition of ‘ego’. The definition of ‘ego’ I work with is a bit less psychology and a bit more ‘woo woo’ and I’m not afraid to say that! There’s a great explanation of the differences between your ego and your soul over at the Notes on Bliss blog. If you want to achieve the things your heart truly yearns for, you have to silence that ego and start following your heart and listening to the still voice inside of you. If you have a huge goal to achieve, there’s lots of people who are willing to put their two cents in, especially if to them it seems unbelievable and unattainable. You have to lovingly nod and smile and discard other people’s opinions- you know what you’re capable of.

And yes, it does sound absolutely bonkers, but it works. I took a massive risk by resigning from a permanent position in order to take up temping so that I could fit in everything I needed to while building up Film Sprites PR. It was a risk that has paid off. I’m not suggesting you do the same, but I do suggest trying to silence the voices of your ego that tell you it’s impossible to create a life you love and achieve the things you want to achieve. Be your spirit’s BFF, because if you’re on a huge adventure you’re going to need all the self-support you can get.

Everything is An Exchange: in 2015, I took on my first assistant for Film Sprites PR. My friend Gabe had offered to help out because he believed in what I was doing and also wanted further digital marketing experience. Shortly after we were joined by Hannah, who is now my VA, and we started to receive requests from people looking to work for Sprites. I ended up taking them on on a freelance basis. Knowing how difficult it was to get my ‘foot in the door’ and the fact that I had to make my own opportunities, the first thing I would ask anyone who wanted to be a part of Sprites was: “what are your own career goals?” The reason for this was because I didn’t want them to just ‘do work’- I wanted them to have experiences that allowed them to showcase their abilities and help them to further their career goals. Just the other day a freelancer got in touch because he was applying for a full-time permanent PR and digital marketing position and I very proudly wrote a letter of recommendation for him. Everything is an exchange, whether it’s a client paying you in return for your services or someone wanting to work for you. The same is true of mentoring– if you reach out to someone, looking for mentoring and/or advice…what value can you bring to the table? How can you make their situation a bit easier?

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Get To Know Your Intuition: a lot of people don’t rate intuition as a business skill, but being able to trust your inherent intuition will save you a lot of grief and mourning of bad decisions later on. There have been times when my intuition has been prodding me, telling me that something was amiss or I should say ‘no’. When I hadn’t listened, I regretted it almost immediately. For instance, a year before I founded Film Sprites PR I missed out on one of the biggest opportunities ever because I ignored my intuition. My partner and I were due up in Wellington to visit family, but the day of our flight it started snowing…and snowing hard. I kept frantically checking weather reports and updates from the airport. At about 10:00am as I was monitoring one of the reports, I heard this quiet little voice inside saying: “reschedule your flight. Schedule it for 2 weeks from now”. But I was being stubborn and wanted to fly up that afternoon.

We managed to fly up, and I was standing in a certain place on the Sunday of that weekend, wistfully contemplating the future and my dreams and aimlessly hoping something would happen, that I would be granted a great opportunity. Imagine my shock when that opportunity popped up…in the same place I had been standing 2 weeks previous to the day. I still bemoan that.

That being said: stop wishing and start doing!: I do believe in the Law of Attraction to an extent, but you can just wish for something to happen. You have to meet your goal halfway. Dreams are great, but they’re just dreams if you don’t act on them. In my case, I made my own opportunities with Film Sprites PR and that is serving as a living, breathing resume for the next part of my journey. When there wasn’t funding to outsource things like web design and CEO, I learned how to do it. Dreams are not fluffy little marshmallows, they’re more like cogs in a machine that get stuck on occasion, needing you to roll up your sleeves and get to work. The better the work you do, the less they get stuck and the well-oiled machine of your dreams begins to really pay off.