September 11, 2008

Memorandum to The Man: 'I'm In.'

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Hey everybody. My name is Peter and I’m one of The Sun’s arts-and-entertainment editors. I’m a junior in CALS, but if you ask my major I’ll probably lie, because nobody’s impressed by communication majors. (Whoops.) I’m a huge fan of the New York Giants, Barack Obama and wearing sandals with jeans. And my favorite movie is The Godfather.
Good. Now that introductions are out of the way, I’d like to touch on a topic that has increasingly dominated my thoughts as of late: my career trajectory.
This past summer I held an “exciting” (read: unpaid) internship in New York City with a leading cable entertainment network (henceforth referred to as XYZ). I was super-pumped about it at the beginning of the summer, and through the first two or three weeks there, I was totally gung-ho about the work I was doing (even though it was complete bitch work). As time pressed on, however, my excitement soon turned to ennui.
I want to qualify my criticisms. While I found the work entirely uninspiring, the people were fun at least, and working in an air-conditioned building is unquestionably better than carrying around golf bags or mowing lawns. But in my capacity as a production intern, I spent the majority of my time transcribing interviews that XYZ had done at red-carpet events, which is probably about as much fun as a prostate exam. (For those of you unfamiliar with the hellish torment known as transcription, it involves listening to people speaking and recording everything they say. It is so much infinitely worse than it sounds.) The only moment I enjoyed while watching these interviews was when a clinically insane Don King manically waved American flags in the air and hit on Joss Stone. (Classic.)
In general, the work sucked.
My eyes were opened by my experience this summer. Whereas I once clung to idealistic notions of “doing what you love” and “not caring about money,” I’ve now come to the tough realization that “following your dreams” is probably a really dumb idea. After 21 years (Editor’s Note: Today is his birthday, everyone! Say happy birthday!), I’ve finally concluded — through much careful consideration and independent of parental pressures — that I want to sell out to The Man.
Allow me to elaborate on this important and exciting decision.
I’ve held many career ambitions over the course of my life: When I was three years old, I wanted to be a “character.” What the profession entailed exactly is really anybody’s guess. All I knew was that I thought Babar was really cool. My parents kept describing him as a “character” — though “talking elephant” probably would have been a more apt description, Mom and Dad — so I was all on board the Character Train.
Later, I wanted to be a teacher. Then I wanted to be a novelist. At a certain point in time, I wanted to be the President of the United States and a professional skateboarder (simultaneously, mind you). None of these aspirations lasted long, and most went out the window pretty quickly. Finally, when I was 15, I settled on an appropriately ludicrous and unlikely career goal: becoming a film director.
This declaration — that I wanted to make movies for a living — was the pinnacle of my pie-in-the-sky idealism, unencumbered by silly concepts like common sense. I wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg and was convinced I could do it.
And so I came to Cornell with the intention of majoring in film. And, since freshman year, this place has slowly chipped away at any romantic notions I once had harbored concerning my future employment. Maybe it’s just from being surrounded by people who seemed no smarter or more clever than me, but would still — thanks to a sense of expediency and an interest in finance — make more from a signing bonus than I ever would making movies.
My film major turned into a double major in film and economics, which then became a communication major through a switch from Arts and Sciences to CALS. Soon thereafter I added on an AEM minor as well (which probably would’ve become my second major, had I still the time to go through with it). Dreams of working in film morphed into a hunger to work in television. And finally, I found myself working on the 31st floor of a large office building in midtown Manhattan, interning for XYZ and wondering how the hell I had ever wanted to work in showbiz.
Like I said, it wasn’t that I thought the job was bad; it was simply that I found the whole process — not even just from the perspective of an intern — to be so … well, inconsequential. The work didn’t interest me and it didn’t strike me as terribly worthwhile. If this was my future, what was I setting myself up for? So I began to seriously reconsider my priorities, and, in the end, The Man won out.
If, as it was beginning to seem to me, I was destined to work a job that left my thirst for creative nirvana unfulfilled, I might as well make a little coin in the process. You can try to “live the dream” all you want, but in the end, unless you’re the best, you aren’t going to live comfortably. Film, television, publishing — these are prestige industries in which the entry-level jobs are, surprisingly, not that difficult to come by. Unsurprisingly, however, these jobs are incredibly difficult to maneuver into a lucrative career, and I don’t want to be stuck on the ground level for a decade before I decide to change paths.
So consider this my formal declaration: I’m trading in my hoodie and tattered blue jeans for a cheap suit and a ticket to business school.
Artistic integrity be damned. Conformity, here I come.