A couple of weeks ago, I was recording a new conversation with Bill Wadman and he said something that I’ve been chewing on ever since (it starts about 47:15 into the conversation). He said, “We are both in some ways scared of being the town criers for ourselves for fear that somebody is actually going to call us and ask us to produce. The reality is that what you and I produce is really good work and we have no reason to be worried about that. That’s the one thing that we actually do have down.” Does that resonate for you? Do you have trouble promoting yourself? I sure do. But that hasn’t always been the case.
When I was in college, I had no problem whatsoever letting anyone would listen know not only what I did, but how good I was at it. But far too often, I landed on the wrong side of the line between self-promotion and self-aggrandizement, and ultimately my hubris cost me dearly. The short version is that I was told by the head of the department for whom I was assisting on a show to return all of my materials and meet him in his office, where he proceeded to tell me “Mr. Saddoris, you have two things I cannot teach — style and flair — but you’re an asshole and nobody wants to work with you.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to really hear what he was saying in the moment and instead responded like a petulant child. I’ve told this story before, but I don’t think I’ve ever really talked about the fallout from it and the effect it’s had on me for more than three decades.
My existential evolution began — slowly at first — with the first job I got after college, working as a prop master at the Texas Shakespeare Festival. Being a part of that company of actors and artisans, all working toward a tangible common goal had a profound effect on me — as did the next one in Alabama and the one after that in New York.
Over the next several years, I held a variety of jobs across a bunch of different disciplines, including a special effects company, a post-production house, and a bunch of freelance stuff for web design companies (remember Geocities?). I even taught HTML and Photoshop before finally landing one of my dream jobs: an Art Director at Universal Studios. By the time I got the gig at Universal, the overly confident me (read: impossibly arrogant) that once was had evolved. Years of working on teams helped me to eschew the ME and instead recognize and focus on the WE.
What happened though, and this gets us back around to Bill’s comment, is that the pendulum swung too far into the opposite direction relative to where it was in college. I worked so hard at the humility part, to never again let myself be that entitled, arrogant little shit, that I’ve damaged how I’m able to see and talk about myself and the work that I produce. I routinely downplay any creative “achievement” and brush off any praise or compliment as people “just being nice.” I still recognize a sense of craft and skill within me, something that I feel like I have refined and honed over the years, but I’ve become self-deprecating to a fault — something that can easily hinder any creative professional who is trying to make work, put that work out into the world, and grow an audience.
Honestly, the things that Bill and I talked about recently have been on my mind for a while, but for whatever reason they get put on the back burner, sort of like cleaning out the garage — you know it needs to be done, but there’s just so much stuff that you keep putting it off. If the entirety of our job is not just doing our job, but also to cultivate our story and let others truly see who we are and what we’re putting out into the world, the next part of my journey has to be to undo years of over-calibration and get the pendulum closer to the middle.
I am proud of my story and the diverse set of skills that living my story has allowed me to accumulate. I am an artist and a storyteller, a writer and a photographer, a tinkerer and a dreamer and my story would be incomplete without acknowledging how every one of those things has shaped me and continue to inform where I go and what I do. I think the same might be true for you. Chances are, you are not one trait or attribute and I would bet that you are more than just one skill or proficiency.
How are you cultivating your own story? What are you doing to let the world know about it?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below or, if you prefer, click here to email me directly.
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