Taking Risks

by Katie Plott

Growing up, I went to a summer camp where we were allowed to choose our own activities. There were many “safe” options, like arts and crafts, tennis, and swimming, but, my first choice was always the adventurous ropes course. Among the different obstacles to choose from, the camp classic was the V swing (basically a normal swing, but on steroids). After putting on your safety harness, you’d climb a wooden ladder, walk across a wire to a high platform hidden in the trees, and be hooked up to heavy swing in the air. Once you were ready, you’d take one big, scary step off the platform into thin air. You would have a glorious moment of free falling, only for your harness to be yanked and tightened once gravity took effect. And then, you’d swing. The whole ordeal took maybe 3 minutes, but every summer I looked forward to that feeling of stepping off the platform.

When was the last time you took a scary step?

I became dangerously comfortable in college. How could anyone not? School perfectly plans your years, with hardly any spare time to consider your future, ideas, or dreams. Advisors explain what classes to take, professors mark important dates, and your parents luckily slip you some money for food. You always have someone looking out for you. That’s how it’s been for 17 years of our lives!

It wasn’t until my senior year I realized that comfort was causing me to be unhappy. I had spent all of my 22 years living in the same town. I majored in subjects that I was good at, but had not an ounce of passion for. I became involved in extracurriculars in college, thinking that the more leadership positions I had or the more awards I won, the better person I was. I enrolled in law school, but the only reason I was going was because it was a safe choice. At this point in my life, I was basically taking the adult version of arts and crafts, and missing out on the thrill of ropes course.

In a conversation that would soon change my life, I was telling my closest friend that I wasn’t happy and longed for a change. She asked me a question that I believe all college graduates should ask themselves.

“If you could do anything in the world and money wasn’t an option, what would it be?”

My answer surprised me as much as it surprised her.

“I would make movies.”

….

What?

Here I am, an economics and finance student, president of her sorority, and resident of a small town in Alabama. And I want to make movies.

I’ve always loved movies. Everyone does, right? They’re great! But I always seemed to like movies more than the average Joe. When I was little and loved a movie, I would research the production locations, look at the director's past movies, read the source material, listen to the soundtrack, study the costumes. I LOVED movies. I participated in musical theater when I was young as a creative outlet, but sadly my low self-confidence, instability of the career, and lack of opportunities being anywhere close to Alabama led me to believe that pursuing entertainment wasn't in the stars for me. I chose a safer route.

But why?! A ship in a harbor is safe. But that’s not what ships are meant for!

I turned down law school and moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in entertainment. And I’ve never been happier.

I’m not saying you have to have some dramatic realization your senior year, and drop everything and leave. But you should realize that the advisors, professors, and eventually, the parents will stop providing you with direction at every turn. And when you have no one to turn to but yourself, your own happiness is of the utmost importance. And if your happiness requires some scary steps, I have some advice that will help anyone prepare for a big jump.

  1. JUST DO SOMETHING. The best advice ever given to me is to do something, anything. Don’t wait around until you’ve found the “perfect” job, don’t take time to “find yourself”, and, most importantly, don’t let fear drive your decisions. Whether it’s the smallest internship or fanciest job, commit to learning, growing, and embracing new opportunities.

  2. Prepare yourself. In ropes course terms, put on your safety harness and helmet. You don’t want to jump off a platform just to fall on your face! I didn’t just drop everything and move. Instead, I took up several small jobs in Tuscaloosa to save up money to move cross country. I also took this period to reach out to connections and learn as much as I could about the industry. This time period isn’t exactly the most exciting part about taking a risk, but it’s just as important.

  3. Be comfortable about being uncomfortable. At some point early on in your adult life, you’re going to get lost in your new city. You’ll have no one to go to the movies or grab dinner with. You will have a breakdown about whatever path you are on or what job you take (even if it’s your “dream job”). That’s normal. You’re doing great! You’ll develop a wonderful sense of independence, and find out that it’s actually quite nice going to the movies alone. Sure, I have a TON of things to complain about. But at the end of the day, I live in Los Angeles! I’m working in Beverly Hills! I get paid to watch movies and read scripts! This outweighs any negatives I experience.

  4. Credentials don’t mean as much as you think. Just because you majored in a certain subject doesn’t mean you’re confined to that subject. While it’s certainly great to have experience, your degree won’t be seen as a roadblock if you decide to try something new. Also, remember all those awards I wanted and the positions I ran for? Literally, no one cares. As soon as you start work, your resume goes in the trash, and all that matters is that you’re a hard worker who is ready to learn. Everyone is qualified. Everyone is smart. Find what makes you different.

  5. Everyone says it, but don’t pay attention to social media. You’re going to have a friend that can somehow afford to travel to Europe three times a year. You’re going to have a friend that is instantly successful. You’re going to see your friends still in college at your favorite bars. Ignore it. Focus on you, your goals, and your happiness.

Taking scary steps are hard. However, to put everything into perspective:

I later became a counselor at the very same camp where I did the V swing every summer. It was my job to hook the campers up to the heavy cable and guide them off the platform. Some campers would happily jump, others would scream and cry and beg to go back. But no matter what, every camper would take the big step, and every camper would end up swinging with a huge smile on their face.

Take the scary step.

Katie Plott