Monthly Archives: March 2014

Friday Feature: Former Student Kate Richardson


Sorry this feature is late once again….  This time I was delayed because I spent several days doctoring the first couple of paragraphs to make ’em sound like they came from Kate!


Kate Richardson

Hello all! I first want to give a shout out to Mr. Metzler- what a truly amazing man! I had Metz as my 11th grade Theory of Knowledge teacher at Victor High School, and had the wonderful privilege of babysitting his two beautiful children on a few occasions. If you’re reading this I’m sure you’ve been touched in a similar way. And I must say upfront, I absolutely love this idea. I would have loved to read these stories as a high school student dreaming about the future. So thanks for all that you’ve done to encourage the young malleable minds of your past and future students, Mike!

A little bit about me – I took Theory of Knowledge as a requirement for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program at Victor. My dad was the International Baccalaureate Coordinator at a nearby school, so I was somewhat cajoled into signing up to begin with. But it was through the IB program and having teachers like Metz that I fell in LOVE with learning and began to realize the power of knowledge. It was through this program and during my last two years of high school that I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life making sure others had the same opportunities I had.

My senior year of high school my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and it changed all of my plans. My junior year was spent beefing up my resume and planning my great escape- I spent countless hours researching schools that were as far away as possible and as different from Victor as I could find. The sky was the limit. All of that changed with my mom’s diagnosis. After that, being close to my mom was my priority. I ultimately decided on the University of Buffalo (UB), which was close enough that I could get home for the weekend, and big enough that it felt nothing like Victor.

Dreams abound.

Dreams abound.

Unfortunately, UB was not all that I had imagined it to be. I spent my first two years of college changing majors and trying to figure out what I wanted to “do” with my life. In Buffalo my life felt all over the place, and I knew it wasn’t right. I was lost in the 200 plus person lecture halls.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that Victor wasn’t so bad, and I really flourished in a small class setting. I transferred to Geneseo University, which was similar in many ways to Victor, and through some serious soul searching, found myself in the social studies teaching program. Teachers like Mr. Metzler had such a profound impact on my life- I wanted to have that same impact on students in the future.

At Geneseo, I majored in political science, and received my Adolescent Social Studies certification. While I was working on my degree, I was also a special education tutor at a nearby high school, and coached lacrosse as a way to spend more time with kids. It took me five years in total to receive my undergraduate degree because I transferred schools and decided to get my teaching certification in addition to my political science major.

The fall semester of my senior year was spent student teaching. I spent eight weeks at a rural high school and eight weeks at a suburban middle school. The first eight weeks at the high school went really well. The teacher I was placed with set the tone of the classroom at the beginning of the school year, and I transitioned in and mirrored his pedagogy. I tried to add my own flavor, but really just followed his lead. I was teaching some really cool classes, AP Global History and Italian History & Culture, and I was loving it! My second placement I taught 8th grade US history and 12th grade IB World History. The IB World History was a dream come true; I LOVED the IB program and was so thrilled to be surrounded by students who loved to learn as much as I did. But the 8th grade class was a challenge. My classroom management was lacking to say the least. My first placement I felt so strong, but I left my second placement feeling like maybe I wasn’t ready to be in the classroom. I felt like there were others out there who were better suited to be a classroom teacher, and there was something else out there for me.

Stick to it.

Stick to it.

I spent my final semester of college feeling defeated and not sure what to do. I had an International Economics professor at Geneseo whom I admired and respected, and I went to him with these concerns. He suggested the AmeriCorps program – I think his exact words were, “You better sign up for that AmeriCorps program before those Republicans in Congress cut it”. Oh the freedom college professors have with language! But I valued his opinion and did some research about AmeriCorps when I went home that night. I had heard of the PeaceCorps, but not AmeriCorps, and needed to learn more before I really considered it as an option. Through some serious web searching, I decided it might be a really cool way to spend the next year of my life. I learned I was able to keep 10 applications open at a time, and the VISTA branch of AmeriCorps was specifically meant for individuals with a college degree like me. I applied to programs all around the country. That feeling I mentioned earlier that I had in high school…“the world is my oyster; let’s see how far away I can go” came back. I had my heart set on a position in California. It was a grant writing position, and I would be tasked with securing funding for mammograms for low income women. My mother beat cancer because of early detection- it was perfect for me! And in California!!

Unfortunately, I did not get that position- they wanted someone with a more personal connection (what?!?!?). But alas, I had 9 other applications open and was hopeful that I would get one of the other ones. I had one open in Maine, and after a short phone interview the AmeriCorps program offered me a position somewhere in the state if I committed to Maine. I decided “what the heck” and jumped on it. They explained this was only the first round of interviews- that I would have to interview with organizations and schools across the state who were involved in AmeriCorps for the next few months before I knew my exact placement, but I would have a spot in Maine if I wanted one. So I went through a few different interviews and ultimately ended up placed at the Mount Desert Island Regional School System as the Service Learning Coordinator. I knew nothing about service learning, had never been to Maine, and didn’t know a soul there- but I was ready to go! My bags were packed, and I was on my way in August.

I had a wonderful support system on the island I lived on – I had two amazing supervisors, one was the School Health Coordinator, and the other was the Assistant Superintendent. I lived with an amazing family with two young children and the most wonderful dog named Copper. These families were so kind and opened their homes to me, I’m not sure what I would have done without them! In terms of my job, I spent a year there working with teachers to improve the quality of their service learning projects. One component of service learning is to connect classrooms with community organizations. We had 80 organizations that had agreed to work with the schools- so I worked to link projects with organizations who had similar missions. Maine is a state full of wonderful, community oriented people, so this was a wonderful job. Because I had a background in education, I also worked with teachers on curriculum integration- making sure they were integrating the Common Core State Standards into their service learning projects. I helped ensure kids were learning what they were supposed to be learning in school, while doing a service activity. It was really fantastic, fulfilling work.

Education takes many forms.

Education takes many forms.

While I was living in Maine I was also studying for the GRE. To be a teacher in New York State you have to have a masters’ degree. I still wasn’t sure that’s what I wanted to do, but I was sure I would need some more schooling. So I reached out to a different professor at Geneseo and talked to him about my options. He recommended a Masters of Public Policy – it had a business component that would make me marketable in settings outside of Washington, DC, but was still based in political theory, which I loved. It seemed like the perfect fit.

I took the GRE in November, and applied to a few different schools that winter. Some in New York near home, one in Maine, and a few in Washington, DC (the hub of politics!) American University was my top choice, but I wanted to keep a few other options open to be safe. I remember the moment I found out I got into AU…I was sitting in a curriculum development meeting and I had to leave the room. My acceptance letter came to my email inbox. I was so excited I thought I might start screaming. I instantly knew I was going to leave Maine and head to DC that summer. It was really at that moment I began to make the most of my time in Maine, because I knew it was going to soon come to an end. I took sailing lessons, fell in love with running and hiking, and made some friends that will last me a life time.

While I was still in Maine my dad had a long conversation with me about financing my next few years of school. I believe the conversation went a little something like this, “Although I fully support you, you’re going to be 25 and you need to think long and hard about the debt that comes with a masters’ program. Being out of the work force for two more years while you’re working on your degree is a really serious decision, Kate.” He was always the rational one that brought me down from dream land. He suggested getting a full time job and going to school at night. I was a little apprehensive about that- I didn’t know what the demand of school would be like, and I didn’t want to make that commitment just yet.

I ended up applying to a few paid internships and landed one with the Girl Scouts of the USA in their public policy & advocacy office. The Girl Scouts lobby on Capitol Hill on issues impacting girls – financial literacy, STEM education (Science, Engineering, Technology & Math), bullying and relational aggression, and they were also working on Girl Scouts in military families while I was there. I absolutely LOVED the work. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit. I was doing research and writing on critical issues affecting girls, while going to school at night. For the first time I really felt like I was where I was supposed to be. I will say that a public policy degree certainly focuses on political theory, but it is much more economics and statistics based than I anticipated. Economics is not my strong suit, but I believe the degree will be extremely valuable, especially for jobs in DC. But back to Girl Scouts-  I interned with them from August- December, and was offered an eight week position when the internship was over to plan an event on Capitol Hill January – March. The event was a leadership breakfast focused on connecting girls around the country with business and political leaders in DC, and more importantly, it was a celebration of women!  It was one of the most fabulous projects I have ever been involved in and was such a great honor to be a part of it.

...and Kate went up the hill.

…and Kate went up the hill.

The Girl Scouts position was only temporary, and when it finished I was unemployed for two months during my first year spring semester.  While I was unemployed I decided I could handle a full time job while going to grad school part time, and come out of school with a little bit less debt. So I began applying feverishly to any and all jobs that sounded remotely interesting in DC. I had heard the horror stories of the job market and was convinced I would never find anything that I was interested in.

I did find a job- and now work for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. I have been there for almost a year now, and I split my time between the school transformation team and the public policy & advocacy team. The school transformation team runs a website called RTI Action Network, and contracts with school districts and state departments across the country to improve outcomes for all students. The policy team works on the federal level advocating for policies that ensure all students have the same opportunities, regardless of their learning differences. This position really could not be a more perfect blend of my background and where I hope to go in the future.

Selling more than Girl Scout cookies...

Selling more than Girl Scout cookies…

Through all of that- I suppose my advice to those reading this blog is never settle. I’m 26 years old and have been bouncing around schools and positions since I was 18. From Buffalo to Geneseo to Maine to DC! But I wouldn’t change a single moment of it. It is has made me who I am. I might not end up ever using my teaching degree in a classroom, but what I learned at Geneseo informs the policy work I do for kids every day. I may never live in Maine again, but my experience at the school has provided me a foundational knowledge of curriculum that I apply to the work we do with states across the country. Additionally, the network of people that I’ve built through all of my experiences is so very important.  Don’t ever lose touch with the people that you meet along the way. You never know when they’ll need you- and you never know when you’ll need them. And finally, enjoy every minute of your journey! I tend to get caught up with wanting to be perfect and wanting everything to go exactly as planned- but some of the greatest opportunities have resulted from my life not going according to plan. So live it up! I intend to!  I graduate in July- who knows where the path will lead next?!Disney Reading_KR

Grade 3 _ KR

Friday Feature: Former Student Yasmeen Smalley

Okay…. So it’s another late ‘Friday’ Feature of a former student, but what teacher ever cares about deadlines anyway?!

We move from Dan, whose journey didn’t include college, to Yasmeen, who’s just left campus to dip her toes in some interesting waters…..

Yasmeen Smalley

Hi Metz,

First of all, I love this idea!! It’s great to give current college students inspiration from us graduates “in the real world.” I know I was freaking out my senior year!

I actually graduated this past December after spending my last semester as an undergraduate studying abroad in the Turks and Caicos Islands. The program was for marine science and conservation, and the whole program was a great experience! I was in the water constantly, whether snorkeling, scuba diving or doing some underwater photography. I think that every student should try studying abroad.

Cool camera!

Cool camera!

So now that I’m “in the real world” I’ve relocated to the greater Boston area, where I’m currently interning at the New England Aquarium in the Conservation department. As with most aquarium internships, it is unpaid, so I’m working part-time as a barista to pay for the commute into Beantown. Life as a college grad can be rough financially, especially in the artistic or nonprofit fields, but in a way it makes it even more rewarding.

On a personal note, I just got engaged to another one of your students, Mike Norman! I’m sure he’ll be emailing you with his own adventures 🙂

Metzler as match-maker?  Hmmmm....

Metzler as match-maker? Hmmmm….


One thing that I’ve done and that I do constantly is always try to educate myself and gain experience. This is crucial for the field that I’ve chosen (underwater photography) as it is so competitive. I’ve done this by interning at both the Georgia Aquarium and now the New England Aquarium, by volunteering for local marine nonprofits, and by networking and staying connected to contacts in the industry. You can’t take a break from this either;  it has to be a constant process of learning and improving your skills.

However, there’s always time to relax and take a break.  Some things I enjoy doing to keep myself sane include cooking/baking for fun, hot yoga and embracing my nerdy side by playing videogames.

I would advise undergraduates not only to take advantage of every resource available on campus, but also to learn as much as possible, even if you don’t think you will need the knowledge. As a graduate I wish I had taken more science courses, even as a photography student.

Hey fishes, I can see your house from here!

Hey fishes, I can see your house from here!

Another thing I would advise is to believe in yourself, have confidence in your skills and brace yourself for rejection, especially in a creative field. Since graduating I’ve learned that rejection is not something you face only once or twice- at times it can feel constant. But by believing in yourself and your abilities (much harder said than done!) you can persevere and find success.

Addendum to Last Friday’s Former Student Feature with Dan Crawley

If you read the feature on Dan, you see he’s a talented artist.  He was my student during my early years of teaching, and he was in my very first classroom.  The room had no windows and its cinder block walls were covered in egg-shell paint.  It was one big ol’ box o’ boring!

So, I asked Dan to paint three large ‘frames’ on the wall, and I enlisted him and two other student artists to fill the frames with artwork inspired by a quote of their choosing from a long list of quotations I provided.

My pics of the project are buried in a box, but Dan’s dad was able to dig this out and scan it for us.  I recall that Dan was tinkering around with an airbrush at the time, which he’d never used before, and that he’d never done a mural before.  As he ventured into my room each day after school, I was most impressed with his perseverance, patience and care.  And it was a blast for me to watch a young artist and his work take shape.  The kid had talent!

And it's not everyday you get your Dag Hammarskjold fix!

And it’s not everyday you get your Dag Hammarskjold fix!

(And, lest you’re concerned, the other two works were not as ‘grim’….)


Look! I Can See Your Breadth!

An excerpt from Carpe College!

“Passions are the gales of life.”

– Alexander Pope


What do you want to be when you grow up?

Talk about pressure!  You young people have been harangued and harassed without end about solidifying your future, locking something in, having a plan.  Yet, ironically, you have grown up in a time when options are more vast and unpredictable than ever before, and you are (arguably) less prepared to make such choices than ever before.

The Terrain.  Think on this….   When you were born, just under two decades ago, there was no Facebook or Google or YouTube or Twitter or iPhone or drone aircraft or flat TVs or hybrid cars.  There were CDs, but how quickly they came and went!  That’s the point – quickly.  With technological advances, particularly in the way information is shared and the pace at which it is shared, new ideas and developments are emerging exponentially.  And, on the heels of that, new career paths follow.  You’ve been told that your generation will probably switch jobs (and careers) far more frequently than previous generations, and your choices are more varied than ever.  On the other hand, you’ve had cursory career exploration assessments (of the standard, #2 pencil variety) since middle school, and you’ve had helicopter parents as recently as… well…maybe this morning. (Or my new favorite, “Curling Parents,” who go on ahead of the child and sweep away any of the bad stuff to allow for a smooth ride.)  Most of your ‘exploration’ has consisted of organized, orchestrated, and adult-officiated activities, leaving scant opportunity for you to truly explore whether you like the science lab more than the music studio or the soccer field.

Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

Photo: Robert F. Bukaty/AP

So, this is the zeitgeist (look it up).  This is the landscape.  Parents (and others) telling you to make up your mind, buckle down, and lock into a major that will garner you the most practical path to a career, but not enough experience to make a truly informed choice.  You’re not alone.  Previous generations had similar decisions at your age.  However, they’ve never had the variety of choices to complicate those decisions.  Moreover, most honest educators will share our dirty little secret:  We have very little idea about what careers will look like in the next couple of decades.  Sure, we’ll need doctors.  Sure, computers will be involved.   Sure, we’ll always need accountants.  (Prostitution?  Sadly, there’s one that seems to have some staying power.)  But with the likes of Facebook and YouTube listed above, we’ve seen a landscape that can be altered significantly in a very short period.  Consider how quickly ‘mobile apps’ emerged and how young people are building entire professional lives creating and marketing them.  Consider the push for sustainability and LEED certification of new buildings and the career paths that has spawned.  On the other hand, when was the last time you met a tobacco farmer or a travel agent or newspaper person or music label who hasn’t had the rug pulled out from under them because… well…times change?

Stealing a Strategy from Scouting.  This ‘rug pulling’ will probably continue at a quicker and more expanded clip in generations to come simply because changing technologies change what we need our humans to do and how they do it.  Just think about what wonderful opportunities emerged from the invention of the printing press.  How about the automobile?  So, now we have the Internet.  And, in your lifetime, we’ll probably have something akin to vacations in space.  Talk about cracking open the opportunities!

So, what does that mean for a young person embarking on a college career and a professional life?  It means it’s time to steal from the Boy Scouts again:  Be Prepared!images

I encourage students to take a look at a landscape where change – often, rapid change – can upend careers, and to follow this advice:  Take a deep ‘BREADTH’.  Yes, it’s a clever play on words to suggest that the more curiosity, interest and ability you have spread across differing domains, the better able you will be to land upright if you get bounced around.  The more breadth of interest and experience you have, the less bouncy a career adjustment will feel.  If you’ve prepared for a career, but technological advances make that career irrelevant, you will need to be able to find something new.  So, be prepared by keeping all your passions and hobbies bubbling forth.  That is, even though you may have chosen environmental engineering as your career path, it’s okay and wise to stay involved with your theater group.  Even though you want to be a math teacher, it’s okay and wise to keep writing songs and playing guitar.  Even though you want to be a financial analyst, it’s okay and wise to keep making short films on the weekends.  Don’t get so locked into your major that you leave behind other aspects of your life.

You just never know when a rug might get pulled or a path might get altered and, five or ten or twenty years down the road, those passions might meld into your next career.  Maybe you’ll leave engineering to write plays about the environment.  Maybe you’ll be a great math teacher singing engaging songs you wrote to teach your students math.  Maybe you’ll make financial advice videos, get discovered, and become the next big online expert.  Maybe you’ll be like Steve Jobs, who took an entirely impractical calligraphy course in college only to have it pay off immensely ten years later as he developed the first Macintosh computer.

Harvard’s guru on happiness, Daniel Gilbert, suggests that we humans have a terrible track record for predicting what might make us happy.   Much of finding our bliss will be done through trial and error.  That means we need to keep trying lots of different stuff:  majors, and careers, and hobbies and interests.  Since no one knows what the future holds, doesn’t it make sense, now more than ever, to have many irons in the fire, many lines in the water, many passions bubbling forth?

Better safe than sorry.  Plan ahead.  Be prepared.


NOTE:  This would also be the best place to advise against following the political pendulum swings or pressures to chase money by choosing a ‘practical’ major over the liberal arts.  The pressures to go to college to ‘be employable’ are greater now than ever before.  However, the reasoning behind this tactic is quite murky, and I encourage you to research the wonderful online discussions and debates that are emerging on this topic (and the long-term value of a liberal arts degree).  You might also be interested in checking out what the Fortune 500 CEOs think about what matters for their incoming employees.  Or, you might want to check out what majors those highly successful CEOs chose.  Then talk to your folks and discuss amongst yourselves.  I have a personal bias towards the liberal arts for fostering critical thought, reasoned arguments, cogent communications (especially writing), and the ability to synthesize myriad perspectives into a broader, more connected whole.  So, why not go for that liberal arts major, and minor in something ‘practical’.  Or, do a double major, for goodness sake!  Carpe College!


EXTRA EXERCISE:  Why not check in on some adults close to you?  Pick any 10 adult family members or acquaintances, ask them these questions, and prepare to be enlightened.

1). What was your college major?

2). Why did you choose it?

3). Do you use it in your current profession, and to what extent?

4). What do you think would be a great double-major? Why?

5). If you could do college all over again, what if anything would you do differently?

6). Are you happy with your college experience and professional life overall?

Friday Feature: Former Student Dan Crawley

Welcome to the first in a series of weekly blog posts featuring my former students and where their lives have taken them so far.  My hope is that each individual feature, and the collection as a whole, will interest and inspire young people, giving them a sense of the unique experiences and the wide array of possibilities that await them in the world.  Lots of paths for lots of journeys, in other words.

This first post may seem a bit obtuse for a couple of reasons.  First, because it didn’t get posted on Friday the way I’d planned.  Second, because our featured student chose not to attend college, which might be a little peculiar coming from a blog that’s a companion to a book about seizing one’s entire college experience.

One of the most important lessons of the book, however, is to be open-minded to all the wonderful experiences the world might throw at you and to follow our mantra:  Know Thyself, Have a Plan, and Assume No One Else Cares.

When you meet Dan in what follows, you’ll see that he’s surely done that.

(NOTE:  Pictures of some of Dan’s work will be peppered throughout; however, most of what he creates is owned by the movie studios, so visit IMDB to get a sense of the breadth of his work HERE.

Dan Crawley

I’m not really sure how to write advice for young people who are on the cusp of entering or are already in college.  I’m actually not really sure how to write in general.  I was a good student through all of my school years, but those years ended with graduating high school.  My story actually diverges from the norm before I received my diploma which came by way of mail, and not via walking down the aisle in cap and gown.

I have a tendency to get long winded, so I’ll try to hit the play by play and get to the point.  I don’t believe my years in middle school and high school were too terribly different than most youngsters and I’m sure I faced many of the same adversities and challenges that anyone faces.  I wasn’t popular and I wouldn’t even say I was generally very well liked.  I was a kid from a small, lower middle class town that attended a school comprised predominantly of kids of wealthy and conservative families.  My reaction was obviously to draw attention to myself via imagery and appearance contrary to that world.  This made high school an experience I wanted to end sooner rather than later and so with all my credits completed by the middle of my senior year, I graduated early at barely 17 years old.

This is not Dan.  This is Mega Man.

This is not Dan. This is Mega Man.

Art had always been a focus for me since a very young age, and I was drawing pretty much non-stop since as early as 5 years old.  It was something that I had a natural ability at and that I was happy to practice to sharpen those skills further.  Somewhere around the age of 9 or 10 I saw a behind the scenes special involving special make-up effects used for movies.  I was fascinated by the imagery I think more than the actual process since I hadn’t been exposed to a lot of the types of movies that are heavy in that realm.  Animatronics in particular grabbed my attention since my interest in all things mechanical or electronic was second only to my insatiable need to produce art.

By the time that early graduation from high school came along, I had convinced my parents to let me attend a specialty trade school for special effects make-up and animatronics in Orlando.  This was a long way from where I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, I was only 17, and my parents were pretty adamant that I go to college first.  They argued that I should get a college education first, and then I could attend the trade school if I still wanted to.  They thought it would be important to have something ‘to fall back on’.  I even humored them by visiting a school in Pittsburgh that had what they called an Industrial Design Technology program, which was a fancy way of conveying that they taught a watered down version of special effects.  It was a 2 year program, and the trade school was only just over 4 months.  I knew what I wanted to do and thought that the quicker I could get into the business and just start working, the better.

I won the battle and moved to Orlando at 17 years old and attended that trade school.  I was all alone, and my parents actually had to lie on the application for me to have an apartment and say that my older brother was living with me because they wouldn’t allow a minor to live there alone.  I was already a few weeks into school when the rest of my high school class walked the aisle.  My diploma was mailed to my parent’s house.

I finished the program and moved back home by the fall to save money and decide on my next move.  My parents took on a great financial burden to send me to that trade school both in tuition and in housing me while I was there.   I held odd jobs at nights and weekends while I was there to pay for what I could, but I actually owed money to the bank by the time I left Florida.  This intensified my desire for success with the obligation to fulfill their investment.  I knew that all of the work was in Los Angeles, so that was where I needed to go.  I had a friend whose mom lived out there and he was also eager to move to Los Angeles, so we decided after the first of the year we would move out there together.  Two weeks before our intended move, however, my friend bailed on me, and with that went any kind of connection or housing in a city an entire country away.

Dan doing his thing.

Dan doing his thing.

This was another time I made a decision to take an unorthodox approach.  I moved to Los Angeles anyway, without my friends or family, barely 18 years old, and only about $2000 to my name that I had saved from working since returning from Orlando.  I drove across country without the internet, a cell phone, or a place to live.  I can honestly say that it didn’t seem as crazy as it sounds now, and I’ve never been so excited in my life.  I was incredibly fortunate to have parents that supported me even if they didn’t understand me.  I was naïve enough to think that there was no other option but to be successful.

The first 6 months were very hard, but I did it on my own and never had to borrow any money.  I worked a grocery store nights and weekends to support myself very modestly.  During the day I worked at a special effects shop for free doing all of the odd jobs nobody wanted to do, but I watched and listened and learned.  I put in as many hours as I could and jumped at any opportunity I got to learn or be involved.  I quickly realized that my trade school education was outdated and nearly worthless.  It was actually a scarlet letter to the people in the business, and so it became my secret pretty quickly.  After about 8 months I was finally being paid and was able the leave the grocery store and make make-up and special effects my only job.  It was a very proud moment, but I still had a long way to go.

This is not Dan.  This is Dan's work.

This is also not Dan. This is Dan’s work.

I started bouncing around to different effects houses in the area, building upon my skills and luckily my wages too.  By a year and a half in, I got a job at the top special effects house in the entire business.  It was owned by the man who was the subject of that behind the scenes special that had ignited my passion all those years ago as a child.  It was a place where the top artists in the field worked on the highest profile movies and projects in the business.  I was only 19 years old when I got the job, and although I was at the very bottom, I was still in.  It seemed as though all of my hard work, sacrifice, and probably a little luck had all converged to give me what I had dreamed of.

It was short lived.

A series of concussive blows to my newfound success came within less than a month.  My roommate told me he was moving, which left me with no place to live.  My car broke down and I didn’t have enough money to fix it or get a new one.  I was able to borrow a bicycle from a friend and ride it 7 miles each way to work at my dream job, but was hit by a car on two separate occasions in one week.  Then I got laid off from that dream job since the movie we were working on came to an end and I was the low man on the totem pole.  Finally, September 11 happened and pulled the rug out from an entertainment industry already debilitated by a writer’s strike from the previous summer.  By the end of November I was out of money, there were no prospects for work, and I had to move out of my apartment.  After nearly two years in the industry that I fought desperately to be a part of, I put what little I owned in storage and headed back to my parents’ house in Illinois literally penniless.

Not Dan returning home.

Not Dan returning home.

Discouraged but not defeated, I took the month of December to spend time with my family and devise a path back to Los Angeles.  Here came some hard choices and my naively ambitious answers again.  By mid-January I was on a plane back to California where I would live out of a single duffle bag on my friend’s couch.  I found a few days’ work where I could and rode that borrowed bicycle in the bitter cold early morning hours to get there on time.  By the end of February I had found a room to rent, and by mid-April I was able to buy a car.  In less than a year I went from the height of my career, to a worse situation that when I began it, and finally back to enough of a baseline to survive and look for further opportunity.

The story wraps up pretty quickly from that point.  Within less than a year from moving back I had worked my way to supervising small crews and working most of the months of the year.  I think it was somewhere in my fourth year that my parents finally decided that what I was doing was an actual career.  From about that point on I’ve worked steady ever since and had some amazing opportunities and experiences along the way.  14 years later I still love what I do, and that’s not to say it can’t get monotonous and boring, but I’m truly lucky to earn a living at something I’d be doing anyway.

The eyes have it.

The eyes have it.

I think that almost all of my successes came from a combination of saying yes to every opportunity and then working hard to make those opportunities a success.  There were many times when I was asked if I knew how to do something and the answer was always ‘yes’ whether I knew how or not.  I have truly lived a trial by fire.  I’ve always believed that by throwing myself into an unfamiliar or challenging situation I will rise to it and thus become stronger for it.  This can be a dangerous game to play, but it is one that I believe plays a large part in my education via experience.

Most of the skills I use on a daily basis can’t be taught in a school.  I would say the number one most important tool to success in my field is problem solving ability.  Everything we do is custom and never has been done before, so while your experiences from previous projects can be applied, every job presents a new set of unique challenges.  I don’t know if you can effectively teach instinct in a classroom.  My kind of problem solving is a step by step way of thinking that requires a cool head and a logical approach, but also a little luck and magic.

I don’t think I could ever really say if I’m left or right brained since everything I create and every choice I make are the result of perhaps just being advantageously scatter brained.  I also don’t know that I’m qualified to give advice as to what path young people today should take since the world has changed so much since I was that age.  But passion and perseverance seem to be an integral part of it.  All I can do is share with you what got me to where I am today in my career and say that it won’t be the same for anyone else.  Every journey can take many different paths to arrive at the same destination.  Are any of them the right one if they all lead to the same place?  Some are certainly easier or more direct, but perhaps won’t build the character necessary to be the most successful or effective once you arrive.

Thank you.






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