“And how much are you making a year?”

I recently posted a ringing endorsement of my alma mater, Full Sail University, in the comments section of a YouTube video featuring the school’s President, Garry Jones.

While I’ve been candid for years about the realities of attending any film or television program at any college or university, I often recommend Full Sail to students that I think would be well matched to it, discouraging others for whom the school of hard knocks or a different or less expensive program might be a better fit. I also like to think that the picture I paint of the struggles of would-be media professionals in this day and age is pretty accurate.

So tonight I get a little email alert that someone replied to the YouTube comment, demanding to know (in what I took as a mildly combative tone):

1) How much I make in a year.
2) What my “success” story is.
3) How much I still owe in student loans.
4) What successful projects I’ve worked on and how much money they have made me.


Now, those of you who read this blog know that I am all about helping people out. I offer advice here. I have a book on Reality TV coming out in 2011 that was pretty much born out of my respect for the genre and for media students and mid-career writers interested in building a career in it.

At any rate, three of the four questions I was challenged with by the poster asked me to prove my success with cold figures that are, frankly, no one’s business but mine, my agent’s, and my employer’s. And as for my “success,” I’ve always felt that my decent mitt full of recognizable credits doesn’t make me any more or less successful than someone who’s working on smaller or more obscure shows. I’ll bet there are positions that pay the same on AMERICAN IDOL as they do on BRIDEZILLAS.

My point, aside from the fact that it’s pretty brassy to ask anyone what they make as a measure of their credibility, is that fame and fortune are crappy yardsticks to hold up to people. Did I feel like a failure when I was making $450 a week ten years ago, driving an old Buick Century Custom back and forth from Los Feliz to downtown LA every morning? No. Do the Rolls-Royce Phantoms and Bentley Continentals that pass me on the road in the luxury sedan I drive now make me feel like a “less than” because more financially successful people than me exist in my industry? No. And if I was concerned about fame as a measure of success, I certainly wouldn’t be pursuing a career as a writer/producer. After all, every high school kid on earth probably knows who Kristen Stewart or Robert Pattinson are, but bring up the brilliant Dan O’Shannon or Lee Arohnson and you’ll probably get some knotted eyebrows… despite the fact that they’re enormously “successful” by the aforementioned “money” side of the crappy yardstick.

I was thrilled to be working in television at $450 a week, and I’m excited to put my pants on every day and go to work earning what I do now.

Don’t do it to yourself. Don’t cultivate resentment of people with more wiggle room in their checkbooks than you. It doesn’t stop. The guy who makes $450 a week envies the guy who makes $3500. The guy who makes $3500 a week envies the guy who makes $30,000. The guy who makes $30,000 envies the guy who’s worked thirty years to become a billionaire… even if that guy started at $450 a week.

Don’t get distracted by the fact that you aren’t working in your field yet. Or, if you’ve made it that far, don’t sweat it if you aren’t at the level you’d like to be operating on. Whoopi Goldberg was putting makeup on cadavers when she got her break. Donald Trump has been deeper in debt than any of us will likely ever be and climbed out of it.

If you want to make it, stop worrying about the measures of success and worry about putting forth effort instead of attacking the people who are only a little bit ahead of you in line.

And for crying out loud, don’t ask people to defend their happiness or personal success. Go get some of your own, because you can.


5 thoughts on ““And how much are you making a year?”

Add yours

  1. Besides money does not and never will buy happiness. Being in debt for my education has only stirred me briefly until my mother told me something that I will never forget “Worrying about it will not change it, just keep doing what you do and life will work out for you”. She’s right and so are you, we are all capable of making our own happiness. As for the people who say things on Youtube, it’s just a site. There are more people who go to Youtube searching for something that they are only going to criticize on.

  2. Right on, Howard. Your mother is a wise woman (as is mine).

    Enrolling in any college or university is a major investment that should be thought through in terms of real world financial commitment. I wish more folks did their research before signing on for tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to study a subject in which few people become major successes and in which the roads to those successes usually take many years. Big news: You’re gonna struggle on the way up. I did. Making ends meet from 1996-2000 after Full Sail while saving up for the LA move was a real bear!

    I’m not bashing the poster from YouTube, I just have an issue with being called out to discuss my finances or validate myself in order to satisfy someone else’s grouchy curiosity. If you spend your money on a 60-inch plasma television and miss your car payment as a result, you can’t blame Best Buy. Same deal with a pricey education.

  3. You pretty much summed up exactly how I feel. I’ve only been in LA for 9 months, and I couldn’t be happier making the $500 a week. I’m living in LA, doing what I love to do, and I have big goals that I know I can achieve. The education I got at Full Sail was worth every single penny, because I wouldn’t be here today without it. Yes, I’m learning to deal with the debt, but there’s no reason to be worried about it. Even it if takes me until the day I die to pay it off, it will have been worth it.
    Thanks for putting this out there, because sometimes people need a reminder.

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