This month is one of personal milestones. Three years ago in February 2014, Editing Luke transitioned from being a glorified side gig to my full-time business and media production company. In that seemingly brief time my reach has increased by actual millions, the scale of my projects has grown, and I've been humbled to receive a bit of recognition along the way. Perhaps most meaningful however, is the realization that twenty years ago in February 1997, at the age of 12, I bought a used video camera with what little money I was able to accumulate and decided then and there that I was going to make "movies" for a living.
I couldn't have known then what the next two decades of my life were going to look like, but through teenage ambitions, a film school education, and the growth of Editing Luke, it's fascinating to look back on the thread of this dream that has linked so many formative moments. While I could rehash many of these chapters in detail, I thought it might be more valuable to share a bit of advice that I've come to embody in this pursuit. These are a few things that I found crucial in turning my dream at 12 years old into a reality at 32.
1. Hold yourself accountable to what you really want to accomplish.
I realized early on that the main thing that separates success and failure is a willingness to accept challenges. It's easy to quit. It's easy to not follow through. It's even easy to start, but then give up when the rewards aren't immediate. If you really want something, and have a desire to succeed, you have to put in the work knowing that achieving a dream is just that - work. Tell yourself otherwise and your efforts will always be half-assed.
As a student I understood that starting this website was an easy way to share a few of my goals. In the beginning my audience was really just friends and family, but by putting my ambitions in writing I felt like I'd made a promise that I wanted to hold myself to. Even to this day, especially with a much larger audience, I now feel more dedicated than ever when it comes to what I share and create. It can be a lot of self-imposed pressure at times, but there's no doubt that holding myself accountable has kept me improving and building on past accomplishments.
2. Fail forward.
Failure is to be expected along the way, but it's also guaranteed if you never take action at all. Some of the greatest lessons come from not quite succeeding, striving for something you weren't quite ready for, or stepping outside of your comfort zone. These kinds of failures are actually badges of honor that will make you reconsider your mistakes moving forward. Embrace them. You won't learn anything if your fear of failure keeps you from trying.
Some of my biggest failures, specifically during my film school years, became huge character building opportunities. When projects didn't go to plan, it was often the limitations that made moving forward easier. Limitless choices can be paralyzing, but when backed into a corner you realize how many solutions come from being forced to make a move - any move at all. It doesn't mean things always work out perfectly, but it does keep you from stagnating in a bad spot.
3. Find your niche.
It's only natural to take inspiration from others that you aspire to be like. In film school I spent a lot of time experimenting with different styles and approaches to media that I saw from a variety of directors, visual artists, etc. that I admired. When it came to shooting my own work it quickly became apparent that while I had a lot to learn, there wasn't much value in just being a cheap knock off of other filmmakers. Experimenting was an easy way to start developing a style that felt more personal. The more I recognized a gap in the types of content and styles that I wanted to see, the more my own work felt authentic.
This lesson became especially true as Editing Luke (as a production company) began expanding. I knew I didn't want to be a wedding photographer / videographer or be entirely focused on creating ads, so I made a concerted effort to take on (and promote myself as a creator of) more culturally / travel / narrative based projects that I felt would differentiate my business from what I saw others doing in my region. It was really difficult in the beginning to establish this where I was located, but even after just a few projects I could see how it set my business apart. Nowadays it's much easier to just browse a few of my project highlights and get a quick sense of what my niche is. Being different worked.
4. Work harder.
This is an unpopular piece of advice, but it's the most obvious truth about how I've managed to become my own boss and build a company where I get to do what I love for a living. As much as I enjoy photography and video, the success of the business only came when I learned how to market myself, network, work with other teams, and push for bigger and better projects. In a nutshell, I had to work harder than those who wanted to do this casually just to prove that my business could even exist.
As a teenager I already knew that it was going to be difficult to make a career out of something that a lot of people considered a fun hobby. This only became emphasized as YouTube and social media exploded and anyone with access to a cheap camera became an instant filmmaker and photographer. On one hand it was great, because I wouldn't be where I am now had this not happened. However, it also reaffirmed that working harder was the only thing I could actually rely on to get further ahead. The energy I've put into the development of this website (which will turn 10 this year) is just one example of the effort I've made to grow.
5. Forge your own path.
The beauty in taking any advice is that there are numerous ways to make it suit your own ambitions. Your success is not determined by how well you follow instructions. Your success is determined by how well you can adapt, evolve, and roll with the punches.
The idea that I'd be back in Medicine Hat, Alberta running an independent production company, that I'd be travelling all over North America to create content, that my work would appear in international film festivals or reach millions online, etc. etc. was not a reality that anyone sold to me or instructed me on how to achieve. It's not even something that I knew I was specifically heading towards or looking for. Frankly, this could all change again in a year. And who knows what I'll be sharing in another two decades from now.
The point is that as unpredictable as the journey is, finding your own way is a million times more exciting than chasing a stereotype of what you thought your dream was supposed to look like. I struggled with this a lot after university, but continued to redefine what it was that I really wanted. You have more control than you think. Achieving your dream requires action, a bit of bravery, and persistence. Stop waiting for permission. Go and make it happen!