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March 25, 2019

Keep It At Home: Balancing Professionalism and Pain

by Chris

I started this site to share the experiences I’ve had throughout my life and how they’ve applied to my animation career. The past 15 years or so since I decided to pursue this art form have been eventful, to say the least. Many experiences have been good, and some bad. They have all have added up to the person I am today, so I truly wouldn’t change a thing. I’m a firm believer that if you live honestly and do your best, then the best possible long-term outcome will occur. You could obviously point out examples to the contrary, but as a general life rule I think it holds up.

It’s been a while since my last post, and that’s because I’ve been dealing with a brand new life experience, and one that I never saw coming. My marriage ended.

This is not a comfortable thing to reveal publicly, and to anyone who knows me that is hearing this for the first time, I apologize.  The past few months have been incredibly hard, and honestly I don’t want to repeat it any more than I have to. My family has been unbelievably supportive, and I decided to keep it between us until I was on the other side of it. Thankfully, I’ve been able to keep my spirits high and remain physically and mentally healthy. Not everyone who goes through this is as fortunate, so all things considered, I’m doing alright.

One of the main themes on this site is that everyone, no matter how successful, is human. Some students might look at me and only see the high points. Sure, I spent some time at Pixar, did a lot of cool stuff at Telltale, and am blessed with the best job I could ask for at Blizzard. But I also come home to an empty house. My closest friend for the past 13 years decided to leave, and now it’s just me. I still love every day when I’m active and working, but the silence is waiting for me when I walk in my front door. I don’t get to avoid that just because it says “Animator” on my business card. We all suffer from time to time, and you should never think that you’re alone in that.

With that out of the way, I want to explore how to handle personal turmoil while remaining a functioning professional. This really is an exploration, because I don’t have all the answers. I feel like I’m past the worst of it, but it’s going to take time to heal and I’m sure I’ll still have bad days. Being realistic about that is important to avoid beating myself up over moments of weakness, and to not expect myself to bounce back without missing a beat. My guiding principle right now is to be kind to myself. Extra self-imposed pressure on remaining active on this website, doing personal work, or taking on new responsibilities was only going to make things harder, so I gave myself some slack. If you’re going through something difficult right now, that’s the best advice I can give. Be kind to yourself. It’s okay, and the people who care will understand.

I made a commitment early on to keep this out of the studio. No matter how I was feeling, I knew that my job was the one thing I could count on, and it had to be protected. I also teach a beginner animation class for my alma mater, and those students count on me to show up and deliver. Trust me, there were many days where it would have been easy to shirk my responsibilities and call in sick. Or I could go in anyway and bring all of my confusion and anger with me. What would that accomplish, other than to endanger my career and reputation?

Some days I have to stop before I walk in the door and remind myself to leave my problems outside. It’s not always easy to switch gears and play the part of productive team member when there’s a storm of emotions raging just under the surface. Luckily, those coworkers who I’ve told about all this had no idea that anything was wrong, and that was good to hear. For my personality, the last thing I wanted was sympathy or pity. I needed as much of my life as possible to be normal. Work was my sanctuary, and the one place I could go to feel like I was okay again. I understand that some people might not be able to handle it this way, and that’s fine. I can only speak to my experience and what’s helped me. If you have coworkers who you can talk to and need their support, then more power to you. If you need to talk to a psychologist, like I did a few times, please do. It’s not weakness to ask for help. It can get problematic, though, if it starts to interfere with your work and the work of those around you. At the risk of sounding callous, you still have to do your job. The same goes for your studies if you’re a student. Life may feel like it’s falling apart around you, but it will only be worse if you let the good things fall apart, too. I couldn’t control what was happening at home, but I seized tight to the things I could.

I’m extremely lucky to have the most understanding supervisors imaginable, and I felt comfortable confiding in them early on. I figured in case I failed to keep it under control, they should know why. Like I said, there was (and still is) always the possibility that I’ll have a bad day. Not every studio or job has such a supportive culture, but it’s been invaluable to me to have that comfort. I really can’t thank them enough.

Anyone reading this will no doubt have some kind of tragedy in their life. Nobody gets to avoid it, and that’s just the way it is. Loss, sickness, betrayal, and death are just some of the awful things that are part of being human. The thing that I have to keep reminding myself of, though, is that they are also great opportunities. They are opportunities to test how well we can overcome adversity and push ahead. For now I’m keeping myself busy and taking each day one at a time, and taking stock of all the positive things I still have to be thankful for.

It doesn’t exactly feel like a “Rocky” movie montage while you’re in the thick of it, but if you live with the right mindset, you’ll be able to cut together a pretty epic one in the end. The trick is, you have to decide what its message will be! Will it show the fall of your story’s hero, or their rise back to the top? Imagine today as a clip in that montage. Try to make it a positive one.

Take care of yourselves, and thanks for reading.

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