2 steps back, 1 step forward
by Jessica Cabot
My internal monologue is perhaps par for the course in this industry: “I’ve worked really hard to get where I am. I’ve been dreaming of being a TV writer since I was 13. I got good grades in high school just so I could go to a good college just so I could get good internships just so I’d be competitive to get my first job so that I could work my way up to writer’s assistant so I could prove myself in the room and get a shot at a script so then . . . maybe then I’d finally be happy and content.”
It’s not always about working hard though. Life doesn’t actually work the way I once thought it did. Nothing is guaranteed, a lot of it is just chance. I’ve been immensely fortunate in large part because of serendipity and the kindness of strangers. People who somehow believed in my potential and skyrocketed me to life goals that at the time I didn’t even realize were possible.
It was hard to believe that I went so quickly from being an NBC page doing a menial data entry job to having one of my dream jobs on one of my favorite shows. I got to be the writer’s assistant on Weeds in the writer’s room with people who made me laugh and who inspired me. The whole experience was amazing and surreal. I felt fortunate and grateful for every day.
When it ended I cried for three days, and I also locked myself up in my room and found solace in a TV show . . . Wilfred. I related too much to the main character, and it was totally my sense of humor. I kept thinking, “Since Weeds is gone . . . if only I could work on a show like that.”
I made several attempts. I reached out to my contacts, even my former 8th grade English teacher whose friend’s husband was the former writer’s assistant on Wilfred. I looked for other things, wandering somewhere and trying to move forward but having no idea where that was or what direction to take, just hoping that because good things had happened they would again.
As circumstances would have it, one of my old co-workers and friends is roommates with one of the writers on Wilfred. I just mentioned that I loved the show and he said, “Oh, yeah, I can probably get you a job on that.” And he basically did.
Once again, it has been surreal. I am very fortunate just to have gotten a foot in the door on my favorite show. I don’t let myself forget it, ever. Because as things go I have been asked by life to prove myself once again and pay some more dues. I’m an office PA . . . and when I meet people now they assume that I am just out of college and that this is my first job and that I have a long road ahead of me. They say, “Oh, it’s okay, one day you’ll get to where you want to go.”
But I already did get to where I want to go! I earned it! I’m just taking a step back, for now. My first few days I was completely obnoxious and worked with the fact that I was the writer’s assistant at Weeds with complete non sequiturs. I have since quelled that instinct to prove to people that “I matter, or at least used to!” If someone gets to know me well enough then the truth will come out anyway.
Otherwise I know they just expect me to do a good job at the job I was hired to do, and mostly they probably don’t give a shit because what I used to do at Weeds is not what I was hired to do now. It’s also not the position I accepted. I don’t know what it is about titles that can seem so important. In truth the job itself is totally fine and even enjoyable if I just let myself live in the gratitude of being in an office full of kind, inspiring, and hardworking people.
Sure, no one expects that I stayed up late at night when I was a thirteen year old girl dreaming of the day that I’d drive to five different stores looking for sparkler candles. It’s not about that though. I’m a part of a team again. Just as much as I loved doing research in my previous position, it now matters just as much that I go pick up lunch for everyone. People love lunch. Probably more than they love research.
If anything this has been a humbling experience, and I think one that I needed. There is a certain entitlement that comes with working your way up the ranks. You begin to expect things to always be a certain way for you, and more than that you begin to take things for granted. My grandparents still can’t believe that I get catered lunch every day, to which I usually say, “Well, I mean, yeah.”
It’s not great to take things for granted though, because then you miss the joy that’s always present if you look for it. I am working for my favorite freaking TV show, which is an insane opportunity that has been presented to me just to do a good job for a group of people I admire and respect.
I suspect those older than me figured this out awhile ago, but it has only recently dawned on me that a career (at least in this industry) is not a ladder you climb until you’re at the top and then everything is perfect. It is a journey, probably a mountain, but a very, tall, steep mountain that is treacherous but also magical. You make the climb with the help of some talent and hard work, but mostly through perseverance.
The friends you meet along the way are secretly the best part, but there are also cool victories . . . peaks at which you can pause and enjoy the view. Here and there you might lose traction and fall backwards, but who knows, maybe you missed something along the way the first time and the second time you see a secret pathway you missed, and maybe it leads you to a higher peak that you couldn’t have gotten to otherwise.
Perhaps greatest of all is that this job has taught me the invincible power of a good attitude and kindness. At first I mustered all my energy and put a fake smile on and tried my hardest to do a good job in spite of my ego that wanted to scream, “I’m meant for more than this!” And yet, weeks in, I’ve discovered that it almost hardly matters to me anymore what I am because I now know who I am . . . and that transcends job titles.
In faking it ‘til I made it, I did make it, because I discovered myself. I make as much of an effort to be an awesome PA now as I did to be an awesome writer’s assistant, because that’s what integrity is to me. It shows who you really are . . . and from what I can tell people seem to notice. Maybe I won’t be a PA much longer, maybe I will, but either way I am grateful for this experience and for my life and the simple joy that comes from helping others and meaning it sincerely.Tags: Hollywood, Inspiration, Jessica Cabot, Kindness of strangers, NBC Page, Television, Weeds, Wilfred, Writer's assistant