Curb Your Ambition?
/ Author: Andre van Heerden
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Curb Your Ambition?

We admire those driven to advance their careers and take on new challenges. But let’s not forget to praise those who are happy—and good at—what they do

By André van Heerden, Communications Director

I used to direct and produce movies, and with every new production, I oversaw a very large hiring process. All of those names that you see in the credits at the end of movies have to be hired to do a specific job.

And while there are a lot of them, it’s essential to hire the right people. This is especially important with low budget films where every penny and every working moment counts.

Over the years, and after some mistakes, I began to notice something about those who were performing the best.

Most people on film crews—just like in other jobs—are always looking to advance. I worked with one location manager who was fantastic. He went above and beyond to always make sure our locations were prepped and ready to go by the time cast and crew arrived on set—often in the middle of the night.

But he had longer term goals of becoming a line producer, and ultimately a producer. I knew he’d get there because he was diligent and organized and really delivered for us.

In the meantime, for our next production, I had no hesitation hiring him again. Unfortunately, this time his work wasn’t as good. His heart wasn’t in it like before. The joy and sense of pride had gone.

It reminded me of a line from Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew: “No profit grows where is no pleasure taken.

After my experience with him, I began to notice that those happiest with their particular role on the set generally delivered the best results. The best boom operator that I ever worked with wasn’t looking to advance to become a sound recorder. He relished the challenges of his tiring, exacting job, and his goal was just to do better, not to move to another position.

Similarly, the best assistant directors that I’ve worked with weren’t looking to advance to become directors. They were happy with their specific role and owning and perfecting it.

In today’s world, it seems we honour and admire those who are constantly advancing and pushing for more. This is great for those who are on a path to do what they’re good at and love. But I wonder if many are missing their true calling by maybe moving past what they do best—just because it’s expected of them.

To quote Shakespeare again, this time from Julius Caesar, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

I think we’d do well as a society to not only praise people for being promoted, but to praise those who are happy with what they do, are good at it, and strive to be even better. Striving to move to the next level, just because people expect it, is not always the best career choice, and can be a recipe for unhappiness and poor work.

Maybe we'd do better to remember one last quote from Shakespeare, this time from Hamlet: “This above all: to thine own self be true.”

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