Lesson Learned: You Get What You Give (Back!)
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to write music for games, as well as contribute and learn about the games industry. Notice how I said both in the same sentence -- they go hand in hand! The culture, especially for game audio is a tight-knit group, and people ALWAYS remember a helpful face. I had no idea where to start however, but wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself and my insular career to be.
I decided to apply for the Conference Associate program at the Game Developer's Conference (GDC). A massive volunteer program of 400+ participants run by tireless and fearless leader Ian MacKenzie, I figured this was the perfect way to get the full-immersion experience I was looking for. Little did I know what lay in store...
The program itself was a week-long affair, volunteering 20-25 hours in exchange for an All-Access pass, free lunches, and regular interactions with some of the most incredibly helpful, genuine people I have ever had the pleasure to meet. Most of these people are in the games industry, and some were even speaking at the event, but were so taken by the program that they volunteered anyway!
As I sat there the first day, wondering how so many of these volunteers, who were way ahead in their careers than me, got to where they are now. Here I was, a first year game composer in way over my head, and every moment seemed to come with an incredible learning curve. So I observed.
I found that people who were volunteering would start off conversations with the mentality, "How can I help?" Those four words can go a long way, and I watched as my fellow cohorts would offer assistance not just to the other attendees, but each other. Whether it be to find the right job, check over a resume, career advice, as well as navigating the conference. And it was those same people who were so quick to help others that were the ones who I would see year after year, advancing in their careers and most importantly, having a blast doing it!
Since that first day, I have been lucky enough to volunteer in several GDC's as well as other conferences -- and I saw that same thread of helpfulness running through them all. The people who I saw rise in the ranks of their respective fields over the years, did it with a solid foundation of giving back FIRST, and ALLOWING opportunities to come to them. This was completely counterintuitive to all I had seen in other aspects of work life, that climbing the ladder of success has to be an arduous, lonely and insurmountable task. I'm here to tell you IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE.
Giving back first (or as a composer friend I know says, "preciprocate") and allow the good things to happen in life. A concept that has defined, and helped my career.
My simple and seemingly innocuous act of wanting to help out in some small way ended up providing me with friends for life, a sense of purpose within the industry I have grown to love so much, mutual respect from people I look up to, and of course, the gigs! Gigs from fellow volunteers and game developers, gigs from devs who I interacted with on the floor of the conference, and gigs from people I would have never had the guts to talk if not through being able to help them in crisis situations.
I had always heard the phrase, "give back," but it's only through jumping in with both feet and no agenda, that the magic happens.