From former newspaper reporters to ex-Lehman Brothers VP’s, people are watching their former careers evaporate.

What do we do now?

We know what to do.  We’ve been here before.  We had to break into our former career, the one we just lost.  How did we do that?  

I left my newspaper career in 1981 for film and television graduate school.  When I completed the first of what was supposed to be a two-year masters program, I was selected for a summer internship at a documentary production company in Los Angeles.

Halfway through the internship, I sensed an opportunity to break into the film industry and asked for a job as an assistant film editor.  Three weeks later, I called my graduate program and told them I wasn’t coming back.  It was on.  

Nine months after that, the documentary company laid me off. I was looking for work in an industry in which I knew very few people.

In the ensuing years, I learned:

Your former career can be an unexpected asset.  My stint as a newspaper reporter impressed my graduate program’s admissions committee and the person who selected me for my summer internship.  My former career opened the first two doors to my new one. 

To cultivate allies.  I met, and worked hard for, an editor at the documentary company.  She took me under her wing and we stayed in touch after my layoff.  One day, the phone rang.  “I have a job for you,” she said.

The most unlikely job can lead to a new career. And what a job it was.

I became the assistant film AND assistant sound editor on a low budget comedy (?) about a nerdy guy who travels from Mississippi to LA in search of his father only to discover dad has undergone sex change surgery and become a nun. 

The editor and I were set up in the basement of the north San Fernando Valley house he shared with his wife, three children and one three-legged Australian shepherd. It was a fun gig.  I knew our workday had ended when the editor came down the stairs holding two glasses of scotch. 

The film, such as it was, ran as a midnight movie in Vancouver and New Zealand. I learned the ropes of assistant film and sound editing for feature films, skills that led to my credits on “JFK,” “Heat,” “Courage Under Fire” and “The Patriot.”

Ignore the word, “No.” One of my grad school professors gave me the name of an LA film editor.  We met for lunch. “People are going to tell you ‘no,’” he told me.  “No, you can’t get into the union.  No, you can’t work on big films.  Don’t listen to them.”  I took his advice.  A couple of years later, I got into the editors guild and started working on big studio films.

A 30-second conversation can change your life.  I joined the Independent Feature Project West to attend their events and network.  Somehow, I ended up talking to a guy at one of their parties.  I don’t remember his name, or even his face.  I recall he was wearing a black sport coat and jeans.  In LA, they blend together after a while.

He told me a guy at a sound editing company was looking for people.  I called the guy, met him at his office and dropped off a resume.  A few months later, I made a follow-up phone call and was put on hold for five minutes.  He came back on.  “Can you come in today?”  I worked from 11 am to 4 am the next day.  

I must have made an impression.  He called me a few months later and offered me the assistant sound editor’s job on the first season of “MacGyver.”  I worked on 17 episodes and got into the editors guild.  That meant high wages, overtime pay, the best health insurance ever and access to big studio jobs. 

It all started with a short conversation at a party.  Thanks dude, wherever you are, in this world or the next.

To expect a baptism of fire, and embrace it.  “MacGyver” was an action adventure series that changed location every week, so we had to start from scratch on every episode.  We had seven days to edit and mix the dialogue and sound effects on each one. 

There was a lot I didn’t know about getting a show like that to the mixing stage and I had to learn, fast.  I came up with a standard order of organizational battle for each episode.  From Winston Churchill: “Play for more than you can afford to lose, and you will learn the game.”

It’s all unknown.  You send out resumes, attend job fairs, make connections, meet your employed friends for coffee, work the room at what you hope is the right party.  Beyond all of your efforts, it’s all unknown.  I never expected any of my career breaks.  I put my bait out there, and one day the phone rang with a call from the next phase of my life.