The 180-degree turn: Ditching a finance career for animation

Posted in Careers, Mentor Minute

The 180-degree turn: Ditching a finance career for animation

The Globe and Mail, Sep. 12 2012

When I was 28 I made what may be the worst decision in my life: Returning to school in a field unrelated to my previous degree and work history. When I first went to school I earned a BBA with an economics major. I then worked at a bank, but decided to return to school to study what I always wanted to: animation. I graduated, at 31, with honours, but now I don’t know how to position myself in the marketplace. Animation jobs are hard to land and I would need more upgrading in my skills. I don’t dare go back to school and my BBA seems all but worthless in the field I want to enter. How do I combine my new career choice with my more practical degree and practical work history?


Your struggle and doubt scream through loud and clear. But first of all, I challenge you when you said you made the worst decision of your life when you went back to school to pursue your passions. I think it’s the people who don’t pursue their passions, but instead stay stuck in work that drains their very souls that are making the worse mistake of their lives.

So I’ll let my bias be known right out of the gates: I went into advertising out of business school and lasted 11 years, even though at the end of about three months in the job – three months! – I knew it was not for me. But it took me until my mid-thirties to be brave enough to step away and try something new. And although it was not easy, it was the best decision of my working life.

Change your perspective

So, let’s start with the perspective you are holding. Stop thinking about it as a mistake. Start thinking that you made a daring and exciting decision, one that will likely lead you to a better place even if things seem tough at the moment. Do not underestimate holding the right perspective as a starting point. It is not easy making a transition. But the key is, if you are moving into something you are passionate about, ultimately it will work out for the better.

What do you really want to do?

Ask yourself where you saw yourself using your animation skills when you graduated. What did you see yourself doing in terms of work? What are the options? In film or television production? For a computer games maker? In the corporate world? There are many paths you can take. Get clear on what kind of job in animation you ideally want.

Not knowing much about the field of animation, I did a quick Internet search, and one website I went to, Indeed Canada, had more than 600postings for animation jobs in Canada. Wowjobs.ca  turned up a bunch more.

You may also want to consider what other careers require the new learning you have? In animation school, you would have developed three key skills: artistic ability, storytelling ability and technical skills/software knowledge. There are many careers that are craving these skills, such as the fields of advertising, marketing, graphic design, website design, computer software firms, and so on. Perhaps you need to broaden your job search to include related industries.

Nothing you did in the past is worthless

Every stitch of work experience and schooling that we have accumulates to our benefit. Nothing is worthless. It may not yet appear obvious, but everything relates somehow. For example, because of your economics degree and previous banking experience, you will have an easier time interviewing for and winning a corporate animation job than others will.

Be prepared to go where the jobs are

Some industries have jobs everywhere – teaching, construction, law, medicine, banking – while other industries have a higher concentration of jobs in certain cities. Again, my brief Internet search showed most animation jobs in four key centres: Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Edmonton. I’m sure there are jobs elsewhere, but you will likely have more success pursuing a career in animation if you are prepared to go where the jobs are.

Accept continuing education as a given

Every career path requires that you regularly update your skills, attend courses and conferences to stay current, read books, network, and continue to educate yourself or upgrade your skills. And, with a career in animation being based on technology, this is particularly so. While you are waiting to land that coveted job, what can you learn online or what self-taught programs can you study to keep current?

You have made a brave and bold decision to pursue something you have always wanted to do. Be proud of the experience and education you bring to the table. And finally, the best quote I read recently was from an actress who said: “Go into every audition as though you already have the job.”

Katie Bennett is a coach and speaker and is head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.