There are a lot of experiential entertainment professionals out there sharing great advice about the multiple aspects of landing a specific job in this industry. Theron Skees has a terrific video series. Joshua Liebman and Matt Heller at the Attraction Pros podcast talk to leaders from throughout the industry. TEA’s NexGen Initiative provides career assistance for students and recent grads.
What I would like to do here is focus on some aspects of building a career in location-based entertainment that I don’t see getting as much attention. I am talking about the soft skills which I believe are vitally important for both a successful and personally fulfilling career over the long term.
Technical skills open doors. People skills carry you forward through the decades. The truth is: How we work matters as much, if not more, than the specifics of what we actually do.
The nature of modern employment, particularly in the experiential entertainment industry, is incredibly fluid–and becoming more so all the time. Few people can expect to be in one job for life. In many ways, that’s a positive thing. You can look forward to a long and rewarding career. You just need to embrace a continuous state of learning, upskilling, and reskilling.
It’s all those soft skills – communication, work ethic, accountability, empathy, flexibility – that become the constants. These are the abilities that make you invaluable in any context.
1. Build and maintain a network. It’s all about relationships.
You need to find opportunities to reach out and make connections. Be genuine. You don’t need to be a natural extrovert to succeed at this. Take an interest in the people you meet. Stay connected. In this relatively small and highly collaborative industry, your own value is closely connected to those around you and your ability to work in a team. Discover the people you admire and want to work with. Build your own village.
2. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
The more you are able to approach challenging circumstances as opportunities to learn and grow, the better. Being okay with stretching yourself means being more open to failure. Strength, endurance, persistence, and tenacity are born from testing our limits. When you accomplish something that challenges your spirit and tests your determination, it gives you a resiliency that you cannot create otherwise.
3. Learn to say “Yes, if…”
There will be times when someone will ask you to do the impossible – or the seemingly impossible. Answering “Yes, we can do that if…” positively reframes the problem in terms of what’s possible. It makes you a solution provider. If you can, offer at least three options for achieving what’s being asked. Taking a can-do-if approach also forces you to think of a project in a holistic way and builds your own ability to see multi-dimensionally.
4. Become a Deep Generalist–with one or two specialties.
Specialty expertise is valuable. The ability to be a deep generalist is even more so. A deep generalist combines specialist knowledge in one or two domains with the big picture thinking of a multidisciplinary mind. In this ever-changing world of dissolving boundaries, someone who can draw value from diverse sources and synthesize that knowledge is never obsolete.
The ability to shift fluently between different disciplines and creatively cross-pollinate is especially valuable in the world of experiential entertainment. You never know what you’re going to need to know! Don’t know it? That’s okay. Learn it!
This may sound like a daunting bit of advice. “Become a polymath!” It’s as much about adopting a mindset of radical curiosity and the recognition that everything is interconnected. Start thinking of the world as your sandbox.
5. Embrace constant evolution.
The fact is we all are constantly evolving. Recognize that you will always be a work in progress–and that’s a beautiful thing. Growth’s only request is that you step out of your comfort zone. That’s it. Be willing to take that risk. Be willing to fail and get up again. Make life a constant act of learning. It is always possible to reinvent yourself.
6. Empathy, empathy, empathy.
Empathy is a harder skill than most of us realize. Many times we deliberately withhold empathy without realizing it. Some people confuse empathy with being a pushover or oversensitive. The ability to understand and appreciate how others feel is a superpower. It comes naturally to some and not to others. You can–and should–deliberately practice empathy and develop it over time. Recognize everybody’s shared humanity. Treat everyone with respect.
7. Realize you are a brand and every decision you make is a reflection on that brand.
Some people resist the idea of themselves as a brand. Really, “brand” is just who you are perceived to be by the larger professional world. It exists no matter what you want to label it.
You have a lot of control over the impression you make and how you present yourself to the world. Take ownership of that. There will also be certain aspects that you can’t control. That’s okay. Learning to make peace with that is good for your mental well being.
- Put your best self forward. Yes, your professional brand is presentational. That doesn’t mean it’s fake. It should be an expression of who you are. Celebrate your talents and stay rooted in a sense of the value you bring to the world.
- Be authentic. Behaving with authenticity is better for you, your work, and the people around you. It does mean that you do what you say you’re going to do. Your credibility and integrity are themselves a calling card. At the same time, that doesn’t mean sharing absolutely everything on your mind. As I do with our creative team, you should bounce ideas and thoughts off your associates and peers and team who will be glad to help offer insights on your most pure and raw thoughts, often helping you to refine them to reach your and the idea’s truest potential.
- Do the right thing. Ideally, we always do. Life isn’t always so simple. Sometimes we are faced with difficult choices and challenging circumstances. Work according to your values. If you follow the path that aligns with your values, you will always rest easier in that knowledge.
- Be accountable. Own your mistakes. Don’t blame others. Accept, acknowledge, and correct to the best of your ability. Use it as an opportunity to grow.
- Accept criticism positively. Don’t get defensive. Take an emotional step back. Cultivate the ability to listen to what’s being said and incorporate constructive feedback. Yes, sometimes feedback is unfair or unreasonable. Responding with anger is not going to improve the situation. Develop the ability to separate yourself from the criticism.
- Control what you can. Let the other stuff go. You have control over what you put out into the world. You can’t control what others think. Understand the difference.
Soft skills are quality of life skills for the workplace. And quality of life matters. It matters for ourselves, the people we work with and serve, and the culture we are a part of. Experiential entertainment, after all, is a quality of life industry. Those values should carry over into how we work. These are talents and principles that end up forming the greater fabric of our working lives. They make us more valuable as collaborators, employees, co-workers, vendors, and service providers. Cultivate these skills to thrive and flourish in your career.
Next time: Louis explores why becoming an enthusiastic multiculturalist is important for a successful career in experiential entertainment.