You graduated from a great college, and now you answer someone’s phones while they throw staplers at your head. For $30,000 a year. Your parents, relatives, and friends back home wonder if you’ve completely lost your mind. Why can’t you just waltz into Steven Spielberg’s office, hand him your script, and win an Oscar? Okay, maybe that's a bit unrealistic, but couldn't you at least find a job that would cover a year's worth of your tuition?
To outsiders, the path to success in Hollywood seems completely insane (and they're right, we've just come to accept it somehow). But feeling like you constantly have to justify your life choices to your loved ones while simultaneously getting beaten down during your monotonous, 12+ hour work days can be stressful. Maybe you should just give up and move on -- it would make your parents happy, after all.
Okay, wait. Take a deep breath. You’re not alone in this thinking -- the very reason it’s so hard to make it in this industry is that you're competing with thousands of others in the exact same situation. Remember that every one of them is going through a similar thought process. You should definitely find confidantes in the industry you can vent to (shouldn't be too hard!), but you don’t have to cut yourself off from the people back home just because they don’t understand what you’re doing with your life. Nor do you have to give up on your dreams. But how do you explain to your loved ones that what you're going through is normal and will all be worth it in the end?
We like the analogy of grad school. No one expects a medical student to perform surgery one year after college. They have to put in time to learn. And sure, making movies isn’t anything like brain surgery, but there is still a lot to learn. Your time as an assistant teaches you what you need to know to develop yourself professionally and helps you build the network that will be essential to your future success. Listening to your boss’s calls, doing script coverage, taking notes in meetings -- it’s school you get paid for. Think of it as the equivalent of getting a PhD in entertainment, and the $30k is like a fellowship.
You could also use the med school analogy to help explain Hollywood's "pay your dues" culture. Much like a grueling medical residency, a Hollywood assistant position teaches you to be resilient and earns you the respect of your superiors who have all gone through the same thing. Your family members shouldn't be surprised that such a high-profile industry is extremely competitive, and you've got to do whatever it takes to get your foot in the door.
Now this analogy isn’t perfect. Grad school programs have a clear timeline, but it's hard to predict when you'll finally break out of an assistant position. But don't give in to your nagging parents who can't understand why you're still answering phones three years into your career. Instead, use the stress as a motivator. There are things you can do during your time as an assistant to get promoted to coordinator, or, if a creative role like writing/directing is more your speed, do something creative for every negative conversation you have. It can be hard to find the energy, but if you don’t, you’re proving your parents right, and no one -- especially them -- wants that.