Last year, when I wrote Risky By Design for Penn State’s Global Entrepreneurship Week, I was under the impression that, with my freelance design prowess, I’d soon be making enough money to live comfortably, pay off my student loans, and buy myself some nice things.
This year I want to elaborate on how entrepreneurship played a role in my life even when my income neared absolute zero. From DJing to filmmaking, an entrepreneurial mind-set helped me find productive ways to be broke.
Entrepreneurship is about having a particular mind-set. It helps you identify and understand systems of trade and value. Is there a need? Satisfy it — while receiving a little benefit yourself. The entrepreneurial mind-set isn’t about making money; it’s about seeking valuable opportunity.
When I was hella-broke this past January, with no clients to fill my hours, my biggest need past food and rent was social interaction. I decided to find a need I could fulfill which, in turn, helped me spend my time with people without having to spend my money.
That’s when one of my close friends in Pittsburgh expressed the desire to learn how to DJ. As a former DJ at Indigo, I was qualified for the job. We started meeting twice a week for DJ lessons. I got paid in beer and laughs. My friend took up the moniker DJ Lesson, and gosh darn it, she’s gotten even better than me. #soproud
What’s fascinating is how that investment of my time has paid off. You see, dear reader, my life’s dream is not graphic design — it’s film. Making movies is why I moved to Pittsburgh, but when I was down and out of the money game, I started to believe film was just a pipe dream.
So there I was in Pittsburgh with little to no cash, but now part of a DJ super duo looking for our first gigs. And what pops up in the Pittsburgh Filmmakers Facebook group?
“CALL FOR EXTRAS: Feature Film seeks extras for Party Scene shooting this Friday! Opportunity.”
I responded to the post and asked if DJ Lesson and I could be the DJs of this fictional party scene. They were all about it. Even more valuable, I brought some lights and helped the art director dress the set, advising on the dos and don’ts of party atmosphere. I got paid absolutely nothing, but I met some people in the industry and fudged “Art Production Assistant” onto my résumé.
In turn, that line on my résumé led directly to me being an Art and Grip assistant on a short comedy a few weeks later. Again, no pay, but I learned how a film set worked and got a less-fudgy line on my résumé. That was important when the next notable Facebook post popped up:
“Netflix’s Mindhunter seeking applicants for Set Production Assistants! Paid position!”
I updated my still-fudgetastic résumé and submitted as quickly as I could. Two weeks later, I got an email from the Key PA asking if I could work a full day. Paid. I’ve since become part of the regular rotation of PAs on Mindhunter, and I recently served as a Camera PA on a feature film shooting in Pittsburgh. Not only that, but I just submitted my now fudge-free résumé for another production starting soon.
Entrepreneurship isn’t just about making money. It’s about constantly seeking opportunities that you or others have yet to see. It’s recognizing that all people have skills and needs and time and dreams, and that — for some of those people — you are the one best suited to help them.
It amazes me to think that, if I hadn’t started to invest my time in DJ lessons for my friend, my life would be fundamentally different right now. It amazes me to think that if I hadn’t spent so much time not making money, I wouldn’t have the friends and network and skills I do today.
The entrepreneurial mind-set is about never giving up, knowing that a good opportunity exists almost everywhere, and trusting yourself to be talented enough to pursue it.
Once you recognize that, all you need to do is start working.