Animation Faculty member, Dez Stavracos, imagines a new grad’s first day of work in an animation studio — and shares the kind of invaluable advice that only comes with experience.
What’s For Lunch?
by Dez Stavracos
It’s important to be social in the workplace. It’s also usually easy – you could be nearly mute yet some kind extrovert will come break the ice. If no one does – get the experience you need where you are and then move on. Any studio that doesn’t care to know you as a person as much as you as an employee isn’t where you want to be long-term.
So, let’s assume you’re new to a studio – you’re fresh out of undergrad and your “first day of school” jitters are in full effect – times a hundred. You’ll get introduced to key people – who to go to for pens, server access, HR paperwork, job assignments, feedback on your work and so on. You’re taking in a LOT of information that’s going to help you do your job. Your head is spinning, as is the cartoon version of the wall clock in which hours go by like seconds. Before you know it, it’s time for lunch. This is the most important part of your day. Ok yes it’s important of course to be focused and do your work etc etc – these things go without saying – what I’m here to tell you is that it’s AS IMPORTANT to go to lunch. Why? Lunch is where you see all the social dynamics of your new workplace on display. Unplug your headphones and have a listen – who is asking who to lunch? Who is giving so and so a hard time because they’re “doing no carb” and Person A wants them to go get hamburgers like the good ol days? Who has packed their meal but is also paying attention so that they can be at the lunch table when the people going out return with their takeout?
Your next logical question is “Why does any of this matter?” It matters because no job is going to be existentially or creatively rewarding 100% of the time – it’s just not. If you’re new or an intern, chances are it’s not financially that rewarding either. Where there is always value, however, is in the relationships you form in the industry. How you form these relationships is by socializing. Where everyone socializes is at lunch.
Let me back up to my statements about the rewards and value in the different aspects of working in a creative space. The ideal job is when 1) you are creatively challenged and enriched, 2) you are financially compensated at a rate that affords you a standard of living that is comfortable and satisfying for you, 3) you have a sense of ownership, responsibility and agency in your position, and 4) you genuinely like your co-workers.
It’s easy to see how 1-3 have value – even lasting value. I maintain, however, that #4 – your relationship with your coworkers, is the most valuable. Here’s why: the more people you know, and who know you, the more likely you are to score the dream job where the “magic 4” exist in tandem. Also, animation is inherently collaborative – so the better your social bonds, the better teammates you’ll be, and more enjoyable the work is.
Back to lunch at your new job. Whether you’re going out or brought your own food, sit in the lunch area. The rest is relatively easy. People will gather around, and one of the following things will be discussed:
– TV shows
– Video games
– Vimeo Staff Picks
– Awards (ie opinions about the Academy Awards – everyone has them – not following/watching them is an opinion in itself)
– Cat videos
Since we’re assuming that you’re working in a creative space, you will have any one of these in common with your co-workers. Over time, the more you share lunch, the more you’ll find out who you have the most in common with, and the unconscious human need for ongoing interpersonal relationships will take care of the rest. You’ll join this or that group, and before you know it you’ll have your circle of confidants – some of whom will go on to be your most trusted mentors, friends, and professional connections for years to come. It’s known but unsaid that, if you’re endeared to an individual in a personal manner, you are more likely to:
– listen to their ideas/opinions
– go out of your way to help them (from staying late to lend an extra hand to covering for you so you can head home for your mom’s birthday)
– help them troubleshoot
– recommend them for a job
– put in a good word at your existing job
– defend them if anything goes wrong
All of these are good to have in the animation industry – this industry being defined by both its collaborative nature and how small and interwoven it is. This may sound self-serving, but it’s not – so long as it goes both ways.
After you’re no longer new, ask the now new person to join your group for lunch. Keep an eye out for that person that’s too busy to go out themselves and offer to get them something while you’re out. In the same way as these gestures went a long way for you feeling welcomed and part of a team, the same goes when you extend that forward. In this way, lunch can be so many things – a time when you can be yourself, get to know other people, and also show other people you care. Lunch is where the team comes together as people who like each other, not just work together, and the more you like one another, the happier everyone is, and naturally, the better the work will be.
After years of working and lunching together, you’ll know your co-workers and they’ll know you – both as a professional and as a human in the world who has values, ideas, and character. You’ve transcended and become so much more than a Facebook, LinkedIn, or Tumblr profile – you’re someone who your peers can get behind, and if you have the creative chops to match, then I’ll be toasting your success in no time.