Marina Shifrin is a Journalism graduate from the University of Missouri – Columbia, USA and says she loves writing so much that she hates it. She is a Comedy Writer, involved in several creative projects, who sometimes also writes for international publications.
If you were online in 2013, you may have seen the video in which Marina publicly announced her resignation. The video now has nearly 20 million views, on her own YouTube channel alone.
Almost two years later, LinkedIn asked her to give some advice to those thinking of leaving their job. In the article she wrote, she mentions that the resignation, although leaving the impression of a hasty decision, was actually a strategic move planned from the very first day at the office.
She had something very specific in mind for her career – Comedy. For that, she made a plan, where the resignation was just a milestone to cross. After leaving the job in style, she received offers in the direction she wanted to pursue – one of which happened live on TV.
A few months before, Marina included quitting her job on a list of 30 things to do before turning 30. She then wrote an essay about each item on that list. The collection of essays got published in her very first book – 30 before 30.
I discovered her when she became a ”famous-ish quitter” online. During the same period, I also came across her blog, where she writes short real-life stories that are absolutely delicious to read.
This interview is part of a series of conversations with people I admire about how they deal with failures at work and in their personal lives. I was curious to find out if failure happens only to me and, if not, how does the behind-the-scene looks like for those who seem to conquer everything they tackle.
What is failure for you? How about success?
I’m not sure if this is too nebulous of a response, but I’d say failure is inevitable, while success is fleeting. At least in my perspective. I also deeply believe that, in any creative process, both failure and success are inextricably tied together, they’re correlated; large amounts of failure beget large amounts of success.
You recently published your very first book. Can you give some insight on how does it feel to work on a creative project for a long time without knowing how the public will react?
Ha. Oh goodness, this question brings me back to the nightmarish amounts of stress I had in the year leading up to the publish date.
As a writer, my greatest joy is when people connect to my words. I use readership and feedback as a way to gauge how I’m doing. I’d love to say I’m one of those people who can write regardless of validation—like, I’m so in love with the artistry of writing that I don’t need the approval of others for my creative sustenance—what a romantic view of writing—but that’s just not the case for me. I need people to read my work, to tell me I’m doing a good job, to buy my words and invest in my ideas in order to keep writing with the amount of dedication writing requires.
Working on a book for so long, without the instant gratification that we’ve become used to, was like looking for a pencil in a pitch-black warehouse. I spent days, weeks, months, blindly feeling around me, sometimes I’d go in circles, or backtrack. Often times I felt like I was further from the start line than when I began.
The idea of physically holding my words in my hands at the end of the process is what ultimately pulled me through the maddening amounts of uncertainty. When I finally did get to hold my book in my hands, all the difficult days disappeared into the recesses of my mind.
Yes, writing a book was mostly an unpleasant process, with more pull-your-hair-out days than good ones, but all the “good” (i.e. accolades, validation, etc.) that came at the end, washed away any negative experiences. The emotional and literal release of stories, tricked me into thinking it was a worthwhile process and one I’d like to do again.
In your LinkedIn piece you mentioned that before quitting your job, you lined up your career and your very first steps (write every day, move to Hollywood, and get a manager). Four months later you checked off all those three steps. Can you tell us the story of how it happened?
I’ve always been a pretty goal-oriented person. My favorite holiday is New Years because of the opportunity to make resolutions (I take mine very seriously) and I make daily, weekly, and seasonal to do lists that I hold myself to. I think everyone should always have a 5-year career plan with specific goals in mind. If you’re wanting to quit your job, then you should most definitely have goals list, might I also suggest a 1-month, 6-month, and 1-year plan.
When I was quitting my job, my plan required me to go “all in” on a career in comedy. I wrote those three goals as part of that plan. I knew Los Angeles had the most opportunities and infrastructure for comedy writing so I bought a ticket, got on a plane, and landed at LAX six hours later. It’s as simple as that. I stayed with a goddess of a friend for a month while looking for apartments that I could afford and finally found one in East Hollywood.
Before I moved to Los Angeles, a kind stranger who followed me on Twitter DMd me to say he liked my tweets. When I clicked on his profile and saw he was a top-level executive at a major television network, I asked if we could get drinks when I was in Los Angeles. He agreed and we met for a cocktail. We quickly became friends and he offered to connect me with his friend who ran a management agency.
As for “write every day” goal, that was the easiest step which, to be honest, I didn’t do right away and still don’t always do. For years, I’ve been pushing myself to write every day. There are some times when I’m very successful (not to brag, but lately I’ve been crushing it) and other times when I’m not (whenever I finish a big project, I basically just stress clean my apartment while listening to podcasts about serial killers for months at a time—zero writing completed).
As for my feeling during that 4-month period of going after those goals, I’d say they were sheer fear. When I moved to Hollywood, I was miserable and stressed all.the.time. I had no clue about what I was doing—I didn’t know how to achieve my goals and I wasn’t even sure that I could achieve my goals. Since I’ve found success in my career, it’s easy to say my moves were calculated, necessary to get to where I am now—but at the time of my moving to Hollywood, I very much felt like a scared little girl who posing as an ambitious writer.
You also mentioned that your career path was Comedy. What was your goal and the plan to get there and how things went since then?
In every creative career, like comedy, the goal post is always moving. It’s kind of like hunting for gold at the end of a rainbow. I’m not sure if that simile even makes sense, but it’s how I always feel, like I’m hunting for gold and never quite finding it.
Initially, when I started doing stand up, I wanted to sell out shows and project my jokes to enormous audiences. But then, I realized that I hated being on stage—I wanted massive groups of people to laugh at my joke, but I didn’t want to be the one telling those jokes. I learned that all the things I loved about stand up I could get out of a writers’ room, so I shifted my focus to writing.
I didn’t want to limit myself to any type of platform (tv, film, books) so I went hard at all arenas. Since then, it’s been a series of highs and lows. I’m currently at a high, working on a TV show and writing a book, but I’m sure once I wrap these projects in February, I’ll hit a bit of a low. I always get sad between jobs and often feel lost. I’m slowly learning to embrace the instability of a creative career but it’s hard because I like lines, boundaries, and money. But that’s not how this tango works. So instead, I’ll work hard, appreciate the jobs I have, use those jobs to lead to other jobs, and focus on the rainbow above.
Can you share with us the stories of one professional and one personal failure?
Ha, oh my gosh, only one professional failure? So many to choose from. I actually started keeping a spreadsheet of all the jobs I’ve applied for this year. Out of thirty-two, I’ve been hired for five, rejected from eighteen, and haven’t heard from nine.
The jobs range from pitching my second novel to writing on TV shows to doing social media for a startup. I basically hear some sort of rejection every week, but I also wouldn’t have gotten the jobs I have now if I wasn’t applying and interviewing weekly. Since I believe failure is part of the creative process, I don’t think I did anything wrong, but I do think I could do things better.
The more I interview, pitch, and put myself out there, the easier it gets. Casting a wide net softens the blow when I don’t get a job and all the rejection makes me wildly appreciative of the successes.
A personal failure? Hm. I try not to live with too many regrets because I think it’s counterproductive and a waste of time. So, along those lines, I don’t really dwell on personal failures as much as I turn them into learning experiences. I am always working and writing, so it feels like my work is embedded into my personal life. I’m stalling, aren’t I? I’d say that one personal failure would be not spending enough time with friends and family while working on writing projects.
I let my work cloud my mind and schedule, until I completely disappear from my social life. These habits have fractured many relationships—I’m basically only friends with other writers who work as much as (if not more than) me. But I’m learning how to take breaks in between projects to shift my focus back on friends and family. I’m not sure I’ll ever learn how to balance the two, but I’m okay with that.
What are your next career steps? Do you have a plan for those? Are there any insecurities that go through your mind?
Ah! This is the most stressful thing you could ask a writer! I mean, I’ve realized that there’s only so much I can control about my career, but I’m learning how to appreciate the wins when I have them. I’m currently writing on a Hulu show that will be out in the summer and I love it so much. I’d like to continue writing TV and eventually move into a headwriter, then showrunner position. I’m also partnered with Sony Pictures Television, pitching a TV show based on my book so it’d be incredible to run my own show. I’d love to write another book too. My plan for all of these goals is to continue applying, writing and working hard.
My mind is chock-full of insecurities all the time; Am I funny enough? Am I a good writer? Do people like me? Am I annoying? Will I ever make enough money? Should I have a kid? Am I gaining weight? Am I too mean? Am I doing a good job representing immigrants? Should I do more with my writing? Is the world going to explode?
You know, basically the stuff everyone lives with. My insecurities are unexceptional and exhausting and I don’t like to give them anymore real-estate then they already have. That’s why I love writing comedy, you’re trapped in a room with a bunch of other anxious writers, trying to make each other laugh all day, if I could keep doing that, then I’ll be set forever.