The meaning of life, the universe and everything.

I turned 43 recently. On my 42nd birthday, I quipped on Facebook that this was my Douglas Adams year. The exact age when I would discover the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.

William and Pizza

Photo of me eating pizza (back when I could still eat pizza) at a Vancity branch by Terry David

Little did I know how right I was – that this was the year when I was to go through the most profound career shift I’d made in a dozen years (and perhaps ever).

My first career was in filmmaking. I got into filmmaking to make films that were personal, hopefully important. Films that I wanted to provoke thought and conversation and make a statement. But after a dozen years of slogging through projects, I found that life as a filmmaker just wasn’t fulfilling for me anymore, and I was hungry to do something that I felt could replace film as my life’s calling, and enable me to do more than just make “product”.

At exactly that time, filmmaking was going through a major disruption. Digital technology was, for the first time, giving the ability to make films to people without extraordinary means. The technology and tools – which hadn’t had a major innovation in the hundred years since Edison invented them – were being democratized. It started in the editing room with Avid editing systems, and continued to DV cameras and editing films on a home computer. I embraced this new technology, and became an early adopter of digital filmmaking.

In Nashville last year at the Credit Union Water Cooler Symposium, I gave a talk called Everything I Learned About Leadership, I Learned From Filmmaking. In it I talked about the tension between persistence and delusion. To be a struggling filmmaker is to know that tension well. I got into a great chat with the audience about this tension in my Q&A, and it was Ron Shevlin who pointed out that, simply, it had to do with maintaining a passion for, and love of what you’re doing. As long as that spark is alive, it’s persistence; when it’s gone, it’s delusion (did I get that right, Ron?). I always promised myself that I’d only make films if I couldn’t not make films. After a dozen years struggling as a filmmaker, I hit a point where I could absolutely and happily not make films. It was on to the next challenge for me.

My second career was in digital. When I made films, I used to read about the early pioneers of filmmaking, breaking into a nascent industry and jumping in where no one else had. I envied them. I saw the web and digital as an opportunity to do that for myself. I followed the path from digital filmmaking tools to producing web and digital projects. It’s rare in life that we get to experience something new, something untried. The migration from film to digital was a natural one, and one I enjoyed tremendously. I got to be there for the birth of a new era, and was lucky enough to be in Seattle, an epicenter of the new medium, to experience it.

One day while walking on the beach with my wife in LA, where I worked as a digital producer, we chatted about what we wanted from life. Walking in the sunshine, we decided that what we wanted was a reality in which our life choices and core values were inseparable – that when we described our lives (everything from where we lived and where we worked, to what we drove) we would really be elaborating on our values. That, we felt, would not be possible for us while living in LA.

The next several years were a circuitous adventure, leading me and my wife back to my hometown of Vancouver, having our son, and, for me, eventually aiming for and landing employment at Vancity. I am immensely thankful to work for a generous and special kind of organization that took chances with me and allowed me to jump into new areas and new roles, embracing new opportunities without having to leave the organization.

It was the jump into social media in 2006 that provided me with a new purpose, the biggest opportunity I had since filmmaking to embark on something career-defining and bold. It was the leaping off point to new destinations, new relationships and a powerful sense of fulfillment. Unexpectedly, it was social media that led me to community engagement, which led me right out of digital and into my current role in community investment, where I am further discovering the meaning and fulfillment I have always been looking for.

The one defining theme in my life has truly been: Do what you love, and the money will follow. I loved filmmaking, but when it was no longer my singular passion, I moved on. I loved social media and tinkering with it to fulfill an organization’s mission a little before others did, but when it starting getting stale for me, I was happy to try new things. Following my bliss led me into film, and past it into a world of working with a virtual community, and finally to working with community partners to hopefully help make my hometown a better place.

So we know that the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything is 42. The unknown part remains: what is the right question? In my case, I think that the right question is simply: At what age will I make a huge pivot toward doing my life’s work?

12 comments

  1. Simon says:

    Isn’t it funny that in the pursuit of answers, we often just find there are more questions? Thanks for the share and your shifts through film, digital and community are a great read. Keep enjoying the journey, and making your hometown a better place.

  2. William says:

    Thanks Simon, happy that in the journey our paths crossed. Hoping they keep crossing…

  3. Lesli Boldt says:

    Happy 43rd and welcome to the 43 club! I don’t know the meaning of life, the universe and everything, but I do think the most delightful thing about entering ones 40s – if you’re ready for it – is that you’ve got enough experience to know you’ve been there before and always land on your feet, but you’re still young enough to take some risks and chances.

    The way I describe my 40s, as a Planny Plannerson by nature, is that I finally had the courage to let go of the handlebars – that is, to stop always fixating on a single goal, person or destination – and just keep pedalling forward and see where it takes me. Live with intention, know what you want (and what you don’t want) and then just let it unfold as it supposed to. The opportunity to continue your life’s work will present itself soon enough.

  4. Philip Farah says:

    Great blog post William! sounds like you found your calling. Best of luck and thanks for continuing to share your experiences/ thoughts

  5. Peter ter Weeme says:

    Great story/lesson on following your passion. Thanks for keeping us inspired, William, and thanks for the walk and talk today.

    Glad to have you as a friend and inspiration.

    ptw

  6. Michael Aucone says:

    Passion for life drives everything, including the Universe :)

    So at 42, I guess Douglas Adams assumed we should be able to work it all out, how wrong was he with that :)

    Great article, written with honesty and passion.

    Take care and happy birthday.

    Michael.

  7. For a young whippersnapper, you sure have done a lot (I’m a year older than you!) I have no doubt you will continue to do more good work and we will continue to be inspired. As I approach my first year out of credit union land, I can truly attest that the adage “Do what you love, and the money will follow” is for real. Life is good.

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