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Getting There Episode 3 - Sink, Swim, or Bob

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

Killington VT, top of the mountain

Everyone is familiar with the sentiment, if not the phrase "sink or swim". It's the colorfully morbid expression that describes the moment of truth. You either succeed or fail, hit or miss, sink or swim.

It's such a simple dichotomy.

Perhaps a little too simple.

Let's muddy those waters, shall we?

A major part of my logic for taking this huge leap in pursuing a career in the animation industry, specifically storyboarding, is knowing that I was created for a purpose. There are things I'm good at, and things I will never be good at, no matter how hard I try to change that. Trusting that my love of art and storytelling is essential to who I am, and was meant to be put to use, is what ultimately convinced me that leaving my comfort zone and following the opportunity to study storyboarding in Los Angeles was the right thing to do. Part of my frustration with my journey in art so far was knowing that somewhere amidst all my skills, talents, and passions was the work I could excel in.

So when I began my classes in earnest, the outcomes seemed simple to me- succeed or fail. But an interesting thing happened.

I met Bob.

Bob was one of the other guests at the first AirBnB I was staying in. He would sit on the front steps of his room in his bathrobe in the morning, smoking and watching the highlight reel from the Cubs game from the night before. I would be on my way to the library to work, or on my way to my car to drive to class, or be locked out my room after a shower because I had taken the wrong key with me.

We would chat. And as we chatted, it became clear to me that he wasn't exactly a doer. Successful in his own way, surely, and traveling in a nice albeit very dirty Cadillac, I began to get the impression that he did what came easily.

Three days before he had to leave, I walked out to my car to run errands and realized I had a flat tire. And there was Bob bemoaning my "bad morning" for me. To me though, it was an easy fix. As a farm-kid, I had changed my fair share of tires, and had the spare on in no time, ran it to a repair shop, and had it patched and back on the car by lunch for 20 smackers. Not bad.

Two days before he had to leave, I noticed that Bob had a flat tire himself, and I made sure to tell him. When I offered to change it for him and he happily agreed. But this time it wasn't so simple. His sweet ride didn't have a spare tire or a repair kit, and the nuts on the tire were cinched down impossibly tight. While I spent the better part of an hour wrenching on the nuts like a maniac using the kit from my own car, he was on the phone with AAA, and high as a kite to boot, trying to explain what state he lived in to multiple customer service reps. I didn't give him good odds, but he insisted it would be easier this way and he didn't care about the cost of towing. About three customer service reps in, I found a 2x4 plank to use as leverage and finally loosened the nuts enough to remove the tire. I ran it to a repair shop and had it back on the car in a half an hour, again for 20 bucks. It was as much a relief for me as it was for him, and he was over the moon about it.

Later that evening, after his head had cleared a bit, he knocked on my door and handed me 200 dollars for getting him back on the road. I was dumbstruck, how could it really be worth that much to him? Then I thought about Bob himself, the go with the flow guy who told me himself that he was "a laid-back guy" and even called himself lazy. Who didn't panic about a flat tire because it was it was worth the money to just have somebody else worry about for him.

His name, of course, isn't really Bob. He was very amicable, and fun to talk to. Bob didn't seem to really sink or swim. He was just bobbing- he knew it and he had accepted it.

I realized that there was a third option aside from sinking or swimming, there was being Bob, and didn't want to be Bob. To me, it would be a fate worse than sinking. It would mean accepting whatever easy solution came my way and denying that my love of art and storytelling means pursuing it further.

A little mushy, this one, but it's a setup for the next episode.

Getting There Episode 4 - Fail like you mean it >>

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In the spirit of the saying that "it's not the destination, but the journey that's important", I've titled this series "Getting There." While I appreciate this saying, the journey would not exist if not for the destination, therefore the title "Getting There" is a reference as much to the destination as it is to the journey. The "Getting There" series is a collection of brief, episodic articles describing my ongoing journey into the animation industry.

By Alex Esbenshade

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