In every alumni magazine of every major university in the nation, there’s a section that highlights each graduating class and how they’re contributing to the world. It shows who’s getting married, who’s having babies, who’s cured cancer, etc. From my calculations, roughly 1500 students graduate from LMU every year, yet in that section of the magazine there are only about three or four (if that) alumni from every graduating class that write in to let everyone know how they’re doing.
A couple of months ago I got an email from the fine folks at Loyola Marymount University (my alma mater) to see if I was interested in writing an article for the “First Person:” portion of their alumni magazine. The only guidelines were that the story needed to be 750 words long and it needed to be personal. What intrigued me about their proposition was that they weren’t looking for a propaganda piece (what alumni magazines are inherently supposed to do) or fishing for compliments. They wanted an honest POV piece from one of their alumni.
With our alumni barbecue coming up that month, it really got me thinking about my life’s journey. It was our 20th reunion and I was bummed to find out that a lot of my friends chose to skip it this decade. (I know, right?) For some it was because they had something happening that weekend and/or the distance was too far for them to travel. For others, it just wasn’t their thing. Still, I imagine if they were in a rough season of life, the marker in time could have highlighted any number of disappointments they’ve experienced since graduation. After all, we’re still coming out of a recession where jobs aren’t low hanging fruit and bankruptcy isn’t out of the question. I know a number of people who never got married, or are divorced and raising kids on their own, or even caring for their family paycheck to paycheck. So I thought, why not get my grief on (to put it mildly) and address that?
So I dug back into my past and pulled out a snippet of my life to share with others who were going through a tough time in their lives. I wanted them to know that we’ve all gone through some valleys since that initial launch called graduation. And just because I’m on the cover, the moment is still only a snippet of my life. At the end of the day, that cover and $2.95 still only gets me a cup of coffee (or a chai latte at Starbucks).
In case you’re not an alum, I’ve reprinted the text of the article below for your reading pleasure…
Van Partible has a success story that’s almost too successful to be true: college student creates animation for senior thesis, graduates, takes a job to get by doing daycare, then becomes golden when his professor shows the idea to friend at Hanna-Barbera. Partible’s idea became the Cartoon Network’s hit “Johnny Bravo.” Imagine our surprise when, after we asked if he’d write about the experience, he said he wanted to write about failure.
As with television, I often look at my life in terms of seasons. Sometimes my life feels like an endless summer, other times a colorless winter. Regardless, each season is time-limited. Unfortunately, in real life, it’s hard to know beforehand when one season ends or another is beginning. It truly is a journey of faith.
In 1997, after graduating LMU, I sold my senior animation thesis project, called “Mess O’ Blues,” and developed it into the cartoon series “Johnny Bravo” for the Cartoon Network. It was an amazing first season, but I was taken by surprise when the company fired me amidst the Warner Brothers takeover of Turner Broadcasting. The show continued on for several more seasons, but with a completely different crew from Warner Brothers. I can only compare it to being forced to give up your baby for adoption and watching it go to parents who were making choices you didn’t agree with.
Because of the nature of the business, the next production I worked on only lasted for three years, and in 2000, I found myself on the job market again. I was still only seven years into my career, but this time, I let despair take over. After months of pounding the pavement, I was faced with the reality of a non-existent income and no job prospects on the horizon. Some hard talks ensued with my wife, and I reconciled with the fact that I needed to expand my job search outside of the entertainment industry.
After doing an inventory of my marketable skills, I focused on the fact that I could write and that I was good with people. With that as a starting point, I began applying for jobs at hotels, where I felt my people skills would be best utilized. Plus, I would meet interesting characters from all over the world and write about them. I ended up getting a front desk job at a nearby Marriott.
I was relieved to have a job again, but inside, I felt a deep sense of shame and failure. I wasn’t really prepared to go from earning a six-figure salary to minimum wage. My lowest moment came when my boss brought me into his office and told me, “Guess what? I know you’ve only been here a month, but I’m happy to say that you’ve earned yourself a twenty-five cent raise!” Then he pulled his arm back like he was working a slot machine and said, “Cha-ching!”
When faced with adversity, I often ask myself, “If I believe I’m exactly where God wants me to be, then what is He trying to teach me from this experience?”
When I was let go from “Johnny Bravo,” I felt like a victim. I was told that it had a lot to do with the fact that I lacked the managerial skills needed to handle a multi-million dollar production. I saw things differently and took the news more personally. Interestingly enough, the orientation program at the Marriott had a course in managerial training. It was there that I discovered the holes in my thinking and learned a multitude of skills that I still use today. The course was a huge confidence builder, because it illuminated the fact that my being fired had more to do with my inexperience than it had to do with my talent.
Six weeks into my hotel stint, I mustered up enough courage to schedule a pitch meeting at the Cartoon Network with the same people who had let me go. It was a pitch for a new show idea, but the meeting was a huge risk because some awkwardness remained between us, and it still felt fresh. The pitch was one of the most difficult that I had ever made, but it was also the most rewarding because something about my presentation in that meeting led them to offer me the job of producing another season of “Johnny Bravo.”
I turned in my two weeks’ notice at the Marriott later the same day.
My current manager once told me that, in order to have a successful career in Hollywood, the No. 1 thing you need is the ability to cope with despair. It’s a tough lesson to learn because being successful means putting yourself out there and risking failure.
But even with the shame that comes with failure, I’ve gained a greater gift of competence and confidence that I could never take for granted. The lessons I’ve learned have worked well for me in the seasons since this story, and I know that they will in the seasons to come.
FUN FACT: For those of you who didn’t see the video on the LMU Website (Spoiler Alert!) the pompadour wasn’t my real hair. It was a wig. (wah wah wah) My hair fashion was coiffed to perfection by stylist, Trish Gossett (it wasn’t as big as it is on the cover, as you can see from the picture above). And in case you were wondering, the cover photo was taken by the university photographer, Jon Rou and photoshopped by DJ Stout, a major, award-winning, internationally-renowned designer in Austin, Texas.