How I Found My Path. And Why it Included a Walrus.

Right now, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in downtown Vancouver. I’m here because I’m about to spend a year at film school. It’s all thanks to a story about a walrus.

There was, however, a time before the walrus, when my career goal wasn’t so clear. It’s something many of you can relate to. That lost feeling we get as students from time-to-time.

Back in 2010, after feeling unfulfilled by my marketing program, I was given an opportunity to write for what was then Sheridan’s student union-funded magazine, TRAVIS, and I became immediately enamored with it.

There were really only a few rules for writing stories for TRAVIS; make it something people will care about and make it good.

Taking on new challenges as a writer, interviewing musicians, going to concerts and conventions for free, being featured in photo-shoots to accompany my editorials and seeing my name in print all over felt like it could become a fulfilling career.

So after graduating from my marketing program, I decided to try print journalism.

It took me only three months before I became disenchanted with my program, and dropped out.

“I was out of school, with no idea of what to do with my life or even, what I could do with my life.”

Then the school decided to shut down TRAVIS entirely and I entered a complete quarter-life crisis. I was out of school, with no idea of what to do with my life or even, what I could do with my life.

I finally found some direction when I got a call from the Sheridan SU, offering me the job as Editor-in-Chief for a new, entirely digital publication, which we later named TheCircuit.

However, my first year as editor was not a strong one.

In addition to being plagued by technical issues, my manager was adamant about using TheCircuit as a promotional tool for the SU, rather than anything that resembled insightful, quality editorial.

After numerous arguments over the direction of the publication, my spirit dwindled and I was ready to quit.

Then I went to New Jersey.

I’m a huge Kevin Smith fan. His movies, comics and podcasts hold permanent residence on my shelves and in my browser history. The man inspired me to write, be funny and tell stories, and has even made me believe in the sustainability of monogamy.

However, Smith had recently announced that he would soon leave film behind for good. Like myself, Smith had become disenchanted by his earlier pursuits.

While on a trip to New York, I rented a car so I could visit Smith’s comic book store, Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, New Jersey.

At the Secret Stash, I picked up an autographed copy of Smith’s latest book, Tough Shit, which, in all sincerity, I originally only bought for the signature.

Tough Shit turned out to be more than just a memento. Tough Shit is a smack in your face, telling you to get off your lazy ass and go make some art. Smith explains that if he, a lower-middle class, New Jersey local, with no industry connections, a non-Hollywood look or personality, and barely any formal training, can break into the business of his dreams, you can too.

Speaking of his “formal training,” in the book, Smith mentions he was only 23 when he left Vancouver Film School to shoot Clerks.

I was 22, my “Clerks year” was rapidly approaching and I knew I had to do something to catch up to Smith, I just didn’t know what yet.

Then, on June 25th, 2013, I listened to episode #259 of Smith’s podcast, SModcast, titled The Walrus and the Carpenter, in which Smith and fellow VFS alumni, Scott Mosier, read and roast an internet listing, detailing an old man who is seeking a lodger who would be willing to dress up and act like a walrus instead of paying rent.

“That changed everything for me.”

During the course of the podcast, Smith and Mosier inadvertently build the grisly story for what would become Smith’s latest film, TUSK.

Before going into production, Smith asked his fans on Twitter to use #WalrusYes if they thought the movie should be made. #WalrusYes took off, and TUSK became a reality.

Kevin Smith, the man who said he was done with film, who got into the business by sheer power of will in the first place, was all of the sudden entering this new act, more or less on a whim, all because of some story about a walrus.

That changed everything for me.

WalrusYes made it clear that the only thing you have to do is be creative, be dedicated to your passion and express yourself.

I started injecting that philosophy more and more into TheCircuit. I wanted contributors to write from their guts and their hearts as I made bolder decisions regarding the direction of the publication.

We began centering articles on social issues, edgy subjects and even included some bold sexual content.

The response was insanely positive. We saw our audience, team and content production grow far beyond our expectations. Best of all, I was becoming immensely proud of what I was building and the opportunities I was creating.

“But the thing about success is that you’re always chasing it. You climb one mountain only to look for a larger one.”

In the fall, after an unsuccessful job interview at an ad-sales firm, the vice president of the company said to me, “I think you’re going to be really successful, just go find what you really want to do.” He went on to tell me that I was way too creative for the job and that I would hate it so much, that I would quit in a week.

On the drive home, everything started sinking in. What did I really want to do? And why the hell hadn’t I been chasing that all along? Why wasn’t I chasing it right now?

Realizing that all I had ever really wanted was to entertain with my words, I decided to use one more move from Smith’s playbook and apply to Vancouver Film School for Writing for Television and Film.

I was accepted based on work I had done for TRAVIS and TheCircuit, a few pieces I had written as a freelance journalist and a sample from the script I had written for a comic book the summer prior.

So now I’m in Vancouver, dedicating myself to my true career ambition, and it’s all thanks to Kevin Smith and his walrus story.

The lesson is that you have to be uncompromising when it comes to your dreams. As you go forward, be dead set on living out your passions.

You’ve got to say WalrusYes to life.

Image courtesy of the author.

*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Student Life Network or their partners.
Chris D’Alessandro

Chris D’Alessandro

Chris D’Alessandro is the Communications Manager at Student Life Network. He puts words together in fancy ways and has more cover-up tattoos than he'd care to admit.