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Oscar-worthy careers inspiration from La la land and Whiplash

By Sophia Donaldson, on 9 February 2017

!!Spoiler alert!! In addition to deeply valuable careers insight, this post may give away film plots.

It’s the film that divided UCL Careers. La La Land is a box office and awards ceremony hit, but not everyone understands its success. The argument in our office has been raging for weeks, so most lunchtimes look like this SNL sketch.

But whether you’re a clueless philistine who just didn’t get the film, or a film connoisseur who loved it (joke…sort of), I hope there’s one thing we can agree on: La la land is about careers. And its writer/director Damien Chazelle’s 2014 film, Whiplash, is also about careers.

So as well as a moving cinematic experience, here are three careers-related lessons we can take from Chazelle’s films.

1) Role models are pretty useful

Whether you’re heading to Paris inspired by an aunt’s foolhardy dip in the Seine, dreaming of re-establishing a tragically lost jazz bar, or decorating your music school dorm room with drumming legend photos, it’s much easier to start on a path when you’ve seen others walk it before you.

So when you’re looking for career inspiration, gather as many case studies as possible. Take an interest in your friends and family members’ careers. But don’t stop at people you already know. Why not try searching UCL’s alumni community or LinkedIn for graduates from your course? What are they doing now? How did they get there? And make use of the case studies we provide. At our careers events (like those comprising week’s Environment week, or March’s Life and Health Sciences week), we invite people from a range of industries to chat about their roles and career paths. We also regularly post career story inspiration on this blog. You’ll find just a few of our case studies here.

2) Careers involve compromise and sacrifice

La La Land and Whiplash explore the sacrifices made to follow a dream. For instance, to be a world-class drummer, you apparently have to sacrifice the skin on your hands.

But sacrifices and compromises aren’t simply the domain of creative greats, they’re part and parcel of every career (and all of life, really). There are so many things that can be important to someone in a career: money, prestige, location, like-minded colleagues, work-life balance, chances to progress, fun, etc. etc. etc. But not all jobs offer all of them all of the time. Sometimes we have to prioritise those values that are most important to us, and at the expense of other things, even if it’s just in the short term.

No one finds this process easy. If you need help working out your career priorities, or making a career decision, come and speak to one of our careers consultants in a one-to-one short guidance appointment.

3) Even the greatest candidates need resilience

Whiplash and La La Land show us everyone faces rejection at some point. Thankfully, most people’s career rejections don’t involve being publicly fired or having chairs thrown at their heads. But rejection can still be painful.

‘Resilience’, a bit of a careers buzzword at the moment, describes the hardiness that helps people move on positively from rejections. That could mean accepting rejection for highly competitive roles is common, and shouldn’t dissuade you from trying again. Or it could mean taking feedback on board and putting in an even better application next time. If you’re struggling to work out how your applications or interview technique might be improved, check out our online and in-person applications and interview advice.

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