We had the good fortune of connecting with Sydney K. and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Sydney, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
Ah – work-life balance! This is a topic I’m always shifting on and always working towards! The balance with these two spaces is always shifting with me — I also think it’s a lot more than just these two circles. I think social and personal lives enter in and I think I generally split my time into those 3; I guess dividing my “life” into my social and personal lives rather than one whole thing. None of those things or the people in those circles mean any less to me than the others, but it helps me to think about them in that way, to organize my life. I first started thinking about this balance in high school. Without going too far back, I had a major epiphany in high school in about 11th grade. I wasn’t very happy – I had been spending all my time on my studies and on school, worried about college, and how I would turn out as a person. I didn’t have very many friends. I had a great home from my mom but my parents did get a divorce and I was still very angry about what I didn’t know at the time. For some reason, no matter how much I studied or worked at school, I just wasn’t a good test taker. I was great at writing, learning, and understanding concepts, but I guess I struggled to show that in my assessments. It was funny because I’d sit with my teachers and explain what I was learning, they’d know I knew it and I was great at homework, but not as much in school work. I always made only A’s and B’s, never straight A’s and I felt like I wasn’t good enough, but I knew in my heart that I couldn’t try harder — and that’s what changed! I honest was so fed up at that point I sort of gave up trying so damn hard to please everyone from my teachers to myself and everyone in between. I stopped studying as hard, nailing myself to a place, staring at nothing! I started playing more and doing more of what I had wanted to do at the time. I made the best grades of my life for the first time ever! I did not give up studying or learning or participating in school, I just started setting aside time for me and knowing when to call it as far as my work went. I think nowadays they call it “working smarter, not harder,” which is basically true. The lesson I took away was I had to be happy in order to do good work or rather to maintain good work. At some point, I’d get burnt out and anything I did after that no longer registered. I also learned to trust myself and to let things go — to draw a line somewhere and be able to say “I’m done” (at least for the day or project or focus). I took this lesson to heart and took it with me to college. I had a little set back in college, falling into traps of giving myself up to college work and friends — thinking that my ‘friends’ would stay with me the more time I gave them. Obviously, that’s not a good mindset to have. If your friends don’t accept you for you, and don’t accept that you have other time commitments or other things in your life, they are not good friends and aren’t actually friends at all. It’s fake, they are fake, and it’s not worth putting energy into the types of people who will only take from you. A lot of things are and it’s easy to fall into that trap, and you need to recognize there are people and project and job (etc..) that can help you balance what you need to in life. There are people, projects, jobs, and many numbers of things that will give back to you as much as you give. That’s honestly the key. You need to set aside time for yourself, for your personal goals as well as your social circle, your personal circle, and your work. Those spaces in your life are about you and need to respect that you have the other plates to balance. That’s what I always say now, it’s like balancing plates. You’re spinning all these plates, balancing them, and you have to keep them all going. The only thing though is if one of them crashes, they can’t all crash. You have to take time to mend what you need to. You have to realize that at some point you have to take the time. You have to realize that in order to get what you want and what you need out of life, you have to actually take the time. Take the time to learn what you want to do. Take the time to do it, to try at it, to fail and to keep going with it. You have to do this for everything, every space in your life. Take the time to go on vacation. Take the time to go out with your friends. or see your family. Take the time to talk with whoever matters in your life. In some small way you have to take the time. You will be happier for it. You will be more well-rounded for it. I’m by no means perfect at it. I still tend to waver more in work circles than I do in social ones. I take a lot of time for myself too. I think it’s important to alway be maintaining yourself. I think it’s important to know what you want and to set goals, and to ultimately be working for yourself for those goals and not the goals themselves. It allows you to have more freedom to explore and to try new things, instead of being held to any one thing. The balance comes in knowing when you can and cannot, when you are free to have options and to make the time and opportunities, and when you can’t. There are always things in life that can’t be avoided. Do the necessary things, but don’t get lost or bogged down in it. Know when to look out and try to see ahead. Try to look at bigger pictures, try to recognize in yourself and others when you are stuck, when your are going in circles, and how you feel. If you are tired, drained, and pretty-over it, something needs to change. You need to be able to breathe, to stop, to look around. If you can’t do that, there is no balance. Take it from someone who is and used to be a very self-proclaimed “workaholic” – it’s not healthy. I worked so much at one point, I ignored all the signs of being sick and mentally very ill. I went to work one day and everything fell apart. I made major errors, I couldn’t focus, and basically collapsed. I was so sick I almost went to the ER. I ended up have two very severe illnesses at the same time, was put on heavy medications, and for the first time in my whole life had to end up quitting something (my job). I’d never given up on anything, never quit, never backed down from what I had to no matter how painful or stressful it was. My life didn’t end because I had to quit. I did lose the opportunities there, maybe the contacts, but I also hadn’t reached out because I was scared of what people would think of that. This was out of my control, and that’s a pretty terrible thought to have. Funny enough this incident, didn’t stop me or my career. I still work, I still have opportunities, and I still have further to go. I’m better than I was health wise and work wise, and that incident, wasn’t the defining factor for me. It made me think and made me wonder why that happened. It ultimately took my right back to working so hard for someone else, putting myself aside and not taking the time to make sure I was okay. It went right back to the beginning: me, miserable, high school. I was suddenly just as sad, just as mad, and just as stuck in the same place I had been years and years ago. Why? I unhappy and I was just working hard because I figured that was expected of me. What did it do for me though? It made me sick, literally! I was so worried about being the best, doing the best, I failed at all of those because I neglected all the other parts of me. I also didn’t realize how much I didn’t do. I didn’t talk to my friends. I didn’t eat proper meals. I didn’t spend time with my pets. I didn’t spend time with my family. It was all for one job, one time. Sounds dumb, but the stakes felt very real to me. I lost sight of what this was. It was one job, one time, one point in my life, and one part of my life. Always take a minute. Take a breathe – literally and figuratively. Look at the other people around you. How happy are they? Look at what your are doing. What is it really? Look at yourself. Are you happy? Are you doing something you have to do in order to get past it to something you want to do? Or are you doing something and telling yourself that this is something you have to do? There’s a big difference. We all have obligations in life, but there are options. You have to start with yourself first and figure out you. Be happy and you can do anything. I went one space at a time and worked at the things that held me back, hurt me, or wasted my time. Ultimately all the spaces, circles, units, parts, etc.. all the pieces of your life come together, they make up you, your life and your time. Let me be clear about one last thing — all those parts are necessary. The social life, the personal life, the work life, and any other breakdown you see fit for yourself, they all are real and equally important. They all have their own set of necessary steps and “have-to’s,” and they all take up time. There is no such thing as a perfect balance. The balancing act is about how much time you spend on and with each. Each of those circles can fluctuate between taking more or less time and that IS a good thing, just don’t let one part monopolize any of the others for too long. Also remember that everyone else you know has their own parts too. You are in one or many of those circles, but not all of them. As you need time, so do other people. It’s just about taking that time and recognizing what your time you are spending and where. There’s no perfect solution because everyone is different and has different needs, wants, and responsibilities, but try to do your best and try to have the presence of mind to know you aren’t happy and something isn’t working. Sometimes, when you are stressed out in one part of your life, another part can help mend the stress and shed light on the other. Sometimes neither parts are connected at all and it’s a mini escape. Sometimes, there are many spaces that are stressful, but you have to pick one and focus. Take one space at a time, do what you need to and set the plate spinning. Remember not to spend all your time in one place. Maintain and take care of all your spaces, all your plates. Hold all of them up –holding them up is holding you up. You are most important. If you can take care of you, you can take care of others! It’s always a cycle. It’s hard work, but the work pays off. Make each part of your life, each part you are ‘balancing,’ a place where you feel yourself and you feel comfortable. You’ll know you are on the right track (if you find the right places to be) because you’ll find that the people and things you give your time to will give back as much as you give. You’ll find that it is hard work but not impossible, and ultimately you will be happy to do the work because it’s what you want. The hard isn’t so hard if it’s what you want. Most importantly, you’ll find that your life has many parts and some are separate, some overlap, and some take some more time and effort, but ultimately they should all be helping you progress, and they should all be parts of your life, not all of it.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
Professionally, I’m in the film industry – I work for myself as a freelance filmmaker, for my company – Rickety Wheels Productions, and for various friends and contacts. It was FAR from easy to get where I am now, and I’m not done! I spent my first few years working for little or no money, I worked so many gigs to get contacts and a paycheck. I ended up working a full time job, working in the evenings or taking time off, and spending my weekends on my real career. Over 4 years in now, and I’ve finally made enough contacts, respect and opportunities to be working full time right now on a Reality TV show (a place and genre I never thought I’d be at!) I’m a producer and editor for a 10 part unscripted series, called Men of West Hollywood. I’m a producer the Shifter Series with my best friends and work-partners, Matt Marder and Adam. I’ve produced 2 incredible 2 short films with my best friend and director, Ken Shinozaki. I’ve worked on countless projects now, features, shorts, music videos, and TV shows, and the caliber of these projects in far beyond all the projects I did personally in college. I knew and wanted that to be the case. Honestly, after graduating, it was just about putting the work in – the time. It really is a numbers game in a lot of ways for the film industry. From the minute I graduated, I spent all my time at first figuring out how to get start and get on my first set, and then once, I figured that out, I spent all my time getting on more sets and meeting more people, more contacts. I spent 2 months emailing everyone I could think of, starting with my professors, my graduated friends (from the year above me), and eventually branched out to people from my high school, elementary school, and then strangers on FB Groups and other places. I widened my view and my access slowly but surely, and started getting some answers about how to get started. That’s how I got on my first set ever, and how I met Matt and Adam — both of whom scared the pants off me when I met them for the first time. I wanted to do good work SO badly, I was so scared, if I messed up that job I’d never get another one! Obviously, not the case, but it always felt like the stakes were so high! If I didn’t do a good job, I wouldn’t get on the next set. I just started working and working and working. I started out PAing, then I started Production Design, I did little bits of cinematography and sound, and then I was a Director’s Assistant for a few projects. I felt I had to try and angle for the jobs I like the best or wanted. I eventually settled on Sound Operating and Producing. I edited projects to, but that was on a back burner for my earlier years in film because I felt Set and active contacts from Set were priority. I often spent too much time work. I mentioned before it got a a ridiculous height where I was fell deathly ill due to working so much. I have since calmed down and found a better balance in life! I think I trusted in myself and trusted what I wanted. I gave myself soft and hard goals, and limits. I figured for my profession grad school is not a necessary step, but if I wasn’t making active forward progress within 4 years, I’d go back to school. Needless to say, I’m not a grad student right now so I’m very happy, haha! I definitely learned to take my time and not act like everything is my last chance. I learned it’s okay to say NO! I’ve seen a lot of ugly situations on set and I’ve seen people quit for their mental health, and I’ve seen people persevere with help and support from a good team. I’ve learned how important team work is to the film industry. If I knew that before, I know how vital it is now. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. There are a lot fo people that are not worth your time, that are bitter and unhappy and who will actively try to pin their faults on you, their unhappiness on you — you don’t have to take it and certainly don’t have to continue relationships of any kind with those types of people. I really think that the right work environment will help you more than it will hinder you. Part of it is on you for setting your boundaries and part of it is other people and the work – mostly people though. I try to foster learning and encouragement in myself and others. I know how much work I can and cannot take. I also know how important my social and personal lives are to me as well as my mental health. It’s all important. I like to surround myself with people who are like me in that regard. As Matt likes to say, we should all be rising together! I see no reason to block people or force them into bad situations to learn like you had to or others had to, If you have help people or look out for them, do so. Our industry is flawed, as I think anyone on planet Earth knows from the media about Film and Hollywood — but there’s more toxicity than you think on the smaller levers, on the day to day from work hours to how the social work environment treats people. I’m here to help it and to help myself. I would hope to help others navigate the film world to the best of my knowledge, I look for others to help me, but I won’t be doing your work for you. It’s hard, long hours, long projects, short ones, and many steps to rise even in small ways, but doing what I love is worth it to me. I would like to be a part of the new industry that is shaping and coming up. I’d like to help build it into something more honest and real. My journey is far from over, but I am hitting some long awaited milestones. I’m almost to my PGA (Producers Guild of America) credits. I’m starting a podcast, maybe a Youtube Channel, and expanding my resume in the editing world. I am revamping my production company. I am holding on to my projects and adding some new ones. I think it’s key to always be moving sideways or up – always with a forward momentum. Don’t stop. Keep going. Keep trying.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
In Los Angeles? Oh wow – there are so many places and spots to visit, it really depends on the person. Right now it’s a little hard to say because our city is only “half open” with the Covid rules a regulations in place, but let’s pretend we found a cure or this is pre-Covid, for the sake of things to do! Let’s say you arrive on Monday and leave Sunday night – I’d take you around my favorite place and my home here Downtown. I’d take you for some incredible Mediterranean-style chicken or fish with rice and pita bread and hummus at a favorite place, called The Sultan. We could eat and walk the city blocks, maybe stopping for some soft-serve, Gothic ice cream at Little Damage. We can go to the last bookstore and go see a movie at the Rooftop Cinema or even at the Alamo Draft House. The next day we could get food at Corporation Food Hall (specifically Funculo – incredible pasta) or at Senoratown –one of the best taco places in town!! We could go to some of the museums like the Broad or even go to a speakeasy bar! Our last day in Downtown I’m torn between taking you to Cole’s for the best French Dip sandwich in LA or going to my one of my favorite ramen places – Hakata Ikkousha. We can take the Metro down to Hollywood and Highland get to Weho to hang out and shop along Melrose, Robertson or the Grove – depending on your taste and budget! We can get food at Chibiscus, my number one ramen place in all of LA! Get a boba and go browse at Amoeba for records, movies, and great conversation! Friday, we eat at Chin Chin, a fantastic Chinese food restaurant and old haunt, and then go drive up the hills to get a fantastic view of the city. At some point peppered in we have to visit Chinatown, Japantown, and a drive in! We can visit the Old Zoo or depending on the season, there are many spoooky things to do like Creep LA or the Haunted Hayride. Not explicitly LA but the Queen Mary has some very cool and historical things to do (and some spooky things as well). We can take pictures and visit exhibits of local artists in the Arts District. We can visit any one of the pop up museums or pop up themed bars that are around. We have to end on heading to Smorgasborg LA at the Row on Sunday to kick off the end of a great visit with an awesome person! I’ve lived here for 25 years and haven’t even come close to doing all the things possible here! It’s always open, always changing, and there are many wonderful people and cultures here. It’s what LA is and should be about.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are SO many shoutouts! I can’t and have never done everything in my life alone. My mother has always been my support and unwavering cheerleader. My friends have always been there and been happy for me. My boyfriend has been an incredible support, helping me maintain the parts of my life that get neglected. In the everyday, he helps re-center me so I can help myself, help him and others. I have to thank and shoutout to my dear friends and work-partners – Matt Marder, Adam Cohen and Ken Shinozaki, who all had taken early chances on me and have helped me grow as a person, as a producer, as a worker in our industry, and have made me feel a lot less alone in how and where I work. My current boss Akim and his daughter Hali have given me the biggest opportunity of my career so far and I’m so thankful for their trust and their support. They have helped me create another work family, of which I am so proud of and so thankful for. The people I met here have become some of the closest friends and colleagues I have ever had. I’m thankful to my kitties, my little mental stabilizers. I’m thankful to the universe and anything looking out for me because there have been some unbelievably tough moments these past few years. There are many more people out there, the list is honestly endless. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t know and meet and love the people who I have. I strive for myself and for them. I try to be a good example and try to learn from everyone else and their examples. I could not and have not done everything I have alone.
Rafael Reyes, Ryo Shiina, Sydney K.