How Taking a Step Back Can Propel Your Career Forward

Posted on: Feb 27, 2024

Photo Credit: Grusho Anna // Shutterstock

By Andrea Joy Tucker

Have you ever found yourself accepting a job for which you feel overqualified? Perhaps there was a chance to work with a renowned director or producer, requiring you to set aside your desired role. Maybe an opportunity arose to advance within a particular department? Let’s be real: sometimes we just need the work and the hours to pay the bills.

From my own experience as an associate producer on unscripted shows, I’ve taken positions as a production assistant for larger-budget productions, including shows from Shondaland and events like the Oscars. These were long-term goals of mine, so I embraced the opportunity despite having more advanced experience. 

I occasionally questioned my choice to return to freelance work and accumulate credits on big-budget productions at the expense of gaining further experience as an associate producer. A timely conversation changed my perspective when someone said, “Sometimes we need to step back to move forward.” This advice, while general, resonated deeply with me, even though the person was unaware of my specific situation. 

Reflecting on this, I realized how many of my hopes and prayers had been fulfilled. This realization, reinforced by the support of a mentor, assured me that my career path was not misguided.

Many of us have similar stories. It’s easy to declare that we’ll stick to certain roles and not settle for less. But how do we decide to revise those declarations and accept a role we might be reluctant to take?

Opportunity for Growth

When an opportunity arises to advance with a team, department, show or company, sometimes it’s worth accepting a lesser role or even a pay cut. This is when you must consider the long-term benefits over the immediate situation. It may be tough in the moment, but focusing on the potential to excel in a role where you already have substantial experience is key.

Opportunity to Work on Big Budget Productions

As I mentioned, you might not always land a position that matches your qualifications in big-budget productions. However, getting your foot in the door with the professionals involved in these projects–and the decision-makers who hire for them–is invaluable. The entertainment industry is heavily reliant on connections, yet details about hiring and production are often kept under wraps. Demonstrating your skills confidently, backed by your extensive experience, will eventually pay off.

Career transitions come in many forms, and at times it may seem like we’re moving backward rather than forward. It’s important to remember that our aspirations and dreams exist for a reason, and they persist until realized. Believe that your patience, your work and your consistency will not be futile. Personally, I find comfort in progressing at my own pace and embracing each step back as a strategic move toward my ultimate goals.

Strategies for Leveraging Lesser Roles Into Career Advancement

Taking a perceived step back in your career can open doors if you approach it with the right mindset and strategy. One crucial tactic is to identify and fill in any skill gaps. Use the time in your current role to learn new technologies, software or processes that are in demand in your industry.

Offer to take on additional responsibilities or projects that can showcase your capabilities to decision-makers. Document your achievements and contributions, as they can be powerful evidence of your value during performance reviews or when applying for promotions. Stay informed about industry trends and news, as this will enable you to contribute meaningful insights and ideas that can set you apart from your peers.

Remember, every role offers a unique learning opportunity that can serve as a stepping stone to your next career milestone.

Tips on Networking and Building Relationships Within the Industry

Networking is vital in any industry, but it’s particularly crucial in fields where opportunities often arise through word of mouth. Start by building genuine relationships with your colleagues at all levels. Be curious about their work and offer help when you can. Attend industry events, workshops and seminars to meet potential mentors and collaborators.

When networking, focus on how you can add value to others, rather than what you can get from them. Social media platforms, especially LinkedIn, can be powerful tools for connecting with industry professionals. Engage with their content, share your own insights and don’t hesitate to reach out with thoughtful questions or comments. A robust network is not just about the number of connections you have, but the quality of the relationships you maintain.

High-Profile Examples of Career Setbacks

The entertainment industry is filled with stories of successful individuals who once took a step back in their careers. Take the multiple award-winning actress Meryl Streep: after early success in her career, she chose to take on a lesser role in The Deer Hunter, which led to her first Academy Award nomination and catapulted her to stardom. Similarly, Steve Jobs’ departure from Apple in the 1980s was a significant setback, but it allowed him to develop the skills and vision that he later used to transform the company into one of the world’s most successful tech giants.

Another example is Robert Downey Jr.—after battling personal issues, he took on smaller roles that eventually led to his comeback as Iron Man, revitalizing his career. These stories exemplify how taking a step back can sometimes be the best strategy for making a significant leap forward.

Taking a lesser role in your career can propel your career forward. It may require setting aside your desired role or accepting a lower position, but the long-term benefits and opportunities for growth can outweigh the immediate situation. Whether it’s gaining experience in big-budget productions or filling skill gaps, embracing each step back strategically can lead to achieving your ultimate goals.

Networking, building relationships, and staying informed about industry trends are essential strategies for leveraging lesser roles into career advancement.

Andrea Tucker is a writer/producer is sports and entertainment.

Browse thousands of jobs and find your next gig! Sign up or log in to Staff Me Up and get on set today!

You may also like:

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *