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  • Elena Jean

Hi, hello? It's 2023 calling.

I was trying to think of a title for this blog post, which was challenging because it's an expansive one. I cover a lot of ground. In it, I share some reflections on a difficult 2022, including the challenges and rewards of staying true to one's authentic values and callings. Then, I talk about where I'm headed in work and life for 2023! Today's entry is a little more reflective and personal than what will be usual. It's a juicy one, for sure.

Here's some other titles I came up with before selecting the one you see above.

"One last look back, before taking the Big Kahuna head on..."

"Be yourself, or die trying"

"Fuck you 2022, Hello 2023"

"Being a filmmaker is hard"

"I'm broke"

"Sometimes I question my hopes and dreams, but now that I'm in my late 20s I can't really do that anymore because I could literally die at any moment."

"New Years Reflections and fml"

Regarding that second to last title, some perspective might be healthy (for those feeling similar).

I'm pretty happy I didn't select any of those titles and went with the one I did, which I feel is artistic and communicates the deeper themes of this blog entry (as you will soon discover, young Padawan).

It's New Years and it's time to reflect on the past year.

2022 was one of the most challenging, confronting years of my life so far.

I know you're not here to read a miserable diary entry (as much as I'd love to scandalize my public persona by writing one), so I'll spare you the abysmal details. Instead, I invite you to join me on a journey of ~self-discovery~. In 2022, I underwent an uncomfortable (but necessary) metamorphosis, as I learned more about who I am and where I'm going. As I share a smidgen of my ongoing evolution with you, perhaps you'll glean some insights and inspiration for your own journey ;)

Anywho, where was I? Oh yeah, so my 2022 pretty much sucked baboon-butt. Here's why:

  1. Filmmaking is hard.

  2. Being self-employed is hard.

  3. Pursuing an unconventional path, despite the sirens' call to "easier paths" (such as stable, well-paying, benefit-offering jobs... Just as a totally random example I'd never thought of until just now) can be hard.

Ah, the life of an ãrtïštę. Why the hell do we do what we do? To rebel – to disappoint our parents? Are we trying to "stick it to the man"? Or, is it all to achieve fame and glory? Perhaps, we're just sick and twisted, and like to torture ourselves and endure public abuse.

Personally, I often don't feel I have any other choice. I've rarely allowed myself to simply pursue the "easier path". No, apparently, it's always been the hardest route for me. Like, let's study engineering and then go straight into independent documentary filmmaking. True story. Brilliant plan, Watson!

I'll be the first to admit that my pursuits haven't always been the "most logical". Still, I don't think I'm all that sick and twisted. Okay, fine, I am sick and twisted (anyone who knows me knows that's true). But, I swear I'm not just trying to disappoint you Mum and Dad. That phase ended at least five years ago.

Alright, here it is. Here's why we do what we do...

As filmmakers – artists, entrepreneurs, anyone pursuing an "unconventional" path (can be broadly defined) – we do what we do because we must. To not, would be to abandon our values and who we believe ourselves to be at our very core. It goes deep – soul-level shit. We're pursuing our "callings". These callings start as curiousities in our childhood, evolve and shift, disappear and reappear (like a fucking wack-a-mole) throughout our lives. We're trying to authentically live and contribute to the world, by chasing down the lived expression of our truths.

To do so, sometimes, as the saying goes, "You gotta risk it for the biscuit". And, sometimes, you don't get the biscuit.

🍪 :(

But, hey, life's like that. Uh huh (cue Avril Lavigne), that's the way it is.

This time last year, I wasn't planning on 2022 being a difficult year. No, I was all starry-eyed, dreaming up my next adventures and goals. Most of which ultimately went to sh*t.

As much as we like to tell ourselves we can, we can't plan our lives. We're either forcing ourselves to do something moderately to significantly soul crushing, or we're trying our best to live by our constantly evolving, authentic values and callings. It's kind of like surfing, to use the ultimate cliché: You either ride the next wave of your life's "callings" (regardless of how big and hectic it is) or you get utterly obliterated by it (or, you sit on the sidelines like a little sissy-pants). Riding the wave, you don't know where you're going, the current can shift at any moment. Your only job is to stay on your damn board.

For me, last year, trying to live and work as a filmmaker was kind of like trying to ride the wave ("the Big Kahuna"). For you, it might be artistic pursuits, entrepreneurial, being a snowboarder, a clown, a Mom, or a flippin' kilted Scottish log tosser for all I know... Whatever feels like the authentic version of you – a constantly evolving, hard-to-label, multi-layered version of you. Trying to live an authentic life can come with its challenges.

Life's like that (uh huh, Avril totally gets it).

Look, because I have to mention it... I was born in a first-world country to (relatively normal) loving parents. I have the privilege of being able to try and pursue my "callings". The absolute worst that can happen is I end up on the streets of a first-world country, begging for Tim Horton's cardboard-like food. Trust me, I've thought about that life more than once. Sure, it'd be bad, but it could be worse (at least we have universal healthcare here in Canada).

Also, at this point I should mention... I have zero judgement towards anyone doing what they need to do to get by (irrespective of where you were born). I've been there too, many times. We're all on our own journeys.

Anyways, this is about my journey, not yours, so don't derail my blog post by whining about your soul-crushing, inauthentic life.

(Is it necessary for me to clarify that I often make sarcastic jokes? Or, have you not noticed?)

In 2022, the big challenges I faced were:

  1. Burnout

  2. The confusing aftermath of the release of my first full feature film

I spent five years working on an impact-focused, independent feature film. Prior to that, I did five years in the impact-entrepreneurship space while studying engineering. This totalled for a decade of mostly working myself silly for basically no money. Tack on some mental health hurdles and I was burnt to a crisp by the time 2022 hit. So, a shell-of-my-former-self proceeded to spend 2022 travelling aimlessly through a post-COVID daze, financially and emotionally battling, folks. This was the behind-the-scenes reality most people didn't see. My life, like everyone else's, isn't a highlight reel.

I had an experience this year, sitting around a fire with some friends, when someone said something along the lines of, "You live such a charmed life! You must be rich!" Internally, I lurched (🤢). I realized they were basing this on what they've seen me share online. It made me question some things... Including social media, how I'm perceived and what I've been sharing. And, it stung. It reminded me that my reality, and how I felt, was far from their assumption – from my own idea of a "charmed life".

Side note: The beauty of a blog, of long-form content, is that it's often less "charmed" by nature. There's a level of depth translated through paragraphs written not to please a hungry algorithm; instead, mostly just myself. I write because I find it personally fulfilling, amongst other benefits (professional, creative and contributory).

Anyways, 2022 was quite the opposite of "charmed". For anyone who's experienced a bout of burnout, you know the fatigue, confusion and frustration that comes along with it. And, it's sometimes hard to recognize your situation when you're in it. (If you think you might be in burnout, take a break ASAP, friend).

My team and I had just released our film, Coextinction, and closing that chapter came with some emotional baggage I hadn't expected. When you work on something you're very passionate about for a long time, you have strong emotional attachments to it. And (I never knew this about filmmaking), when you release a film to the world, contrary to popular belief, you don't just feel a triumphant feeling of success...

No, you feel such an overwhelm of emotion – mostly extremely conflicting – that you'd like nothing more than to crawl into a hole and wait for it all to blow over. After releasing a film, you might feel:

  • Embarrassment

  • Pride

  • Shame

  • Sadness

  • Happiness

  • Worry

  • Complete and utter exhaustion

  • And, more! :)

It's confusing, to say the least.

I now understand why some filmmakers say, "Well, I'm never doing that fucking shit again", after their latest film premieres. It's kind of a running joke in the community.

Making my first feature documentary film was really hard and really rewarding. I wouldn't trade the experience for the world. I learned so much about so much. And, I learned a lot about myself – who I am and where I'm going. It tested me on so many levels, and it showed me what I was willing to do for a "calling". It also showed me what some of my limits are.

After the release of our film, for the first time in my life, I was faced with a massive period of unknown. I found myself repeatedly asking "What next?", feeling overwhelmed (and burnt out) by the decisions I had to make.

But, it wasn't all terrible. I feel like anyone reading this might be imagining me despondently hitting my head against a wall for all of 2022...

I mean, there definitely was some of that. I was pretty depressed and stressed. Consequently, I don't think I was the greatest friend at times; and, not the most productive either. I wasn't able to be fully present because I was so knotted up internally. But, in between all of the lonely, shitty times there were a lot of really good times.

After realizing I was burnt out, I let myself travel and go on lots of adventures. I spent the last of my money, but I think it was worth it. Also, I'm pretty lucky to have good people around me. If it wasn't for good friends and colleagues, who I never give enough credit to in my daily life (something I want to do better in 2023), 2022 would've be a lot worse. (I hope you know who you are, grateful for you!)

So that's that. That was my 2022. A messy, confusing period that involved a lot of disorganized trial, error and reflection. It certainly wasn't what I'd hoped it would be. But, the unplanned adventures and times with friends were priceless. And, it was year of massive personal growth. In 2022, I gained more clarity than I've ever had on who I am and what my next "callings" are.


Elena Jean
One one my favourite memories and shoots from 2022, with an all-star crew up in God's Pocket, Vancouver Island

You'd think, after so much stress and financial struggle, that I'd throw the towel in on this whole filmmaking thing... On the contrary, I'm more invested than ever. For me, 2022 was a test. Kinda like, "So, how bad do you really want this, kid?"

I'm a documentary filmmaker, a creator, because (more than anything) I just want to:

  • Be curious, to learn and adventure!

  • Be creative. To imagine, write, capture, edit and share.

  • Be deeply inspired by ideas and stories – by possibility, beauty, art and emotion – and share ideas and stories that deeply inspire others. (ultimately, to improve people's lives and the world)

For me, these are the rewards of pursuing an unconventional path. I'll put myself through hell and back to explore curiousities, be creative, share important ideas and do work that inspires. Because, these are my own personal heavens ;)

I do believe that, in the long run, things will work out. Don't they always? That's why you've got to try. Try each year... Chasing new dreams, letting old ones die, staying true to values, and, all the way, falling flat on your face until you don't.

This year, I've got some exciting projects and plans in the works. A few highlights:

  • I'm really excited to do more production contracts. Camera work, hosting, directing, assisting, doing bitch-work... All the things! I'm excited to work with awesome people, and learn new skills, in the field and on the ground!

  • I'll be working on a short series on wildlife conservationists and an environmental surf film, amongst other meaningful, smaller scale film projects

  • I'm developing my first feature fiction COMEDY film. Oh, yes, it's happening.

  • I'm also developing a hosted show – really digging my teeth into this one!

  • More writing, more intentional content creation and consumption

  • And, more travelling – where to, I'm not sure yet, but it's a more nomadic life for me in 2023!

Maybe some of these endeavours won't pan out, maybe all of them will. Regardless, I've got my sights set on the next steps that feel right. Looking back, it's clear to me now that it took all of 2022, a lot of lows (and some real highlights, with good people), to get this kind of clarity.

So, with that, I'll leave you to chase your own callings. If 2022 didn't work out for you the way you'd hoped, not to worry, because there's probably something around the corner calling your name ;)

If you enjoyed this one, stay tuned for what's next... I've been on writing role this last week! More updates, ideas and a "2023 Creator Manifesto", coming soon! I'll also be sharing my personal productivity system, to start the year off right! I hope that'll be a super helpful one for all of you fellow creative, entrepreneurial minds out there.

Time to ring in 2023! Happy New Year everyone.

El x

P.S. I'm glad that in the latter half of 2022, after wandering aimlessly for a while, I came home to writing once again. I re-learned that I love to write. So, even though I don't yet know what the hell I'm doing with this blog thing, writing just feels "right". It's kind of just happening. So, yeah, that's that.


...Also, just gonna put this here...


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