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Even Oscar Nominees Almost Went to Law School (But Get to Work with Robert Downey, Jr. Instead)

02/22/2013 10:15 am ET | Updated Apr 24, 2013
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Editor's Note: Huffington Post has teamed up with Roadtrip Nation, an organization that travels the globe to interview people who have built lives around their passions. Keep an eye out for more stories in the coming weeks for insight into your own path.

To the viewer who's watching at home in SpongeBob pajamas, the Oscars can seem like they're a distant world away. The bespoke designer frocks, the endless flow of champagne, the chance of running into Meryl Streep in the bathroom: such privileges feel so removed from our daily routine of eating cereal for dinner. Obviously, we're still all going to tune in to see the never-ending speeches and awkward teleprompter banter. But if we're feeling a tad envious of Hollywood's creatively gifted (and creatively boob-taped) nominees, we can always take comfort in the fact that the glitz is just another case of cinematic artifice. After all, most of the attendees are only borrowing those opulent outfits that are worth more than our lives. And there's also an immutable truth that no amount of Dior can erase: most of these people were once just like us.

In fact, many of them spent years failing and saying "would you like fries with that?" while they worked to make something of themselves. Take Oscar-nominated writer and director Richard Linklater. In the video above, you'll find a conversation Linklater had on Roadtrip Nation's public television series about his path to becoming a filmmaker. He's known for Dazed and Confused, Fast Food Nation, and A Scanner Darkly, among other films. But he certainly wasn't wearing a tux to the Oscars right out the gate. He worked crappy jobs while he honed his skills, struggled to get his films off the ground and fielded plenty of criticism from friends and family about his 'impractical' career choice. Everyone around him was like, "Just get a law degree!" "Have a fallback!" But Richard didn't throw in the towel and grab an LSAT prep book. Instead, he entered a "monkish, dropout, total devotion phase," in which he taught himself the mechanics of filmmaking. Success wasn't immediate, and there were certainly a string of failures that tested him. Nevertheless Richard let his inner voice guide him. The result? Today, he gets to pay the bills by hanging out with Robert Downey, Jr. Had he listened to others, he'd probably be in a cubicle right now praying for Bagel Friday to come. Turns out, listening to himself was the right way to go.

Richard's story of perseverance and ultimate pay-off isn't just applicable to the entertainment industry (although those of us in the liberal arts certainly have a harder time convincing our parents that we won't go poor and sell our kidneys than those in accounting). But the lesson is: if something gets you really psyched--even if it's off the beaten path--you don't have to desert it in favor of the 'safe' route. Hardnosed cynics might scoff at the waiter-who's-really-trying-to-be-a-director, but that's how most people accomplish unique goals: by soldiering through the hard times and maintaining self-belief, even when haters are hatin'. Besides, when we're on our deathbeds reflecting on our lives, are we really going to lament that we didn't play it safer? "Oh, if only I had taken more thankless desk jobs that squashed my soul for an almighty dollar!" No! On the contrary, the number one thing elderly people say at the end of their lives is, "I wish I had taken more risks."

So, as Richard advises, take the time to "discover who the hell you are." And don't worry if everyone you know is rushing to get their names inscribed in Old English on graduate degrees. We're here on Earth for a long-ass time, so there's no need to freak out if you don't have it all figured out by age 25 (or 35, or 45, or whatever arbitrary age you consider to be the 'limit' of acceptability for being lost). It's okay to not know where you're going, and to dip your toes in different fields. If you carve out time to explore what grasps you, you'll end up far happier in the long run than your friends who hastily jerry-rigged themselves into careers just for security. We're not saying that if you love film and follow your heart, you're guaranteed to be the next Jennifer Aniston with a perfume deal and perfect highlights always meticulously placed to appear haphazard. But maybe you'll be happy being an independent filmmaker, a special effects artist , a film editor , a a costume designer , or anything else that combines your interests. Who knows? With the right blend of ambition and hard work, you might just find yourself wearing boob tape to the Oscars one day, after all.

To check out more stories from Roadtrip Nation, head to roadtripnation.com

By: Alyssa Frank