Sivan’s Story: Taking My Own Direction
(1/5) “Every Moment Counts More Than You Realize”
“I made my first movie when I was 15, on a small handheld camcorder my dad bought me from B&H. It starred various irritated family members whom I stalked as they went about their morning routines. Eventually, though, most people got used to having me shove a camera in their face and stopped getting annoyed when I filmed family dinners.
I have always loved film. The truth is that I imagine my entire life as one long movie, with a stellar soundtrack, an inspiring voiceover, and a lot of weird angles. As a teenager, I suffered from debilitating anxiety and depression, and I found that turning all the events in my life into a ‘movie’ helped me handle the whirlwind of emotions that I always felt. If I pretended that I was directing and starring in a scene, it was easier to manage the situation, instead of letting it overwhelm me. While it might sound like an odd coping mechanism, it worked for me. So in a sense, film has been my way of processing who I am and what’s happening in my life.
When I was 20, my dad passed away from cancer and my siblings and I were looking for a meaningful way to honor his memory. We decided to run a marathon to raise money for Chai Lifeline in his name. We needed to fundraise a certain amount, so I decided to make a small campaign video. As I went through all the videos I had filmed over the past year, I realized that I had hours of footage of my family just spending time together, doing normal family things. At the time, these moments hadn’t seemed so significant but now, they had so much meaning.
So, using that footage, a song I downloaded from the internet, and a short voice over, I made the movie in one night.
Within a few days of posting that video, we raised over $30,000.
I think that was the first time I fully processed how powerful film can be, and what it can inspire people to do and feel. The process of creating the movie was also very cathartic for me, and after that night I knew that this would always be something I loved doing.
But I’m also a realist, and in those days, unless you knew Spielberg, no one was going to look twice at your movies (this was back when Youtube was still just a place to post cat videos). Plus, film school wasn’t really an option. I was making aliya and had gotten into social work school and the time that seemed like the easiest route to go down. So that’s what I did…”
(2/5) “Taking A Chance on Me”
“Two years in, I was miserable and realized that I was on the wrong track. I wasn’t really sure where to go from there. All I knew was that I was unhappy and being a social worker wasn’t going to be for me.
One night my aunt called me and told me that she’d seen an ad for some guy in her area who was looking for an assistant editor to help him edit wedding videos. I had taught myself video editing software and was still making home videos, so I figured it was worth giving him a call. Two days later, I dropped out of school and started working for him full time.
I was his right-hand woman for two years. I filmed hundreds of weddings and events and learned a lot about film, equipment, and editing. Then after two years, I realized that, while the guy I was working for was happy being a wedding videographer forever, I had much bigger aspirations. I didn’t know exactly what these aspirations were, but it became clear that I had grown out of this position.
I decided to start creating promotional videos for small businesses. How did I go about doing this, you may ask? Well, I emailed every person I knew who had a small business and asked them if I could make them a free promo video. One person said yes, and I made my first solo video. She loved it, it got thousands of views online, and five years later she’s still using it for her (now very successful) business. After a few months out on my own though, I realized that while I had raw talent, there was still so much more I needed to learn. I really didn’t want to go back to school, even film school, so I did some research and found a small local production company that was looking for an assistant editor. They had a pretty big name in the industry, and I had always figured they were out of my league. After all, I’d never attended film school and everything I knew I’d learned from watching youtube videos and trial and error. But I sent them my reel and a very convincing email, and they called me for an interview.
They hired me on the spot.
(3/ 5) “Needing to Grow”
“Over the next three years, the company grew exponentially. What began as an assistant editing job turned into a screenwriting, directing and senior editing position. For a while, I kept waiting for someone to point out that I was an imposter, and that somehow I’d found my way into a job for which I had absolutely no qualifications. But years passed, and no one said anything. I worked on hundreds of videos, doing everything from animating non-profit fundraising videos, to directing live-action films used for disaster training exercises for the US government.
I also hit the jackpot in terms of coworkers. The people I worked for became my second family. I spent more time with them during the day than I did with my own family, and from the beginning, they treated me like ‘one of them.’ Over the years that I worked there, they encouraged me to be the best version of myself. They always listened when I told them I wanted to learn more, do more, and they were happy to let me try new things, even if I wasn’t necessarily qualified to do them on paper. They paid for me to take a screenwriting course over my maternity leave so that I could grow my skill set and be able to write scripts for clients when I got back. It was the job I’d always dreamed of having, and for a very long time, I couldn’t have been happier.
But things change, and while the original plan was to grow into a big production company, over the past few months it became clear that this was no longer the direction we were going in. For his own personal reasons, and due to a few different factors, my boss decided that he didn’t want to run a big company with many employees, and instead wanted to go back to focusing on being a filmmaker. Within a very short time, half of the staff was let go. They explained to me that the company would still exist and I could keep my job, but that things would run on a different scale from now on. What once had been a thriving place rife with opportunities was now a very quiet office with three people in it.
It actually took me a while to realize that I was unhappy. For so long this place had been my life. I gave 150% to my job. While I had had other jobs before, none of them fulfilled me like this one. Not to mention that the office was five minutes from my house, my coworkers were my best friends, and my boss treated me with an incredible amount of respect.
I started feeling angry all the time, cranky at my husband, annoyed with my kids. I snapped a lot at them, and I’m really not an angry person. It took me weeks to figure out that I was actually unhappy at work, but so scared to admit that, so instead I was taking all my frustrations out on my family. Once I realized that, though, I knew something had to change.
I couldn’t stay still anymore. Luckily, I have an incredibly supportive husband, and when I told him how I felt, he understood. Despite the fact that I have been the primary breadwinner for our entire marriage, he didn’t even blink when I told him that I needed to move on, despite the fact that I didn’t actually have another job to go to instead. ‘You should do what’s right for you. We will figure out the rest,’ he said. So the next day I told my boss the truth, that it wasn’t enough for me to stay in the same position anymore. I wanted to grow, and it looked like the ability to do so in this company was no longer a viable option. It was time for me to move on. He understood, even agreed, and I realized that this was the best way to leave: on great terms with someone whom I consider a role model. A month later I left the office for the last time. Then, I went home and cried.”
(4/5 ) “A Comfort Zone Is a Beautiful Place But Nothing Ever Grows There”
“That was two weeks ago. I don’t think I fully comprehended just how much leaving would affect my sense of self. In a way, I feel like I’ve just gotten out of a long-term relationship, and now I’m single. And to be honest, I don’t really know who I am single. Who am I when I don’t have a job that I love or an office to get to every morning? For the past several years I’ve defined myself by my ‘career’. It’s given me purpose and a creative outlet, not to mention a nice paycheck. And suddenly I’m just…me.
But, while a part of me feels slightly panicked by the entire process, another part of me is incredibly proud of the choices I’ve made. I realize some people might think this decision is rash and irresponsible. After all, I do have two kids to feed and bills to pay, and I shouldn’t just throw out a good job because ‘I want more.’ And to those people, I’d like to say: thank you for your concern. But I didn’t leave because I’m a bored millennial who was looking for the next big thrill. I left because I realized there’s more to my story and I know that in order to figure out what that is, I have to leave my comfort zone.
Over the past three years, I have amassed such an incredible toolbox of skills and honed talents I didn’t even know I had. I am not the same woman I was when I began this job, and I’ve begun to realize that my ‘career’, whatever that means, has just begun.”
(5/5) “Directing My Own Movie”
“Of course, I’m afraid. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with my heart pounding, and think, “Oh my God, what have I done.” But then I remind myself that just a few years ago, I was on track to become a social worker, and now my CV says “Director, screenwriter, and editor.” So maybe I do have the power to choose what path I go down, even if it doesn’t always feel like that.
Sometimes, as women and mothers, or just as people in general, we stay where it’s comfortable because it seems so terrifying to leap off into the unknown. I know so many people who stayed in jobs they were miserable in for years, because, well, what else can you do? I cannot tell you how many people raised their eyebrows at me when I told them I had left my job without having a new one yet. And while I’m not advocating for being irresponsible and lying around drinking pina coladas all day, I also don’t think to stay in a job you’re unhappy with is ‘the right thing to do’ just because ‘that’s what it means to be a grownup.’ Why does being a grownup mean I need to be unhappy? Maybe there’s a middle ground. Maybe it’s ok to want more, despite the unknowns and the fear. And there are so many unknowns and so much fear. I’m afraid that I will find a job I love, but one that won’t allow me the flexibility of being home with my kids as often. I’m worried that I will never find coworkers like the ones I left behind. Maybe I think I can do great things, but really, I’m just not that cool. I feel tiny and insignificant and too big for my skin, all at the same time. Despite all these very understandable fears, I just keep telling myself, ‘you’ve made it this far. Don’t give up just yet.’
So, as the director of this movie, I’ve decided that this is the point where we see a cool montage of the heroine figuring out her next steps (cue inspirational music here). She works on the business idea she’s had for a while or sends out some CVs to great jobs she’d be interested in getting. Maybe she drinks a lot of coffee and goes out with a friend that she hasn’t seen in a while. And then, right at the crescendo of the music, she has an epiphany, and suddenly knows exactly what to do…
So far, though, that part of the script hasn’t been written yet. So you’ll have to stay tuned to find out what’s next.”
Shira Lankin Sheps grew up in New Jersey and went to Stern College for women. After graduating from Hunter College School of Social Work with her MSW in clinical social work, she worked in the clinical field, in marketing and photojournalism.
She decided to start The Layers Project to help break down stigma and promote healing within our Jewish community.
She feels strongly about presenting women, who are so often shown as shallow characters or fully removed from Jewish media spaces, as three-dimensional individuals whose lives are full and rich with resilience.
Shira made aliyah with her family two years ago to Jerusalem.
Headshot taken by Tzipora Lifchitz.