As an "Industry Outsider" I feel hesitant to post this photo because I hate to feel like I'm banking off others. But these two people are amazing regardless of their place in the hierarchy. This photo was featured in Elle Magazine - I made a tiny guest appearance by sitting in front of my friend Jill (who has amazing stories to tell herself), and the lovely Nicola Formichetti, who is always kind enough to say hi to me, even if he does not remember me by my name.

As an “Industry Outsider” I feel hesitant to post this photo because I hate to feel like I’m banking off others. But these two people are amazing regardless of their place in the hierarchy. This photo was featured in Elle Magazine – I made a tiny guest appearance sitting in front of my friend Jillian Mercado (who has amazing stories to tell herself), and the lovely Nicola Formichetti (who is always kind enough to say hi to me, even if he does not remember me by my name). – Photo by Andrew Tess

2002, my senior year of high school – somehow I had been nominated not once, but twice for the coveted title of Queen. The first time took me by surprise, I saw my name listed on the community board by the quad for the title of ASB Ball Queen, our take on the big winter dance.

“What the hell is my name doing up there?!” I exclaimed.

The second time was for the ultimate prize of Prom Queen. I was surprised that people actually thought to nominate me again for high school royalty. Note, I didn’t win ASB Ball Queen, why nominate me again? My older brother laughed at my nomination and asked, “Are they playing a joke on you?”

The truth of the matter was, that though my friends and I would have loved to see me win the title of Queen just once, it really wasn’t in the cards. I was a floater – I had friends in several social groups and was involved in many extracurriculars. I was well known enough to be cast on the ballot (“Who should we put down? I know! Eileen!”) but not popular enough to grab the winning slot. As we all know, there is a hierarchy to high school, long formed before the organization of a school dance. I didn’t win Prom Queen either, but I was that kid who was just happy to have been nominated. “My friends are so great!”

Fast forward to the adult life, where I, and many of my friends, work in “the industry.” The Industry consists of “cool jobs” within the entertainment, music, and fashion worlds – and now extends into the world of tech and the Internet Famous. The parties are all the same, except with brighter music, shinier things, and social media to document every move to spark the “FOMO” (Fear of Missing Out) flame beneath your “basic” friends’ lives. There are several people who truly lead the lives their social media depicts, but there are still so many that fake it until they can make it. And it’s not just in social media, it’s within the overall social interactions. That’s right, cliques still exist. And if you aren’t rolling with the right crowd to bolster your career, you can sure bet that you are an Industry Outsider.

Do not confuse the Industry Outsider with those who are not in the Industry (i.e. city workers, students studying for the Bar, accountants who have no time for such shallow frivolities). The Industry Outsider is what I was in high school – and I what I continue to be: A floater. Still invited to most of the cool parties and events, but not quite part of the inner Industry cliques. We stand on the outside, listening to the chatter. Sometimes we are a little judge-y, sometimes we are a little amused, and sometimes we’ll join in as we see fit. Mostly we feel out of place because we don’t quite fit in with a certain group, but we make all the right friends, not because they can get us to places, but because we are selective with our company and have found friendship within the circles. We are a part of the cool crowd by default, but don’t have the following of the fashion blogger with a puppy named Zara.

The problem with most Industry Outsiders, is knowing when to play the game and when to stay true to yourself. The line is very fine, especially in my current city of residence, Los Angeles. You can boastfully laugh with the rest of them at happy hour and brunch, but you are going to have to sell to them too. Most of the time you have to be “on,” and for many Industry Outsiders, who either tend to be introverts or “real” (or both), it can be very exhausting and feel contrived. Small talk is not for everyone… and your friend with “important followers” sometimes deletes their photo of the two of you because  it didn’t fit their Instagram’s “aesthetic.”

Authenticity exists, but it is a special treat. Just because you might be a diamond in the rough with hard work ethic, doesn’t mean you’ll be picked to DJ the gig instead of Elijah Wood. Playing the game is a must. Talking to the right people, appealing to them in the right way, getting invited to the right events – it can either come naturally or take hard work, dedication, and case studies to better curate your social life. For the Industry Outsider, it’s natural for us to land in the crowd. It’s hard for us to sell to everyone’s friends’ friends.

The upside is that for some Industry Outsiders, we thrive off of difficulty levels. We may tire at times, but we push forward and take pride in playing the game at our own terms. And perhaps this is why we are well liked, because we stay true to ourselves. It might be a harder game to play, but we would rather find the best paths for ourselves, rather than follow the pack in blindness.

Note: There are varying degrees of an Industry Outsider, and this blog post is mostly through my own observations and experiences. Some want to be a part of the crowd, some only want to do enough to land a gig that pays better than their current situation. And of course, there are those who don’t care at all, and find themselves in the inner “cool circles” anyway. I land… somewhere in the Venn Diagram of all of that. This post was inspired by a friend who is doing well as seen through his social media accounts, but feels he isn’t making it in the way others are. “It’s like high school.” Don’t I know it. And therein lies an even bigger problem: letting the Industry jade you as an Industry Outsider… but perhaps that is another post for another time… and let’s just end this w/the obligatory mention of Echo Smith.

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