Episode 287 — The Sky’s the Limit


Episode 287 — The Sky’s the Limit

A lot of us quit doing what we love for the wrong reasons, because other people poison our minds by telling us we have to go get “a real career”. When we aren’t getting that traction in the beginning (which is normal in our career), we start feeding off these doubts instilled in our minds and we give up too soon. 

But we are all on our own journey. If others are projecting their fears or failures onto us, — instead of supporting us — why would we want that around? You’re the average of five people with whom you spend the most time with. So always be surrounded by people who are better than you, those who inspire and encourage you to do better, to do more. And when you have such a support system — then the sky’s the limit!

In this Podcast, Allan McKay discusses the importance of having a support system that makes you average up, not down; how and where to find it and how to overcome the inner critic that holds you back.



[03:23] Introduction

[03:58] The Average of Five People We Spend the Most Time With

[12:00] Not Settling for Mediocrity

[16:05] Internal vs External Friction

[18:43] Finding a Like-Minded Community



Hello, everyone! This is Allan McKay. 

Welcome to Episode 287! I want to talk about our pursuit of excellence — winning not losing — and the habits we can take on in order to succeed.

We are close to 300 Episodes. It’s crazy to think just how far that we’ve come. I don’t want you to settle for mediocrity. I don’t want you to listen to naysayers. I hope you get a lot from this Podcast.

Please share this Episode with others. 

Let’s dive in!



[01:06] Have you ever sent in your reel and wondered why you didn’t get the callback or what the reason was you didn’t get the job? Over the past 20 years of working for studios like ILM, Blur Studio, Ubisoft, I’ve built hundreds of teams and hired hundreds of artists — and reviewed thousands of reels! That’s why I decided to write The Ultimate Demo Reel Guide from the perspective of someone who actually does the hiring. You can get this book for free right now at www.allanmckay.com/myreel!

[24:43] One of the biggest problems we face as artists is figuring out how much we’re worth. I’ve put together a website. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com! This is a chance for you to put in your level of experience, your discipline, your location — and it will give you an accurate idea what you and everyone else in your discipline should be charging. Check it out: www.VFXRates.com!



[03:23] A lot of us quit doing what we love for the wrong reasons, because other people poison our minds by telling us we have to go get “a real career”. When we aren’t getting that traction in the beginning (and that’s normal in our career), we start feeding off these doubts instilled in our minds and we give up too soon. If we were to just stick with it, we’d end up exactly where we wanted to be. But because we’re trying to do something to make our parents proud, we derail our careers. 



[03:58] This is so critical! We are the average of five people with whom we spend the most time. But what if those five people are the ones bringing us down? I remember one of my friends was single forever, but the second he got married, he started pressuring me too: “You’re not happy! You ought to get married!” That sounds trivial but when you think of it in the big picture, when someone else is having success in their area, they could tell you to come join their company. Or, if they aren’t having that success, they will push you in that direction too. They aren’t doing anything either, but they’re insecure about themselves and want to push that onto you. If you’re doing something you’re passionate about, they may not be conscious about putting pressure on you. Everyone tends to adapt to everyone around them. So if you are around people that are bringing you down, you may not be aware of it but it’s a poisonous mindset to be around. If you don’t have that support system, it makes it more difficult. 

[06:07] Sometimes, it’s the artists that tried and failed and they project that failure onto you. But you’re on your own journey. For others to project that onto you, instead of supporting you, why would you want that around you? I remember that was the case with my wife’s father (www.allanmckay.com/99). Her dad was very vocal about all the things she should be doing. He was taking jabs at her any time he could because it made him feel better about failing as an artist himself. He told her to join the military because “art wasn’t a real job”. It wasn’t until she met me that I told her she was good enough to be an artist. By then, she was doing her art on the side. There was always that one person preventing her from going through with her. And that’s a really common story. A lot of us think we’re alone in experiencing that. When you realize everyone else has that internal critic — as well as external pressure in terms of having to make money or our friends asking us to party with them — you know you aren’t alone. The more you’re doing something people don’t understand, they want you to reel you back in. And it may not be conscious at all! And a lot of us want to conform to our friends and sink into their reality.

[08:54] Going back 10,000 years, you would have to adapt to your pack. When you have that higher calling, that’s when you have to do your own thing. The critical thing you need to do is pay attention to how you feel. Also, pay attention to other people around you. I had that experience as well. I dropped out of high school in ninth grade. When people care — or when they follow “the norm” — they push that onto you. Everyone was telling me to go back to school and get “a real job” because “art was not a real job”. When you have those external pressures, it’s hard. After a while, you’re going to start to think that those people may be right. 

[10:11] I was really passionate about what I wanted to do. I loved to talk about it. When it came to wanting to work on Hollywood effects (especially when visual effects wasn’t a thing), those things sounded really alien to Australians. So they would project their fears and assertions onto me. And I didn’t have a support system. My solution was to be less vocal. I stopped talking about my passions. I had my goal and my plan, and I worked hard to get that traction. Eventually, I could step back and say, “I made it!” 



[12:00] Looking back at my career, I could’ve given up. I was close to giving up. When I sent out that fifth demo reel, I thought, “If this doesn’t get a response, maybe everyone is right and I should go try something else.” That’s when I finally got the call. But there were other times after that when I wanted to give up. But there was that little thought saying, “Just give it all up and settle for mediocrity and everything will be okay.” Mediocrity is when you decide to settle. It’s when you decide to not pursue your true passion. When you meet someone who is doing something you wanted to do, that’s a time for reflection. You start thinking about when you yourself gave up. We don’t know we make these decisions that move us away from sea. Suddenly, we’re doing a completely different job. You wanted to make art but now you’re working at a car dealership. It’s okay to do something different but not at the expense of your true passion. Now it becomes your pain point.

[13:58] And that’s why it’s so common for me to get so many people contacting me saying, “I always wanted to do what you do. But now I have family and I work a real job, but I do my art at night.” I’ve had those times when I would take a job to make life easier; but I’d find myself going back to what I love late at night. That’s why you have that passion. That’s why we have hobbies or distractions. One of my friends at Pixar, for example, is married to an artist. I asked him what that’s like. He told me it was great because they fall asleep talking about art and cameras. I always wanted to date people who were different from me. But now, I’m married to an artist and I get it. We’re passionate and we support each other. But I could appreciate that with my friend at Pixar that they had that much passion for what they did. That’s what we want! 



[16:05] But to go all the way back to the beginning, most of us don’t get it because of two things:

  • Internal friction: It’s that inner critic, ourselves. That voice that doubts ourselves. Back 10,000 years ago, you’d want to conform to your tribe. Humiliation would lower your chances for reproduction. You’d be seen as strange. Those things are ingrained in our DNA. Normal hasn’t killed us yet, but in 2020 we aren’t dealing with those things like extreme dangers. But we still have the reflexes built into us.
  • External friction: It’s all those people around us that want to push us and encourage us and say, “I’ve got you!” When you don’t have that support system, and instead you have people discouraging you, you have to turn inside. What I love about the internet is that there are all these communities out there. But at the same time, you have people tearing other people down. Occasionally, I’ll get a really nasty comment on my work on the internet. I end up looking at that person’s profiles on Facebook and realize they’re really in pain. Which is why they’d rather tear other people down. I hate that! I’d love it if we were all supportive of each other. 



[18:43] I think you need to have that balance of knowing what you really want to do and going after it — but also being realistic and having goals. If, for example, you want to get a job, what are the steps you need to take? You have to look at it strategically and that’s what my channel is about. I want to help people have that success that I’ve had or my friends or students are having. And there are places on the internet you can go to find like minded people. You can band together and make something happen. I think it’s really important to find that support system if you don’t have it. And maybe you need to be a bit more guarded around some friends. And it sucks to say that but when people start projecting and putting things on you, you start to decide if they’re aligned with where you’re going. So you have to get rid of the poison. 

[20:15] There is nothing I believe more than that you’re the average of five people with whom you spend the most time. So if those five people are pulling you down, you will be pulled down. If you’re around people who are better than you, you will be pulled up. There are people who are inspired or offended by opportunities. When you meet someone who did an amazing thing, you can either entertain it, dismiss it or accept it. A lot of us dismiss it instantly. If that’s true, you think you aren’t doing well in your career. I feel that I’m more of an entertainer. If that is true, then I’m going to figure it out as well. How do I double down on that? I always look at something with a skeptical point of view but what would it be like if it were possible? And that’s when I try it out and up the ante. Bit by bit, I try to get better results than the other person. And I love when I find people to share that with! 

[22:09] The reason I’ve loved making tutorials since I was 19 was because I hated when people kept secrets to themselves. That meant that no one else needed to struggle like I did trying to figure out the same effect. That person gets to make something better and share that idea. That’s the idea of a community I aspire to. I’m the one who thinks, “This is so cool! How do you do that!” When I’m around people who are better than me, I get inspired. Maybe you’re in a group in which you’re doing better than anyone else. You’ve gotten that traction and people are praising you. That’s dangerous too because you become complacent. It’s counter intuitive because we don’t have people telling us to do better. You need to be averaging UP. If you’re surrounded by people who are better than you, the more you’ll start aspiring to be better as well.

[25:30] So always be surrounded by people who are better than you, those who inspire and encourage you average up, to do better, to do more. And when you have such a support system — then the sky’s the limit!


I hope you got a lot from this Episode. Feel free to reach out to me directly: [email protected]. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s listened to this Podcast!

If you want to share this Episode, that would mean the world to me! I’ll be back next Episode.

Until then — 

Rock on!


Click here to listen on iTunes!

Get on the VIP insiders list!

Upload The Productive Artist e-book.

Allan McKay’s Facebook Fanpage.

Allan McKay’s YouTube Channel.

Allan McKay’s Instagram.


Let's Connect

View my profile on