Finding purpose and direction with Damien Neva

Ep. 9 Finding purpose and direction with Damien Neva

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Part of what I wanted to do on this podcast is introduce you to everyday people who are thriving professionally and personally. To show you that feeling energized and aligned at work isn't just for the celebrities or titans of industries that are often featured on other podcasts. It's available to every single one of us - including you.

In this episode I speak with Damien Neva, a former client of mine. Before we started working together Damien felt at sea - unsure how to define his professional focus and therefore unclear how to address the professional dissonance he was feeling in the midst of the pandemic. 

Today, Damien introduces himself as a video artist (discover his awesome work here: who has been producing short form serial videos for more than a decade for modelling agencies in New York including his current shop of nine years, NEXT Management, where he is the global director of social media. 

Although he never studied photography or filmmaking, his undergrad in English lit and a master’s in humanities and social thought have served him in good stead in the telling of stories. 

Damien lives in Brooklyn with his architect wife and their two children.

You can also follow Damien’s work on Instagram or Twitter or LinkedIn.

We discussed: 

  • The value of having lots and lots of conversations - even before you really know what you want to do.
  • How Damien turned his existing environment into exactly what he needed to progress his career 
  • The importance of trusting your body and listening to its signals
  • How owning who you are and what excites you draws people to you
  • And much more!


Welcome to the career studio podcast, where we boil down the noise and focus on the core concepts, essential for building an energizing career you love. One that is simply an extension of who you are and how you wanna live your life. Anyone can do it. It's just a matter of knowing what to focus on.

Hello and welcome to another interview with a former client of mine. Part of what I wanna do on this podcast is introduce you to everyday people who are thriving professionally and personally. To really show you that feeling energized, feeling aligned, this isn't just for celebrities or titans of industry that are often featured on other podcasts.

Really, this is available to every single one of us, including you. Today, I'm talking to Damien Neva. Damien is a video artist who has been producing short form serial videos for more than a decade for modelling agencies in New York, including his current shop of nine years Next Management, where he's the global director of social media.

Although he never studied photography or filmmaking, his undergrad in English Lit and a master's in humanities and social thought have served him in good stead in the telling of stories. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, an architect, and their two children. Damian and I had a great conversation where we talked about the value of having lots and lots of conversations even before you know, really what you wanna do. How Damian turned his existing environment into exactly what he needed to progress his career.

The importance of trusting your body and listening to its signals, how owning who you are and what excites you, draws people to you and lots more. I really had fun talking to Damien, so let's dive.

I think I'd, I'd love to start just talking a little bit about how you were feeling professionally before we started working together. You know, how were you feeling and what was going on?

Damien: Yeah. To, you know, situate where I was in the world. I mean, we were what, a year into the pandemic and I was looking for direction. A lot of the things that I really liked to do, making videos, working with, you know, talent, the models and musicians and artists that next represents.

I didn't have access to that and not being able to do what I really loved made me feel at sea. You know, was it a question of, um, finding a new job? I looked at, you know, who I am for the agency. You know, I'm a director of social media. Okay. Is that something I'd want to do for other companies? So I dove into listings and saw job requirements and what the jobs entailed for, you know, social media directors.

And, you know, it left me cold. I'm like, Ooh, I don't . I don't feel inspired by that. I don't think a move is gonna Yeah bring about inspiration or material benefit, anything like that. I, I didn't feel it. So yeah, I really felt lost. I didn't know how to, I didn't know how to extricate myself from that situation.

Thankfully, I married, well, my wife, who has, uh, over the years worked with career coaches herself, she encouraged me to, yeah, find a career coach and speak to a bunch of 'em, and, and then find the one that's right for you. And, uh, you know, thankfully that led me ultimately to you, Anne.

Anne: Awesome. I think it's really normal when you're feeling lost. Go and, and start to scan jobs on LinkedIn, right? That's kind of the, where everyone goes. But I think the, the challenge with that is that, when you approach it that way, it's always about you fitting yourself into a mould that someone else designed. Right. Which inherently means you're gonna have to shift in some way, unless you love what you do, right. And you love being a social media manager, but then you're probably not feeling lost. Right. So it's, it's often the place people go, but I think what often keeps people stuck because it's not very inspiring to look at job listings. And so how do you feel now? Right? How do you feel about what you're doing and where you're directed professionally?

Damien: Yeah. I, I, I do feel energized in a way that I didn't prior to working with you. And, you know, if you look on paper, well, Damien, you know, you're, you're still working for the same agency. You know what's changed? For me, what has changed is my outlook on the work that I do. I've worked for modelling agencies for over 20 years, and they're unique.

People think, oh, that must be like a pretty corporate environment. It really isn't. There's a lot of latitude in terms of, at least the, the relationships I've had with with agencies. There's a lot of latitude of, of, of what can be done. and you know, my remit is take care of the social media for the agency across all the territories that the agency is in and, you know, working with you, you know, I, I came to recognize that the things that I really love to do is, is making videos with talent and working with creative people. I have a skillset that yeah, I, you know, I know how to use a camera. I know how to edit videos, kind of know how to do it all myself, for better or worse, and through conversation with a lot of people, what I came to recognize is that I actually, I kind of have everything that I need to do in my current role.

Do I want to do the current role that I'm in forever? I don't know the answer to that, but I know for now what's right for me is doing, you know, the best I can in the role that I am. So to that end, it's, yeah, it's making original videos for the agency with the talent that we represent.

Anne: And those videos are so good. You, you did a whole series during fashion week this fall that really, they're really authentic look. As someone who's not really embedded in, in the fashion world at all, really what felt like a really authentic look to what goes on and a really. Just in the way that you capture them too. It just feels very real.

Like very real life little snippets of moments rather than a long train shot on someone that's perfectly composed. It's, you know, cause I think you do everything on the go and it makes it feel really real and it also gives a, a really honest or approachable look into the model themselves. Right. I feel like you really get to know the personality of the model, which is really nice.

Yeah. I, I love the films and they're fun to watch.

Damien: Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. I know the many months that we worked together, Anne, in 2021, I mean, I think every week I was mentioning and, and when I get back to Europe and when I get back to Europe to start filming, that was always beyond the horizon for me. Well, this season I actually got back to Paris for the first time in, you know, two and a half years.

I made a couple films in New York during fashion. you know, these are, these are model diaries. I spend the entire day with a model from her first appointment to her last, and along the way, capture all that happens. So I shot a couple episodes in New York and, you know, the reception was phenomenal. I mean, I'm not trying to gas myself up or anything, but it was good people, people really liked it and I loved it.

I mean, I, I do. I'm not one of those people who, oh, I, I can't watch my own work. I have no shame in that. I love watching my work. I love just like, wow, I love it. I love it. I get it. Really excited. And yeah, so it was, it was on the back of that, you know, my colleagues were saying to saying to the owners like, yeah, Damian has to go to Paris.

Like, come on, there's, there's, there's no one, no one better placed to, to capture our talent in ways that really aren't available if, if you're relying on photographers and video producers who are working for other organizations. You know, there's no shortage of cameras, there's no shortage of capture during fashion week, but my selling point has always been, you get me there, I'll take care of the rest.

There's very little you have to worry about. It's just me. I don't have a sound guy. I don't have a producer, I don't have a director. I don't have light. You know, for better or worse you get me. And what that has enabled me to do is produce the kinds of films that I do and, and really get as close as I can to my subject.

Anne: Yeah, they're really good and everyone should check them out. We'll put your handles and contact information in the show notes so people can check them out. I think, what I'm curious about is that the moment that you realized what we had talked about is, you know, you really love creating films and, and working with creative people, and you started to kind of explore what other opportunities outside of your current gig would provide you that.

So I'm curious, I mean, I remember the moment, but I'd love to hear it in your own words. You know, that moment where you realized actually, I can do it here. So how did that happen and and what was that like for you?

Damien: The aha moment I had, you know, was the weekly homework, if you will, of talking to people, talking to people, talking to people, and as someone who does it all himself and rarely asks for help.

Yeah, that was, whew. That was different for me, but, It was great. It was like, what people actually want to talk to me. This is kind of amazing. So it came from conversations that I had, and there was one photographer in particular, Tommy Ton, who's a, you know, a legendary street photographer. He started, he started shooting in the aughts for for and he's someone who I've been friendly with for many years and he's seen me in the trenches, if you will, you know, shooting the way that I shoot.

So he was definitely someone I, I identified that, yeah, I should have a conversation with Tommy and Tommy's insight about me and, and what it is that I do. And the question I had to him, I was like, you know, I, I want to keep shooting videos. I want to, I want do it. Yeah, I wanna, I wanna keep shooting in fashion.

And Tommy said, well, from what I can tell, you already have the best possible access to talent that you could get. You're in the places where a lot of professional photographers can't even get. He's like, keep doing what you're doing. And eventually, you know, he used the, you know, if you build it, they will come.

Which, you know, I came to understand that I can keep producing films where I am, and as long as I'm growing as a filmmaker, there's gonna be more opportunities for me internally with my company, maybe outside of my company one day. But that was like, oh, wait a minute. Wow. Yeah. That, yeah, that man, like all the lights went.

I was like, oh, okay, great. So this energy that I was feeling like, oh, I'm, I'm in the wrong job. Well may, maybe I am not in the wrong job. Maybe it's, I need to look at the job that I have differently. Yeah. That, for me, changed. Changed it all for me. because it, you know, then it, then it said, okay, then this is more of a question of, well, what do I want to do?

And it gave me agency that when I first came to you Anne I did, I felt I didn't have. and I never would've had that if I wasn't, wasn't talking to people.

Anne: Yeah. I mean that's, that's really the key I think. I think so often people feel like they have to have it all figured out before they talk to people.

Right. They have to know what they want before they go out there and have conversations. But there's only so much you can figure out, you know, in your own head. we all have great brains, right? But they are limited to a certain perspective and way of thinking. And when you go out there and kind of address, ask people questions and address your fears and concerns about whatever ideas you have, this is how you start to shed light on, on what actually might be the right path forward for you.

So, you did a really great job at having lots of conversations and, and that's why you had the aha and and shifts that you did . I think one of my other questions is in the process that we worked on together, was there something, either what you felt was the most difficult part of it or the most unexpected?

I mean you might have different answers for that, but whatever strikes your fancy.

Damien: I'll start with, historically, for me talking to other people, I would think, oh yeah, that, that's something that's difficult. But it was just a really, like once I started doing it and the response that I got, that strangers would be very happy to talk to me about what it is that I wanna do.

I was like, what? Like that just totally whew. That, that blew my mind. That absolutely blew my mind. The people that I talked to and like favours that I called in of like photographers that I admire that were like one person, a friend away, and like, you know, those conversations were able to happen. That blew my mind.

It never failed to energize me and where I've taken that, I'm in a place now where, you know, I don't need to have conversations every week with everyone. I don't need to have the, the conversations that I was having a year ago, but what it's done for me carried into where I am now. You know, now when I am talking with people who don't know who I am or what it is that I do, like I can talk about myself and my work in a way that I, I never felt that before.

And, and I'll give you an example of like, I have two children, so. I don't have a huge social life, but you know, on the occasions that my wife and I would get out and I wasn't ever very expansive about what it is that I do, uh, well, Damien works at a modelling agency and, you know, that always invites, oh, you work at a modelling agency.

And I would always downplay, oh, you know, it's, it's whatever I've been doing it for, for many, many years. The, the novelty isn't, isn't there for me. I love it, don't get me wrong, but I, I, it was never anything that I. What, what am I gonna talk to people about? Like uploading pictures to Instagram, like, you know, there's, but working with you and figuring out really how to present myself.

Like, no, I'm a video artist. That's the medium that I work in. I do it for a modelling agency. That's what I love to do, and, and I'm able to, yeah, be expansive about it. , like I say, not not Homer Simpson into the, into the hedges. You know, when it, when it comes to talking about where are you professionally, I'll talk to you all day about it now.

Anne: Yeah. I think that this is, uh, kind of getting that clarity for you and then practicing expressing that through the initial networking conversations about kind of, this is what I am interested in and I'm trying to find more opportunities to do this. Just help you, practice owning who you are. And so, yeah, I, uh, I love that. It's all about being proud about what you do and being able to express that and feel like that is the accurate representation of, of who you are and what you're about.

I think I put this in my prep notes, but, you know, the way I talk about this work to people is that to create an energizing career that you love, there's four fundamental things you need to focus on. And think of them like the foundation of a house, right? You need a sturdy foundation to build a house.

Equally, you need a sturdy foundation to build your career. And those four areas are your brand, owning who you are, what you're good at, your strengths, your interests, your prior, two: your people, like talking to people, having conversations, letting them help you. Three: your mindset, how you think about yourself and what's possible for you.

Making sure that that's as productive as possible, and then four: your time, how you structure and manage your time so that it serves you and energizes you and set boundaries on that. So in thinking about your own journey, What part of your foundation do you think was the weakest in starting and what you had to address to kind of create the reality that you have now and then now going forward, how do you, how do you think about each of these areas and how do you keep your foundation strong?

Damien: I think understanding my offering, understanding my brand, that was, for me, that seems like the most important. Yeah, because it understanding what that is. makes me confident about confident when it comes to talking about what it is that I do and what what my offering is. And I think from there kind of flows everything else.

When, when I don't have an idea about something, you know, I'm very reactive and, and that's one of the strengths that I, I have is improvising and, and being reactive and like, I can do that all day, every day, all the time. What I'm not good at is, you know, planning. So when I am confident about what my offering is, that sort of, that satisfies for me anyway, the, the strategy about what is my direction, what is my Mo and then, you know, from there they're, they're tactical choices that I'm making about how do I achieve that.

So, yeah.

Anne: Just to add to that, I think once you know how to trust yourself, once you know who you are and you trust that, then it reduces this need for long-term planning. Cause I think a lot of people, they talk about, well, what's my five year plan? What's my 10 year plan? And I mean, it's impossible to, I'm, I'm always looking with people like two years out, right?

Let's you know, max three years out. . And so when you just trust that you know who you are and what you're about and you can kind of feel what energizes you, you know that however you evolve, however, the situation in life around you evolves, whatever opportunities are presented, you know, that you trust, you'll follow what feels the most energizing and interesting and, and aligned.

And so it kind of, Reduces this anxiety of where am I going? And allows you to just focus on improvising Yes. Or, or creating in the more present moment.

Damien: And that's, that's where I feel most energized. Like I'm not someone who. I do not want to write out my plan for the next five years. Like, that doesn't interest me at all.

Yeah. What I'm energized about is like creating and doing, and I've always like, I always back myself in any project that I take on that I'm gonna make something awesome. The subject that I'm working with is gonna love it. Like the people around the subject, they're gonna like, people like what I produce.

So it's, yeah, that always gives me confidence. So for me, I know as long as I'm doing. As long as I'm creating, as long as I continue to work with people and, and work with different people I've never worked with before, like opportunities are gonna arise from that.

Anne: Love that. So I think that this, this has been, I mean, a really nice rehash, I think of your journey and where you were and and where you are now.

And it's really, I love following you on Instagram and, and seeing what you produce. But I think before, as we wrap up, I'd love to know what would be a piece of advice, or what would you say to other people who were in similar shoes to you, feeling a bit confused or lost as to what comes next?

Damien: Yeah. I think for anyone who's feeling lost and uninspired, I mean, what helped me was focusing on the things that I like to do and, and really like trust my body. This is something I learned from you Anne. Trust what I'm feeling in my body. Do I feel energized about this? Your body doesn't lie in, in that way. And I, and I, I remember the conversations that I would have when we were working on, you know, come up with three or four different career paths, Damien.

That, you know, you could think of. And I remember going through that exercise with you and there, yeah, there were things that I was qualified to do maybe, but it was like when it came to like talking about producing videos, like that's, you know, that's, that's where I came alive. So I'd say for anyone who Yeah.

Is feeling lost, like what inspires you? What. Yeah. Where, where do you come alive? What, when it, when it comes to things that you do, you know, if, if it's planning great, like lean into that, then planning is for you. Or if whatever it is, if it's, if it's teaching people, whatever that is, trust yourself. Trust your body's response to that, because I think that is where you're gonna find where you're gonna find your future.

Anne: Yes, yes. 110%. That is really, I think so much of what happens is that people are so used to not trusting their body or they don't even know how. Right. It's about looking outwards as you know, fitting myself into a mould of a next stage in my career or this title. Right. And looking at other people and what they're doing.

Always looking outwards about what I should be doing instead of trusting what feels good. And sometimes that trust is something unexpected, right? Something that you didn't think you wanted to do. I don't think this was your case, but sometimes it's like, oh, actually this is .This 10% of my job is, is the the best part of my day.

And maybe that's not really where you ever imagined your career going, but that signal from your body, That's, that's the magic, right? That's the, the, that's like the pot of gold. That's the secret sauce is those signals of what makes, what makes me feel energized. What's fun, what's exciting. I think we devalue the importance of fun.

Damien: And I tell you that excitement is infectious. People want that. People want that. And in my industry, you know, no shortage of beautiful people. It's modelling industry. It's high fashion. and the guys and gals who, who have that spark, who have that enthusiasm about who they are and where they are in the world, man, people want that. And it's no different whether you're walking down a runway or you're making videos or you're teaching, like people want to tap into that.

Anne: I totally agree. I think if you just own what energizes you, people are drawn to that. People are drawn to your owning what sparks you no matter what it is.

Damien: A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

Anne: Love the way you articulated that, and thank you so much for talking to me. I really appreciate this interview, this podcast.

Damien: Well, it's, it's an honor. Anne, thank you for, thank you for trusting me on this episode.

Anne: Anything else that you wanted to add before we close?

Damien: Just yeah, back yourself. Listen for those signs, those cues that are already in you that can unlock it for you.

Anne: Thank you so much Damien. Really appreciate it. And uh, we'll put your Instagram and contact details in the show notes so people can find and watch your awesome videos.

Damien: Thank you so much, Anne.

Anne: Okay. Take care. 

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