“I have never seen the film, but by all accounts it is terrible. However, I have seen the house that it built, and it is terrific.” Michael Caine, in an interview talking about Jaws: the Revenge
I watched Jaws: The Revenge recently because, well, I had just re-watched Jaws (amazing) with my wife (more amazing) and I tend to be a completionist. After Jaws, I watched Jaws 2 (Jaws returns and only the sheriff remembers what happened last time) and Jaws 3 (Jaws in SeaWorld), and finally made my way to Jaws: The Revenge (Jaws in the Bahamas). I was watching this already terrible movie make weird excuses for Roy Scheider’s lack of appearance (he died offscreen while not signing a contract to be in the worst Jaws), and I heard the unmistakable voice of Michael Caine. Sir Michael Caine. Sir Michael Caine was in the fourth Jaws film because Roy Scheider was not.
I was awestruck. I jumped to the internets to explain this to me. I knew that Michael Caine was already a well-established actor before J:tR came out. In fact, he was basically at the peak of his career (I checked). As far as he'll say, he was not blackmailed and did not owe millions in back taxes. He just did a job the best he could, and he got paid. Then, in a move that I didn’t think was possible, he went on and continued to be a great actor, grew even cooler, and became Sir Michael Caine.
I don't know why it was so shocking to me, but it was. I guess I was shocked because everytime I do a slightly less than groundbreaking project I feel like I'm just sliding backwards faster than I can run and that, because of that project, I'll be doomed to finish my career penniless in obscurity. It may be extreme, but I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings. No matter how many fun redesigns/relaunches I complete, working on this one Wordpress extension sets me all the way back to junior developer. Obviously, that was not true for Michael Caine, and it doesn't seem to be that way for anyone else either.
People work. Sometimes they do good work on bad projects. We forget, and keep working on new projects. Sir Michael Caine was in Jaws: The Revenge. Dustin Hoffman was in Ishtar. Patrick Swayze in Skatetown, U.S.A. I don’t know why I give them more slack than myself, but I'm going to change the math in my head (or try to). Maybe I can do a non-portfolio project without feeling like I’m moving backward. Maybe I can earn a paycheck using my less glamorous skills occasionally without fearing that I’m redefining my career. Michael Caine didn’t become cheesy action movie guy after that one film. Most importantly, I have to refuse to define myself or my career off any individual projects (big or small).