We all know the cliché: Hollywood is a soulless mecca of slick opportunists, corporate vampires, and vapid artists — a place where people speak a morally questionable language consisting of either half-truths or downright lies. And to the average American, this stereotype likely extends beyond the borders of Hollywood to any corner of the entertainment industry. As The X-Files bluntly put it: "Trust no one."
That image certainly makes for a good movie or novel — the classic "fall from innocence" story — but, experience tells me that the vast majority of people in the industry are decent, hard-working, and no different than anyone else striving to make a living in their chosen field. Trust me, I would not be doing what I do if it were otherwise. That said, like any other industry (or, heck, like life itself), there is a small percentage of people within the creative arts that are...unsavory (whether purposefully or unintentionally so). And, unless you're amazingly lucky, chances are fairly strong that you will encounter them at one point or another. For some people, this isn't a big deal — it's simply part of the work. But for others, that sense of pragmatism is more difficult to attain. So, if you fall into the latter category, what can you do about this?
I have good news and bad news. Let's just get the bad news out of the way: It's not a perfect world — you simply can't avoid this type of person 100% of the time. Such is life. There are instances where sucking it up makes sense, and this is really only something I would advocate when the situation feels more irritating than toxic. Let's face it, this is the sort of thing we all deal with on a regular basis — people that come in and out of our lives that kinda grate on us. It is what it is, and as long as the situation is finite, you can take solace in the fact that the relationship is temporary. Do your thing and move on.
But what if you just can't suck it up? This is actually where the good news come in. When it comes to relationships that are toxic or people who make you feel uncomfortable, you can always say "no." There's a misconception that, in this industry, networking is EVERYTHING. And, while it certainly counts for a lot, it's not something that you have to give yourself completely over to. Regardless of what anyone else may tell you, you do not have to foster or maintain relationships with everyone you meet. If having a relationship with someone feels inauthentic to you, then the effects of maintaining that relationship may very well be worse for you than the benefit that it could be to your career.
Simply ask yourself, "Is this someone I want in my network?" and trust your gut on this one. If the answer is "no," then remember that you are in control of the situation. The better you feel about the relationships you have, the better you'll feel about networking. And if you fill your network with people you respect, you'll not only WANT to work with them, you'll feel good about doing so.