I recently wrote these suggestions out for an aspiring game audio professional. I thought it might ring true for others and so I'm reprinting it here with permission.
"First of all, thanks for sharing your story. We've all got one, keep cultivating yours and try out different plot lines. Keep trying to envision the next chapter. I think it's so cool that you've been in pursuit of a dream for so long and through trials and tribulations continue to find yourself coming back to the path laid before you, ready to move forward. Sometimes knowing what you want is the hardest part and from there it just takes doing. One of my recent epiphanies...and it's not like I made this up...is that sometimes in order to know, you have to do. So my first suggestion is that you do and keep doing what it is your heart tells you to do. Being honest with yourself about what your heart needs lays fertile ground for the cultivation of dreams. This is at the root of it: dreams can come true. It takes work, time, focus, and magic. There are too many stories of dreams coming true for it to be a hoax, and I've got more than a few myself.
Next up, what should you do? It's easy: do what you love. If you focus on that then you can't go wrong. Don't know exactly what it is that you love to do? Do everything instead, until you figure out the things you are naturally drawn to vs. the things that suck your soul dry. We all know these things inherently, but are willing to overlook some of them depending on the paycheck/ circumstance/ reward.
Fuck.That.Shit (thanks to @joecavers for tweeting that every couple of months)
Follow your bliss towards the thing that makes you feel good. Even if the results of that are terrible, don't worry you can't help but get better at the things you love to do. Because you'll keep doing them, not because of x y z, but because it feels good. When you feel good it bleeds into everything you produce. Need some validation that everyone is terrible when they first start out? Go look up my demo reel from 7 years ago...or an example of anyone's work from their early years. Internalize this acknowledgement and press through the emotions. Keep walking the path.
Maybe you should take a break and ready this timeless tome from Dr. Suess...or this beautiful cartoon of Alan Watts' famous lecture.
Ok, ready? Now for some nitty gritty.
1. Find people to work with. You will learn more from others than you ever will from a book or class...err, I guess classes have people so that's not totally true. Look for opportunities and projects that are willing to give you a shot at lending a hand, then prove to be a handy addition to the team in whatever way possible. Maybe it's by being the person who calls a meeting when shit's fucked up or maybe you wrangle a spreadsheet to help keep assets straight for the animators...whatever it is, do good! Some of the first projects I worked on are still alive in the world. Games I never expected to see the light of day, risen from the ashes of troubled development and shipped. It's heartwarming to think about people I worked with who are now in great positions in the game industry, people who were on the same level as me when I first started out. People who had passion, people who cared for the right reasons, people who loved what they were doing, for the sake of it.
2. Find a community online: twitter #GameAudio, gameaudioforum, G.A.N.G., IASIG...whichever one seems good to you. Better yet, find an IGDA meeting, other gamedev meetup, or audio-centric meeting where you can socialize with people who share a passion for games and audio. Find a way to help with their initiatives, find a way to share the experience of learning so that others might learn from you. Become an expert in the thing you love, share that with people. Dig into resources like GameAudioPodcast, GameAudioRelevance, GameAudio101, GameSoundDesign, DesigningSound, CreatingSound, and while you're consuming all of these tasty morsels of game audio, please keep doing. Find a way to build a feedback loop of doing and sharing what you're doing, whether it's through the community or friends or the internet at large. You will build a body of work just by doing, which will stand as a testament to how far you'll have come when you look back from the future. Dig through some of my old stuff, there's some heinous business out there written in my name...it's who I was and what I knew then. Always try your best to represent yourself clearly and honestly (if you don't know say so) but everyone is entitled to an opinion.
3. Sharpen you tools, whatever they are. Before you can do that, know what it is you're trying to build. This goes right back to the question of what your heart wants. Once you've figured that out (no easy feat!) work on making your process and pipeline a work of art. Nobody could have told me I would be rocking some serious spreadsheets in order to do this technical sound design gig, but I have rocked my fair share on every project I've ever been on. Maybe that's how my brain works. I'm no wizard but I can pull off some cool tricks that help me pass through the unenviable task of data management unscathed by concatenated strings. The same goes for some Wwise/ FMOD/ Unreal/ etc. bidness. Ask me to design sounds in Pro Tools and I'm the slowest cowboy in the mid-west, probably not even that good at it at the end of the day. However, I can get surgical on a .wav file and throw something together for fun. Sound for cinematics ten hours a day does not complete me. The beautiful thing is, it's likely that cinematic sound is someone else's passion. Someone who loves that as much as I love getting sounds to play back and sound good inside a game engine."
Above all else, keep dreaming...that is the key.