That’s an important question. Whether it’s a job, a career, a passion, or a mix, you need to know why you do what you do.
Maybe it’s just for the paycheck. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Maybe you love your job (and it’s a surprise) and it’s turned into a career.
Good for you!
Too many people hate their jobs, and then try to punish those around them who love their jobs.
But take responsibility for the “why” of what you do. That gives you a great deal of freedom.
Now, then, what do you WANT to do?
Maybe you’re doing what you want, and that’s wonderful.
Maybe your current job is a steppingstone to what you want.
If they are different, don’t lose sight of what you want because you’re either too comfortable in what you’re doing, or too afraid of change. If the pandemic taught us anything, it was how much misplaced loyalty most workers gave their companies, who thought nothing of throwing them away at the first sign of trouble. Which is why workers went off and started doing their own thing instead of going back to being treated like crap for subpar wages.
If you are not doing what you want to be doing, try this:
Take a piece of paper. Landscape orientation works better than portrait orientation for this exercise, and I suggest doing it by hand, not on screen.
On the far left, write what you do.
On the far right, write what you want to do.
On the page, they are relatively far apart.
How far apart are they in reality?
In the middle, jot a bunch of steps to take you from one to the other. Don’t do them linearly. Just jot them all over the middle of the page, squiggly, sideways, upside down, whatever. Write them down as you think of them, in no particular order. Take your time.
Go back and take a look at what you’ve written. It doesn’t have to be right away. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to put something aside for a bit, and then take another look.
Now number the steps, so there’s a sense of order (even though the steps are all over the page).
Take a different colored pen and draw a line from where you are to each step, in turn, to where you want to be. There will (and should) be criss-crossing lines, because creativity is not linear. The best journeys have tangents, while still driving to their destination.
How can you take that first step?
More importantly, WHEN will you take that first step?
Put the first step into your calendar.
Look at the page and do one step at a time. Regularly reassess to see if your needs, interests, and goals have shifted. This is a roadmap, not a prison. You can take other exits as you wish.
Summer always encourages daydreams, so we are going to take some time to dream today.
(Okay, I daydream all year round; it’s an important part of my creative process. But for the purposes of this post, we are using the humid, warm summer days as a reason to slow down and dream).
Pretend that you have no commitments, and have a blank workday. It is a workday, not a day off. So dream in relation to the work you love to do.
With what kind of projects would you fill it?
Write a few pages on what your ideal workday would look like. Get as specific in the details, the projects, even the companies, as you wish. It can be in any format that suits you – journal entry, essay, paragraphs, lists, a calendar with hourly slots which you fill.
Add in the view from your ideal workspace, the local of the space, how you spend break time, lunch time, and whether or not there are any meetings or brainstorming sessions. Detail your ideal colleagues (be they actual colleagues, or the ones you wish you had). Add in sensory details.
Read it over. It should hold enough detail so that reading it feels like living it.
How much of this is a dream? How much overlaps with any of your life at this point? You might be pleased at the overlap; you might be dismayed at the lack of overlap. There’s no “wrong” response. There is simply your genuine response.
Put the piece of paper away, in a safe place. We will return to it in the autumn. But keep dreaming and planning and constructing your perfect workday. If you want to add notes to this document in the next few weeks, do so. But keep it safe.
Every few weeks, there’s a flare-up about how getting paid for one’s work in the arts is “selling out” and that “real” artists in whatever the discipline should “do it for love, not money.”
Love doesn’t pay the rent or keep food on the table.
Then there are those who “invite” artists to participate in their project, for “exposure.”
As a good friend of mine once said, “People die of exposure. Give me the cash.”
This type of “artists don’t deserve to be paid” or “get a real job” or “art should be free and accessible to everyone, so artists shouldn’t want payment” bullies tend to fall into two camps. One camp is made up of the faction who has no problem profiting off art, but doesn’t want to pay the artist. The other camp is those who “would” make art “if they had time” or “if there was any money in it” or if they weren’t “such a perfectionist” or don’t have the courage to face the necessary rejection involved in being a working artist and therefore don’t believe anyone else should get paid for it.
Art should be accessible to everyone. Our souls require it. But that doesn’t mean artists should starve while corporations profit.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Loving my job does not mean I forfeit the right to get paid. Money and art are not mutually exclusive.
The fact that I consider it my profession doesn’t lessen my commitment. If anything, it strengthens it.
Creativity is a thriving business. Yes. A business. People make money at it. Broadway’s profit in the 2021 season was $845, 414, 945. Broadway is still recovering from Covid. Revenue in the 2018-19 season hit the record $1.829 BILLION. (Figures from thewrap.com, who get it from the Broadway League). According to the Hollywood Reporter, the film industry pulled in $21.3 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to statista.com, the global art market transactions added up to $65.1 BILLION dollars in 2021. The traditional publishing industry, according to AAP StatShot/pubishingperspectives.com, made $1.1 BILLION. The museum industry, which offers programs and artists across disciplines, made $15.4 BILLION dollars in 2021. According to the BBC, the music industry took in $25.9 BILLION dollars. According to the Arts Action Fund, here in my home state of Massachusetts, the arts and cultural sector portion of the state’s overall economy in 2019, pre-pandemic, was $25.5 BILLION dollars. That’s how much the arts brought in, as far as revenue, to the state.
Most of these figures are lower than pre-pandemic. There are also regional theatres, who are at various tiers, and have to re-think sustainable business practices as they re-open post-pandemic, small and independent publishers, the dance industry, and all the other art forms not listed.
SOMEONE is making money. And too many make money off the myth that in order to be an artist, the creator must starve. That is a myth sustained to exploit creators.
It SHOULD be the creators who profit, and, in disciplines that need tech and editors and other support people, everyone involved should be paid a living wage.
The attitude that artists sell out when they are paid for their work while those who underpay and overwork artists make sums of money that could solve world poverty is destructive.
Creativity IS a business.
Artists should not starve, do not deserve to starve, deserve to be paid a living wage for their work, and royalties/residuals on work that continues to bring in revenue, and should not have to work jobs outside of their profession to survive. The same way the plumber, the doctor, the lawyer does not have to work in jobs outside of their profession to survive.
Artists also need to stop allowing non-artists to condescend and patronize that they are “flakey artists” and don’t have the capacity for business. Artists are capable of creating, solving problems, fixing things, stretching budgets, and repurposing the most mundane objects to transform them into creations of beauty. Artists are able to stimulate, provoke, engage, enchant, and connect on an intimate level, challenging their audiences to a greater understanding of humanity and complexity.
Which is why artists are a threat to small-minded, authoritarian-leaning, exploitative control freaks.
The first step artists need to take is to believe in their own value. Each artist’s voice is unique in the world, and each voice has something of use and purpose.
Once artists know their own value, then they can learn how to position it in the marketplace.
Another thing artists need to do is to set the boundary, and dig into the fact that “No” is a complete sentence.
Every potential project needs to fit criteria unique to each artist:
–Does it encourage growth in the artist?
–Does it encourage engagement with its audience?
–How does it fit into the overall body of the artist’s work?
–What bridge does this build, in terms of new audiences and opportunities?
–What sacrifice does it require on behalf of the artist’s investment of time, creativity, relationships? In other words, will the project be worth it? While not everything can be calculated in financial terms, those need to be part of the equation. Should an artist choose to do something without financial compensation, there must be other compensations beyond “exposure” and “you should be grateful I’m asking you to work for free.” There’s no rule about never working for free, unless an individual chooses to live by that rule. But make sure that working without financial compensation has benefits beyond being told it should make you feel good.
–What support systems does this project require? How will they be put in place? How much of the emotional labor is the artist’s, and where are there systems, organizations, and other personnel who can help?
–What other opportunities must be missed in order to accept this one?
Individuals will have different lists of needs, but creating that list for oneself, and then making sure that a new project/opportunity weighs in more positively than negatively against the individual list will allow better working situations, more creativity, and stronger building blocks.
There are times relationships will be lost. Jealousy, envy, pettiness, sabotage, disrespect, and rejection are all part of an artist’s life. How the individual chooses to handle each instance have a lot of to do with how an artist builds a career.
As far as business-related skills, arts advocacy organizations are likely to offer workshops on the business skills needed to support one’s life in the arts. Assets for Artists, in the area where I now live, offers free professional development workshops for artists covering business and finance. Creative Capital offers workshops for managing the business side of one’s career. Spend some time researching, and find out what’s available in your area.
Break that mythological barrier that artists “can’t” understand business because they’re too flighty, and that those skilled in business lack creativity. I’m grateful for the art of the accountant – those accountants have a passion for what they do, so I don’t have to. I can learn the basics of keeping my financials in good shape, and then turn it over to a professional who loves their job (AND IS PAID FOR IT, and no one ever questions that an accountant should be paid). I know when to bring in someone with more skills than mine, and that’s part of the business of art, too. Bring in the right people to do the work.
People are human. They make mistakes. Hopefully they learn, and they try to do better going forward, and demonstrate that effort through positive action and words. The arts teach us about facets of human experience we might not have, and might not yet understand. That is part of makes it both wonderful and dangerous.
Remember: individuals within corporate entities that have clout in the industry are making huge sums of money. Many of those individuals make huge sums of money while trying to pay the creators and craftspeople less for each project, while they continue to make higher profits.
The Trickle-Down Economy has always been a myth to keep people overworked and underpaid, in order to keep them under control, desperate, and helpless. Art is a way to navigate through and learn how to create a better world through beauty, empathy, understanding, bearing witness to injustice, and daring to dream a better world. It makes sense that those making the most money want to sell the anti-artist myths as broadly as possible, to keep control.
Don’t let them.
The first step to creating that better world is knowing your own value in it, and not letting anyone undervalue you, on emotional or financial levels.
One of my favorite parts
of the business is working with creatives across disciplines honing their artist
or vision statements. It gives me a chance to experience their passion for
their work, and help them shape it into an active, engaging piece that can be
used in grant applications, cover letters, on websites, in bios, in media kits,
How do you get there?
Especially if your interests and work have a wide range?
That’s right. Remember the
kind of fun you had as a child, playing, without pressure to do or be anything
Remember what excites you
about your work. What makes you passionate about.
Write, or make a collage,
or draw, or take a walk and mutter to yourself.
Remember the wonderful
projects you worked on in the past, and what appealed to you about them.
Think ahead, to the kind
of work you see in your future, what drives you there, what electrifies and
astonishes you about it.
Is there a thread, a
theme, that runs through it?
Much of my work is built
around themes of loyalty to loved ones, breaking out of conformity/expectation
boxes, and creating family, by choice as much as blood. The most exciting projects
I worked on (even if I wasn’t a creator) have also contained those themes. It’s
the type of work I’m drawn to when it’s created by others, and those are themes
that keep coming up in my own work, in different ways.
Working on a theatre production
is creating a family of choice, even for a limited time, and that’s where I
spent the bulk of my professional career.
Once you recognize your
themes, threads, and what stimulates you, look for active words to describe them.
The key here is “active.”
Avoid, or edit out
passive. Phrases like “had been done” and “was hoping to achieve” derail you.
You “did” and you “achieved.”
Keep your sentences short,
active, and full of life.
Instead of using adverbs,
use verbs, nouns, and adjectives.
The reader should
experience your excitement with you as they’re reading. They should feel like
you are in the room with them, in conversation. The words you choose vibrate
Keep the ego out, but the
action in. Show, in active terms, what you’ve done and what you dream, while
keeping out the narcissism.
Remember, too, that your
artist/vision statement is a living part of you and your work. It grows and
changes, as you do. It’s a roadmap, not a prison.
Revisit it often. Update,
shape, hone. Reveal your love, show your soul.
The creativity you use in
your statement both supports and informs the creativity in your work.
Amongst the many pandemic
lessons we’ve learned about work, many of us have learned what work resonates
more with us, or which doesn’t. At times, we haven’t had much choice – we have
to take what work we can land in order to keep a roof over our heads. That’s
often exhausting, and it leaves little time or energy for pursuing the work
that is fulfilling as well as keeping you alive in a monetary sense.
Being versatile is always
positive. In spite of all the screaming about the importance of “niche” – the wider
your range of skills and interests, the wider the range of potential jobs. You’ll
notice that several of the self-styled job-coaching and marketing gurus have stopped
screaming “niche” and talked about “side hustle.” They don’t admit they were
wrong, or that life changes, or that people NEED to change. They simply change
their tunes and collect the cash.
I find “side hustle” a
revolting and insulting term. The minute someone uses “side hustle,” I look at
them differently and with suspicion.
There are two reasons for
The first is that no one
should HAVE to work more than one job in order to survive. The reality is that most
of us do work multiple jobs. Let’s stop this toxic myth that the necessity for
a “side hustle” is a good thing. Pay people a living wage, and make sure there’s
enough housing and food for everyone. That is absolutely achievable in this country,
with ethical leadership. Encouraging “side hustle” encourages yet more
low-paying jobs without benefits.
If you can’t afford to pay
a living wage, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself.
The second reason I loathe
“side hustle” is that, to me, the “hustle” part of it doesn’t mean “extra work
and resourceful time management.” To me, the “hustle” means “fraud or swindle.”
So when someone talks about their “side hustle” I immediately associate it with
them feeling they must swindle because they aren’t being paid enough at their
Negative connotations all
around. People with different frames of reference will interpret the phrase
differently. But to me, it reads as “it’s okay for me to find a way to screw
you outside of my job to earn money, because my regular job doesn’t pay me
enough to survive.”
Work has to serve workers
better (and, by doing so, will serve both companies and society better).
But what if you are in a
job that IS paying you enough to survive, but you hate it? But you have a
passion for something else?
Then, absolutely, pursue
When I teach writing
workshops, and people ask me how they can “find” the time to write and become a
full-time writer, I tell them, “There will never BE time to write. You have to
MAKE time to write. If you want it badly enough, you find a way to do it. If
you want this to be your only job, you commit to it as though it is a second
job, until you’re in a position to make it your only job.”
It means you’ll be tired.
A lot. It means you’ll give up time on other things, and sometimes with other
people. It means you have to negotiate with those in your life, and decide how
important this second passion is in relation to those people. Some will compromise
with you and support you. Some will not, and then you have to decide whether or
not to keep them in your life.
It doesn’t have to be
writing – it can be any passion. How much do you love it? How much do you want
it to be your only job? Are you worried you will stop loving it if it becomes
your source of income?
Remember, though, that
loving your work does not mean you forfeit your right to get paid.
One of the most toxic
myths presented to and about creative people is that they “do it for love, not
money.” Those are not mutually exclusive, and it is a way for those who don’t
have the guts to follow their dreams to punish those who do.
Don’t buy into it.
The pandemic made us more
aware of our wants and needs. I hope, as we get vaccinated, and move into the
next phases of our lives (because it will not go back to the way it was), we
take some of those lessons and implement them, especially when it comes to
I already see companies
reverting back to toxic models, and, especially, recruiters doing so. It’s up
to the workers to refuse to be forced back into those negative patterns.
How do you move the
passionate work you do outside your normal job to become your only job?
Hard work, time, money,
Most of us, too many of
us, live paycheck to paycheck. So all those “experts” talking about “paying
yourself first” and “saving a year and a half’s worth of expenses” – they can
shove it right up the you-know-what because that is simply not a reality for
most of us.
You need to learn how to contain
and direct your energy. You still need to deliver high quality at the place
that pays you to survive, but you do not put all your energy there. You save energy
for your passion-work.
Biorhythms were a big deal back when I entered the work force. It’s considered a “pseudo-science” and therefore unreliable. But there are elements of that system that ring true. I am at my most creative early in the morning. That is when I do my first 1K of the day, when I write most of my fiction, or work on whatever project needs the most creative attention. Once that is done, I can then direct my energy to other projects, depending on contract deadlines and payment. But that early morning creative time is MINE, and I use it as I choose.
Other people work better late at night. Or in the afternoon. Play with it. Find your strongest time to do what you love, and then, slowly, steadily, rework your schedule so you can use that time. If you’re working 9-5, you may have to do your passion-work early in the morning or late at night, when it’s not your best time. You may have to work when you’re tired. Until you can convert your work schedule to fit your creative rhythms.
Don’t kill yourself with
it, but also, don’t give up. Do the work. Create a body of work. Increase your
And remember, that no one,
NO ONE will respect your work and your time unless YOU do, and unless you hold
Then, start exploring how
you can use that body of work and increased skill set to earn money. Build the
income from it.
If it’s in a field that has the possibilities of grants of other award funding – look into it, and apply for anything and everything for which you think are appropriate. Remember, no matter how many people apply for a grant, it’s always 50-50. Either you get it, or you don’t. Grants and other award funding can buy you time to focus on your passion-work. That time allows you to create more that then positions you better for your transition to doing it full-time. It is worth the time it takes to write the grants.
Once you’re earning steadily in this second, passion-work, enough to feel a little more secure, talk to your regular job about adjusted hours, reduced hours, remote work, or anything else that is appropriate, works for both of you, and lets you spend more time on this second work. If you’re in a benefitted job, negotiate to keep benefits.
As your passion-work becomes
more financially stable, you can cut back more on what was your “day job” until
you can leave. Or maybe you can work out an arrangement to do freelance work a
few times a month, so there’s still some money coming in, but now THAT is your
second job (and you don’t need to devote the time or energy to it that you
needed to give your passion-work in order to place that front and center).
Some of the work we must do
with this new administration is make sure that our health care is not tied to
our jobs. It keeps too many of us in toxic situations.
Again, in the faction of
those not wanting to pay a living wage, there are the shouts of “it’s all going
to be automated soon, you should be grateful” and “no one wants to do this work.”
So why aren’t the jobs “no one wants to do” the jobs being automated? They could be. A robot doesn’t care what the job is. The robot will do the job as programmed. So program them to “do the jobs no one wants” and keep people in the jobs that need to be human, and pay those humans a living wage.
There’s political work we need to do in order to break the toxic culture that too many grew up with couched as “solid work ethic” and there’s the work we need to do to move the work we love into the work that supports us on financial as well as emotional levels.
The great part of this is
that there are so many different passions and interests and skills that there
are plenty of passionate artists AND plenty of passionate accountants. We don’t
all love and want the same work, and that’s part of what makes it both possible
and positive to pursue the work we love.
What we have to change is the structure and strictures of work that only serve a small portion of those “in charge” – who are not the people doing the actual work. We do this on individual levels, by doing the actual work we love, and we do this at the ballot box. We do it by communicating with our elected officials.
It is the personification
of “Be the change you want in the world.”
How are you following your
passions? How do you plan to move them, so they support your life on both physical
and emotional levels?
Hello, February! January
seemed like it was about 27 months long. February is supposed to be a short
month. We’ll see.
There are plenty tired old
chestnuts in interview situations that need to be retired. Some are illegal,
some are toxic, some are racist or misogynist or ageist, some are ableist, and
many have nothing to do with the job and nothing to do with “getting to know
One of these questions is “Where
do you see yourself in five years?”
That’s a question your
high school guidance counselor asks when they’re helping you prepare your
college applications. It’s the kind of question that might come up, in a
different format, with co-workers at the bar (in the years where we could
actually go to a bar with co-workers without worrying it would, quite
literally, kill us). It’s the kind of question you ask yourself on retreat,
when you are trying to avoid or recover from burnout.
But in a professional interview
That question was dumb in
1985. After 2020, it’s even worse. It shows that the company asking has learned
nothing from the pandemic. It sends up a big red flag.
You can type the question
into an internet search engine and get a bunch of advice from corporate-leaning
“experts” on how to answer it with vague softballs that don’t “threaten” the
person interviewing you.
I tried those placating
responses a few times, and the experience made me want to vomit. I was not
being true to myself, to my core integrity. That’s no way to start a new
There is a more direct
Generally, as soon as I
hear the question, I mentally cross that company off as an organization for a
potential working relationship, and try to end the conversation as smoothly and
pleasantly as possible.
I start flippantly. “That
depends on whether or not you hire me.”
This is met with shocked
silence, and then nervous laughter. Usually, some stuttering and backpedaling
occurs. I let the interviewer twist in the wind for a few beats – after all,
this was a “gotcha” question, with malicious intent (every “gotcha” question is
designed with malicious intent), and my subtext makes that clear.
After a few beats of the
interviewer flailing, I add, “Seriously, wherever I land, five years from now,
I will be working with smart people who are passionate about what they do.”
They can decide if I mean
their company or not.
It is a 100% genuine
answer. I seek out opportunities to work
with smart people who are passionate about what they do. Some of those work
relationships are long-term, some are short-term, and some are on-and-off. When
I’m seeking new opportunities, everything else builds on that foundation.
We talked last year about
how every season, every month, every week, every day can be the chance to start
with a clean slate.
Traditionally, though, we tend to collectively do so at the beginning of the calendar year and the beginning of the school year. It gives a chance to ride that energy of possibility.
I’m in an online meditation group with Be Well Be Here on Thursday mornings, and one of the things she suggested on New Year’s Eve was, instead of getting bogged down in “resolutions” deciding to be “resolute.”
I like that.
So much happened last
year, both personally and on a larger scale. It helped clarify what I want and
need in my work and my career going forward, and I intend to implement those
shifts for the year.
I’m making a partial list
of that about which I will be resolute. So far it includes:
–Passion for my
profession does not mean I forfeit the right to earn a living at it;
–“No” is a complete
sentence and does not require embellishment;
–Unpaid labor should not
EVER be part of an interview process – that includes “making a video” for a
one-way interview, pitching article or content ideas in interviews, writing unpaid
“test” pieces, and unpaid “assessments.” I’ll take your tests or write your samples
– at a designated time, and for a specific fee, with a contract in place for it
and a deposit up front, like I do for any freelance piece. Anything else
indicates a toxic work culture in which I have no interest in participating.
I’ve talked about all of
these in the past months, both on various blogs and in discussions. Now, they
are part of my contract with myself, since I believe in walking my talk.
This works in tandem with what I’m doing on the Goals, Dreams, and Resolutions site, which is less about making a list of things to check off this year, and more about tools and techniques for a more holistic work life that is in tandem with personal core integrity.
Life as we knew it
pre-pandemic is gone. While there are things to miss, it also brought
realizations about what didn’t work, and those elements can be changed and
improved so that work environments are healthier on multiple levels. When the
quality of our working lives improves, the quality of the work we do improves.
For decades, we were told
to keep our heads down and just do whatever we were told, and if we were what
was perceived as “good” and “dedicated” and “loyal” we would be rewarded. We
learned through experience that this is not true.
I realized that last week’s
post was more tied to the piece I’m working on about how employers are driving
away the skilled workers they claim they want than actually about re-shaping my
I’ve re-shaped my career
often. I’ve made my living in the arts since I was 18. Sure, I took temp jobs
and office jobs in between, and even earned rent a few times betting the horses
out at Aqueduct. But the bulk of it was in the arts, and the arts were always
Any job outside the arts
ONLY served to get me through until I had another job inside the arts that paid
me enough to live. Then I quit the other job.
If the job got in the way
of the career, the job was eliminated when I got a good career opportunity.
A PAID opportunity.
NOT an “exposure”
Remember, people die of
exposure. Insist on the cash.
I started in lighting, for
theatre and rock and roll. I wanted to work more closely with actors, so I
moved into stage management.
From stage management, I
moved into wardrobe (so I wasn’t on call 24/7 and could have a life and keep
writing – through all of this, I always wrote).
I stayed, happily, in
wardrobe, working my way up to Broadway, until I started aging out of the physical
demands and decided I wanted to leave while I still loved it. I watched too
many people age in the jobs, afraid to leave, in pain, unhappy, and bitter. I
didn’t want to be one of them.
I moved away from New York
to a place I’d always loved. Unfortunately, it’s a place that supports the arts
in name only. They love it when
prominent artists come in to visit and do special programs and have second
homes here; they don’t believe artists in their community deserve a living wage
to do what they do.
I took a job that I
thought would be a dream job, but turned out to be a two-year nightmare, with a
boss that loved to sabotage anything I did and daily told me that “something”
was wrong with me. Because anyone who disagreed with her must have “something”
wrong with them.
Still, when I was fired
from that job (technically, the position was “eliminated”), I was devastated. I’ve
only recently realized how deep the psychological damage is. The boss tried to
break me; she didn’t succeed, but it will take a long time before the wounds
are just scars.
I went back to a local
theatre for a quick summer gig – bad situation in a lot of respects, and
woefully underpaid, but still worth it.
Then, I worked to rebuild
what I wanted and needed from my career, focusing more on business and
marketing writing, which I enjoy. I love to work with people in different
fields who are smart and passionate about what they do, and I love to
communicate that passion to engage a larger audience. I find it joyful.
All of this time, I was
still meeting contract deadlines on books, writing new books, switching
publishers, attending and/or teaching at conferences, writing plays, writing
radio plays, and so forth and so on.
I found some local
clients, and did a mix of onsite and remote work, although, writing-wise, I
firmly believe the writer does not need to be in someone else’s office. Many were one-and-done, some because that’s
all they needed; others because they balked at paying, insisted I work onsite,
but would not provide me with a professional working environment. A laptop on a
board set over two overturned oil drums is not an acceptable desk.
I spent more and more time
with clients farther afield. I put a lot of miles on my car, driving for
in-person meetings all over New England as I pitched across the country and the
world. Interestingly enough, it was easier to land international remote clients
when I lived in NYC than where I live now. Part of that is the current
political situation, because more and more international companies don’t want to
work with Americans right now. I worked
with a mix of profit and non-profits. I worked with solopreneurs and artists.
Still writing novels, plays, radio plays. I took the bus into Boston more
I was actually willing to
set up a regular commuting situation into Boston, even though it meant being up
by 4:30 in the morning to be on a 6:15 bus and not getting home until 10 or 11
at night. Boston is only 65 miles from here, but the commute can take anywhere
from 2 to 5 hours in each direction, depending on traffic.
On the bus, I could write
my 1000 words a day, and read the books I was sent for review. I couldn’t do
much more than that, but the clients who paid appropriately for my skills were
in Boston, not where I am.
I was at that turning point
earlier this spring – ready to commit to ridiculously long commuting hours for
at least the next year or two.
Then, the pandemic hit,
and we were on Stay-At-Home order. Let me make this clear – people are dancing
around talking saying how we were in “quarantine” – we were NOT. Here in MA, it
was a stay-at-home order. Yes, offices and stores and libraries and museums and
performance venues and schools were closed. But we were not quarantined, and
there was no enforcement. We were encouraged to only grocery shop once every 14
days, but we weren’t FORCED so to do. There was (and is) a mask mandate in the
state, which too many people ignored, and more and more are failing to fulfil.
The positive part of the
pandemic was that, for those of us who already worked remotely, at least a good
portion of the time, and for those who prefer it, it proved that working
remotely is viable for many “office” jobs.
Now that they’re forcing
us back out, without a plan, to Die For Our Employers, those of us who can work
well remotely and got a lot of push-back for it are re-shaping our careers so
to do. We’re supported and encouraged by those who have worked remotely
full-time for years.
It means I can re-shape my
career yet again. I am more productive, more creative, and more focused in my
home office. I have it set up for maximum benefit, in a way NO office in this
area has ever served. (I admit, I’ve had some pretty sweet offices in both New York
and San Francisco).
It also means I can live
anywhere I choose, as long as there’s a good internet connection – and one I
When I worked on Broadway,
I had to live in a commutable distance from Broadway in order to work there. When
I moved, it was a conscious choice to move beyond a commutable distance, because
I knew I wouldn’t really give it up unless I couldn’t physically get there.
I’m also looking at
different types of work.
I’m not a graphic
designer, although I can put together ads and social media posts. I work WITH graphic
designers well. So when I see a listing that tries to give the position a fancy
title, but really wants to save money by hiring one person to do two or more
jobs at less than that one person should earn, I skip it.
I’ve managed plenty of
teams – I’ve been a wardrobe supervisor, I’ve been a production manager in both
theatre and film. I can manage a full production, so managing a content calendar
and other writers is cake.
But I don’t necessarily want
I want to write stuff.
Given the right circumstances, environment, team, and, most importantly, PAY – yes, I’d be a manager. But a lot of different factors would be involved. There are theatres, arts organizations, and museums for which I’d be willing to work onsite, once it’s safe so to do. It won’t be safe for a good long while, especially with the way the numbers are going up.
I’m more cautious about working
for non-profits. When I worked in NY and SF, I often temped or even long-term
temped at non-profits. They were run like businesses and understood that you
pay for the skills you need.
Here? The constant dirge
is “you should be honored we demand you to work for free.”
Some positions that I
would have thought were fun and interesting and exciting even a year ago no
longer grab me. They contain elements on which I no longer want to spend time.
That’s nothing against the companies – they need what they need. But it means
companies to whom I would have sent an LOI or a proposal packet even a year ago
are no longer on my list.
I grappled with this for a
few months. I felt that I was failing, that I was “less than” or that I was
Then, I realized most of
that was the voice of the toxic ex-boss still running a subscript in my
People grow and change,
and so do their careers.
It’s not a failure.
It’s a natural process.
Growing and changing is a
positive, not a negative.
It doesn’t mean you have
to start in the mailroom and wind up as an executive. It means you add skills
and credentials and experience, take that, and CHOOSE what and where you go
Yes, there’s an element of
privilege in that choice, and our current government wants to make sure we have
NO choices and are the peasants to their feudal lords. Which is another reason
we need to get out the vote and overthrow these dictators-in-training.
But deciding to take one’s
career in a different direction is not a failure.
It means you are integrating
all of what you’ve done, learned, and experienced, and turning it into something
wonderful. It doesn’t have to conform to someone else’s agenda or convenience.
It means you’ve outgrown where you are and it’s time to move on.
It also means that when
you find that next career situation, you are more productive and engaged, which
is better for both you and your employer.
One would think/hope
companies would be excited to find enthusiastic, engaged workers rather than someone
who just shows up every day.
You look at your life and
decide what you want and need. Work is such a large part of our lives that how
and what and where we work factors in a great deal.
Maybe you can’t change
your situation today. But you can start figuring out what you want and need, do
some research, and take small steps regularly.
Far too many businesses
are trying to gain for themselves by making us feel terrible – all this “free
time” we have now, and all the things we “should” be doing because we can’t be
out and about the way we used to gambol.
They’re also counting on us
being so desperate to earn a living that we’ll take even less than we earned
before the pandemic. “You’ll get nothing and like it” is their refrain.
If the pandemic has taught
us anything, it’s how poorly most companies treated their employees in the first
Remember, without people
to actually do the work, the company cannot exist.
If they hire people that
do the work badly (which, if they don’t pay properly, that’s all they will get
in the long run), they will go under.
Instead of listening to
statistics by businesses for businesses, let’s look at personal realities, and
use those realities to reshape how we are going to navigate both our work world
and our social world.
Not everyone likes to work
remotely. Not every job CAN be done remotely.
As an introvert, I realized how often I was forced to behave like an extrovert in a typical work setting, and what a toll that took on my health and my productivity. It didn’t matter if I turned in three times the work ahead of schedule – if I wasn’t in the building so the managers could interrupt me, ruin my productivity, and repeatedly put me in situations that caused stress and discomfort, it wasn’t “real work” and I wasn’t being a “team player.”
During the pandemic, the
stress wasn’t from working remotely. It was that every foray off the property held
the literal prospect of death to me or someone in my family. And, as time went
on, it was the external pressures from those who wanted, again, to lower my
productivity and add discomfort to feel powerful and force me to be “part of
I am perfectly capable of being “part of the team” without setting foot in the office. There’s this thing called Zoom (which we’re all tired of at this point). There’s email. There are scheduled phone calls (I only do phone calls by appointment). As long as I collaborate and hit the deadlines with quality work, I shouldn’t have to be forced, repeatedly, into onsite situations that cause misery in order to make someone else feel powerful.
I realized how many unhealthy compromises I’d made since I moved here. Far more unhealthy compromises than I’d ever made in the decades I worked in theatre and film production.
In the weeks leading to
the Stay-at-Home, I was even talking with potential clients who insisted that I
work onsite – even though I knew it would make me miserable.
So the past few months
have made me redefine both what I want and what I need from work, and I
encourage you to do the same.
I went into the arts because of the passion I have for the work. I loved my time working backstage and on set. Now, I love my time writing. I don’t consider the fiction and plays the “real writing” and the marketing/business/consulting a “day job.”
As far as I’m concerned,
they are all of a piece.
Make a list of what you NEED from you work.
—Enough money so I’m not scrambling from payment to payment and don’t have to worry about basics like rent, food, utilities, health insurance, car, emergency vet bills, etc. It also must be reliably paid, not put off with excuses. Pay me per our contract.
—A sense of purpose and passion from those with whom I work. This can be small business owners who love what they do; or larger companies with a bigger mission. But there needs to be more to it than bottom line profit.
—Alignment with my values. I am not going to work for people/organizations/businesses I believe cause harm/fuel hatred, bigotry, racism, and misogyny. Even though those businesses usually pay more than those in alignment with my values as a person.
—Creativity. My job needs to let me use the creative part of my psyche, maybe in ways I didn’t expect to use it.
—Autonomy. Too often what is called “follow up” is actually “nagging.” If we’ve set a deadline, you will get what you need by that deadline. Suddenly asking for it a week early and bugging me about it doesn’t get it to you faster. If the deadline has changed for some reason, tell me it has changed and why it’s changed and we will deal with it. But don’t nag. Communicate clearly. And don’t micromanage every moment of my day.
—Humor. I love to laugh, and a sense of humor is important, especially on tight deadlines when there’s a lot at stake.
—Clear Communication. Don’t come at me with passive aggressive behavior. You want or need something? Be clear about it. Don’t lie to me, especially not by omission.
—Respect for my boundaries. “No” is a complete sentence. I do not have to embellish. If an emergency comes up, I will take on additional work outside my regular scope or outside my regular workweek; but it needs to be requested with respect and not become expected. I have a life that is separate from my work and just as important.
—Room for growth. I want to learn and grow both personally and professionally. I don’t want to be pushed into additional tasks because the company is too cheap to hire enough qualified personnel. I want to grow within my own scope of duties. I want encouragement to share ideas and have opportunities.
—Fully Remote. At this point in the game, that is what I want in the foreseeable future. It was a “want” before; now it is a need.
If any of the above list is
missing, I am miserable, and know I need to change my work situation.
What do I WANT?
That’s a little different.
The wants are what make the job special and exciting.
—Paid holidays and vacations. Which means, when I’m working freelance, the money and the ability to book that time without pushback.
—Variety. I like to write across different topics and in different areas – blog posts or articles or social media posts or courses or press releases or strategic plans. Anything that is scripted, be it for a video, a speech, or radio/podcast, and I’m in heaven.
—Positive Colleagues. An overall positive work atmosphere, even if it’s via Zoom or email, matters. We all have tough days, or even tough stretches. But if one particular person is ALWAYS unhappy, it starts to create a ripple effect of stress.
—An environment where everyone is encouraged to use their strengths and improve their weaknesses, rather than being thrown into something that’s a weakness without support or training.
—Encouragement to connect beyond the work, and get to know my colleagues as human beings. What do we all like to do when we’re not working? What are our other passions and causes? How can we work together to build a better world?
—Recognize and value the work. Recognize and value the work of everyone in the organization. It’s not about a fancier title. It’s about daily treatment and being paid fairly.
—Encouragement for learning opportunities and creative opportunities, even if they don’t immediately benefit the client.
—No more “at will” work. Most of my clients and I are on specific contracts, which is great. I do have a couple of clients that have me on retainer, but it’s “at will” and I need to change those parameters.
I’m sure I could make a
more comprehensive list – and I’m working on it. But as I restructure my work
life during the ongoing pandemic and figure out how I want it to look post-pandemic,
these are all elements that matter to me.
As this list evolves, I
will take steps to bring anything out of alignment into alignment. Then, I will
grow, change, and respond to the world, and will adjust more. Which is a good
What are your needs in a
work situation? And wants?
There are too many
stresses in our daily lives right now: the fact that leaving the house can kill
us, bosses who don’t believe we are actually working unless they can stare at
us; job loss, which too often means the loss of health insurance, unemployment
benefits running out, a government who would rather see us die en masse for
their personal profit than give us tools to live with basic human dignity, and
We are exhausted.
And yet, this is the time,
as everything falls apart is when we have to carve out the time, in spite of
the stress, to reinvent and rebuild the society we want.
Part of that is to
Life in the Arts
I spent decades working
professionally in theatre, film, and television production. Yes, until I started working off Broadway full
time, and then on Broadway full time, I often took stopgap jobs in offices and
temp jobs along the way.
People who claim they want
a career in the arts but feel stuck in their day jobs constantly ask me how I
could earn enough to live on in the arts.
Because I was ruthless in
the knowledge and practice that any day job was just that – temporary. Its only
purpose was to make it possible for me to work in the arts. If and when it
interfered with a paying theatre job, it was the day job that was chucked. I
NEVER turned down a paid (emphasis on “paid”) job in the arts because it meant
quitting a day job.
Even knowing that theatre
and film jobs are temporary and transitory.
“But I have
responsibilities!” People whine.
You think I don’t? I have
been earning my way since I was a teenager. At a certain point, I became the
breadwinner and caretaker of other members of my family. Sometimes I have been
that for my family of choice as well. I have responsibilities.
But I was committed to my
career choice, and every work decision was made around building that career,
not conforming to other people’s definition of “real work.” Believe me, my
entire life, I’ve heard “when are you going to get a REAL job?” This is from
people who couldn’t last a single day if they had to work a full Broadway
production schedule or an 18-hour day on a film set.
I knew what I wanted from
my career, and I did it.
Too often, people claim
they want a career in the arts. But it’s easy to fall into a corporate job with
a regular salary. If you CHOOSE that route, it’s perfectly valid. But own the
choice. Don’t pretend the corporate job and your “responsibilities” prevent you
from doing the work you claim you want to do. The only thing standing in your
way is you.
The other important
element is to dump unsupportive partners. Because I am driven and organized,
too many men tried to get me to give up my dream and focus that energy and
drive on theirs. Not one of them were worth it, and getting every single one of
them out of my life was the right choice. I’ve had some great men in my life,
but I knew even the good ones couldn’t sustain the lifelong journey. The ones
who tried to sabotage me were kicked to the curb pretty damn fast.
If my career choice had
been in the stock market or in finance or medicine or law, no one would have
ever questioned the dedication or the long hours. But, because it’s in the
arts, everybody’s a critic.
I consider myself still
working in the arts, even with the business and marketing writing I do. I work
hard to balance the writing other people pay me to do with the novels, plays,
and radio plays I write.
That doesn’t mean I
consider business writing a “day job” and fiction/scripting my “real” writing. They
are both creative. I love working with businesses who are passionate about what
they do, and communicating that passion in a way that enchants, engages, and
expands their audience. It’s my real work as much as writing a novel or a play
is real work. It’s a facet of my career.
Since we’re still in the
middle of a worsening pandemic, thanks to the lack of leadership and inhumanity
at the Federal level, we don’t know the full extent of the aftershocks or how long
Artists are finding new
ways to create, engage, and entertain an audience. Production skills will also
evolve. The need for art is growing, not ceasing, and I believe that theatre,
film, music, dance, visual arts – all of these will grow and find new ways to
connect with audiences.
Businesses need good
writers more than ever. One of the analytics companies (I can’t find the link,
apologies) figures that businesses that didn’t communicate with their audience
during the pandemic lost up to 78% of that audience.
communicate poorly with their audiences are also taking a hit. Life is
different now. Tossing out over-used catchphrases that wore out their welcome
back in March, or pretending it’s all over and everything is back to the way it
was hurts your audience. I know, as a consumer, reading some of the ridiculous
marketing schemes cause me physical pain. I turn away.
I am not likely to turn
Businesses that allow
customers inside without a mask, or to slide the mask down once inside? I walk
out. I don’t spend money there. Nor will I come back once there’s a vaccine,
and we are safely able to resume a semblance of former activities.
They have lost my business
One of the significant truths
the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders revealed is that few office jobs need to
be done in corporate space.
The day is often
structured differently, especially if childcare and children’s online learning
are involved. But the work can be done remotely.
Those of us who’ve worked
remotely for a company and/or as freelancers already knew that. We’ve had to
fight to because corporations find it useful to promote the toxic myth that it’s
not “real work” unless it’s in THEIR space where they can monitor you.
It’s time not to return to
that model. Where constant interruptions, unnecessary meetings to give a
bombastic executive an audience, and a workday structured for least
productivity but maximum low morale are considered “normal.”
We were groomed – and I
use that triggering word deliberately – by corporations to believe that this
type of work day and work environment was the only “real work.”
We’ve learned differently.
Yes, certain jobs need to
be done on site. But plenty of office jobs can be done virtually. If some
workers prefer the community office environment, they should have that option,
once it’s safe. But for those who are more productive, as long as they hit
their deadlines and deliver, the option to work remotely should be permanent.
Tools for Positive
UBI. Universal Basic Income gives everyone a chance for basic human dignity. Especially during the pandemic, it allows people to pay the bills, keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and, most importantly, to stay home. It allows them to put money back into the economy for all of the above, and maybe even support some small businesses and artisans. That slows the spread of the infection, gives the medical community time to come up with vaccines and treatments, and save lives. If people aren’t putting their lives at risk daily, forced to go back into unsafe environments, but are allowed dignity, many of them will be able to create, invent, and come up with ideas that will positively transform their lives and our world that we can’t even yet imagine.
Health insurance not
connected to jobs. Too many people
are forced to stay in negative work situations because they are afraid of
losing their health insurance. Then we hit a depression, like the one we’re in
now, and they lost the job and the health insurance anyway. This needs to stop.
Health insurance needs to be connected to the individual, and travel with the
person from job to job. Part of that restructuring includes changing insurance from
profit to non-profit companies, and removing stock options.
Benefits not tied to
the job. EVERY job, even part-time
and 1099 jobs, should have to toss a few dollars ON TOP OF (not deducted from)
every paycheck into a pot tied to the individual for unemployment, paid time
off, and retirement. IN ADDITION to money tossed into the insurance pot.
everywhere. Remote workers contribute
to their local economies. They buy food, pay taxes, hopefully shop locally when
they can, participate in their communities. It’s vital to keep people connected
with affordable technology in the most rural areas. And people need options. No
single corporation can be allowed to monopolize any utility.
The next generation
doesn’t owe it to us to suffer. I am
so sick and tired of hearing “well, I had to work hard, and no one wants to
work anymore.” People do want to work hard, but they also want to work
differently. We should be making it
better for the next generation, and then they make it better for the following
generation and so forth and so on. The
previous generation broke barriers. Instead of regressing (like we’ve done the
past years), it’s time for us to break barriers.
Fair pay for a day’s
work. And benefits. UBI doesn’t negate the need for fair pay. If
you aren’t willing to pay a living wage, and throw benefits into a pot for the
individual, you don’t get to have employees. Do the damn work yourself. And let’s
stop this only paying a 35-hour week or a 37.5-hour week. Or working 8-5
instead of 9-5 if someone wants to eat. You want me to work for you all damn
day? You can damn well pay me for a LUNCH HOUR.
Affordable housing. What developers present as “affordable” housing isn’t.
The formula for affordable housing needs
to be 30% of a month of 40-hour weeks at the minimum wage for that state. THAT
is affordable. No one should have to work multiple jobs in order to pay rent,
and rent should not be 80% of a person’s income (which it too often is).
How Do We Get There?
Millions of us are out of
work right now, and worried. Perhaps even desperate. Corporations are counting
on that. They got millions of dollars in SBA loans, have bought back stocks,
paid bonuses to top execs, and laid off the people who do the actual work. Now,
they want to hire people back at lower rates without benefits because “the economy.”
If you have to take
anything that comes along, then do what you need to do.
But take Liz Ryan’s advice over on The Human Workplace, and always be looking for another job. Consider it a temp job. Keep looking, pitching, sending out resumes and LOIs, talking to people, expanding your network.
As soon as you get a
better opportunity, take it. Companies stopped being loyal to their employees
decades ago. They blame the employees, saying they jump to a different job
after two years and “don’t want to work.” Hmm, maybe if companies paid decent
wages, benefits, funded pension plans (which are EARNED benefits as much as
Social Security is an EARNED benefit)
and treated their employees with decency and dignity, their employees would
Don’t believe corporate
spin. Take what you need to survive. Jump when something better comes along.
Misplaced loyalty will destroy you every time.
Take Stock. Then Take
In and amongst the worry
(and we’re all worried, on so many fronts right now), take stock of the career
you’ve had and the career you want. Where are they aligned? Where are they
apart? Where are they in conflict?
Start taking small actions
every day to move towards the career you want. Fifteen minutes a day working
towards both the kind of work you want to do and the environment in which you
want to do it.
Work with your elected
officials on town, state, and Federal
levels. Let them know what you want out of your society. HELP them get there.
It’s not just about donating money. It’s about regular communication so they
can represent you, and it’s about ideas. Write proposals, with detailed action
That helps them, and hones
skills you can use in a variety of jobs.
Read bills coming up for a vote, and let your elected officials
know how you feel about them. They can’t represent you if you don’t
You can read Federal bills coming up for a vote here..
Your state and town will have
information on their websites. It doesn’t take that much time to keep up on these
bills, and it pays off in every aspect of your life, because it affects every
aspect of your life.
Vote. In EVERY election.
Say No. Speak up at work. Speak up in interviews. Companies
are counting on us to be terrified and desperate. If enough of us say no, they
have to change the way they treat workers, or go out of business. Find people
with similar work and life sensibilities, and become entrepreneurs. Terrifying,
right? But also fulfilling. You can do better work on your own and be a better
boss than those who mistreated you.
Yes, it’s terrifying and
overwhelming at times. Start slowly. Rest when you need to. But remember that
you owe your best energy and creativity to making YOUR life a work of art, not
creating something for others to profit from in perpetuity.
How are you reinventing
work from what you’ve learned during the pandemic?