Ink-Dipped Advice: Time to Reinvent Work

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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 so forth.

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 reinvent work.

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.

Pandemic Aftershocks

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 they take.

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.

Businesses that 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 back.

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 permanently.

Rebuilding Work

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.

They’re wrong.

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 Change

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.

Affordable internet 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 stay.

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 Steps.

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.

Then DO.

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 steps.

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 communicate.

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?