It’s been a bit. I’ve needed to take some time to absorb ALL THE THINGS of the past year and regroup. In addition to processing and reflecting on the pandemic, Black Lives Matter, social justice reckonings, and insurrection, I’ve also had a fair amount of change in the my own job and some areas of my personal life.
One word describes it all: OOF.
I want to take what I’ve learned in the past year and apply it to a series of posts I’ve been mulling over: Advice to Young Creatives.
There came a point in the past year where I realized something–I’m not young anymore. I’ve been working professionally in the arts in various capacities for just under twenty years, and there are so many things I wish someone had told me at 19.
Most of the advice I received as a young person was out of the giver’s own self interest. And it was usually total shit.
There were a few pieces of guidance I’ve come back to time and time again, and I’ll note they were both given to me by women in the arts.
• Don’t work for free. Even if the payment is a meal, ask for something in exchange for your work. If you don’t value your time, no one else will.
• Your career won’t keep you company when you’re older. Jobs aren’t family, jobs aren’t friends.
In creative careers, I think both of the above are very, very, very hard pieces of advice to absorb.
The first is difficult because the value of professional creatives are consistently undermined in our culture. In my current position I oversee the public email account for an art department at an educational institution. Every day I receive emails along the lines of :
“Hi, I’m looking for a recent graduate to (insert HUGE project here for artist or designer) for free my house/business. It’s a great resume builder!”
I would be curious how often recent accounting graduates receive these types of requests. Recently here in Las Vegas Resorts World retracted a call wherein they asked artists to create murals for free on their properties. NO ONE WOULD EVER ASK FOR A VOLUNTEER C.F.O. Ever. Why are professional artists undermined in this way?
The second piece of advice re: career, jobs, family is harder to untangle.
I think many of us flock to the arts as a chosen family because we were different as kids. We found a safe haven in theatre, music, visual arts, dance, writing. It was a place where we could be ourselves for the first time. And we have an altruistic hope that the magic of young acceptance will carry us through our professional lives.
I clung to this notion for years. I believed that my employers thought of me as family. And I was horrified to find out this was not the case when I was laid off. TWICE. From two different creative enterprises that used the language of ‘family’ in their hiring processes and everyday work culture. The painful truth is that in a professional setting where a bottom line and/or a hierarchy of power exists, you’re not family.
In some ways this second realization was one of the most healing for me. For decades I put in 60 hour work weeks for $35K a year because this was my FAMILY. You sacrifice for family. You give of yourself and love unconditionally for family.
The recognition that my workplace was not my family was one of freedom. I could perform the hours and duties I was contractually obligated to do, and no more. I could create identity and relationships outside of my workplace that would not be tied to a paycheck, and that would be a much healthier way to live.
Over the next year I’d like to use this platform to explore all different kinds of advice to young creatives. Practical advice (like tips for job applications and why it matters to have a good credit score) to more reflective advice (like why it’s bullshit that you have to choose a career path and stick to it).
One last note: for my sober and non-drinking folks who are wondering WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SOBRIETY AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?
I offer this: I never drank more than when I was at the peak of my professional creative “success”. Most creative industries align closely with drinking culture, and as I started my sobriety journey I had to take a very difficult look at my chosen career path and how my drinking and my work had evolved together, and how ultimately trying to achieve certain milestones didn’t bring me joy and led me to drink in secret. I’ll be sure to write a little more about that during the upcoming year, but rest assured sobriety will still be part of the conversation at certain points in this next year of exploration.
I’m hoping to have some guest posts along the way, and if you’re a young creative who has a question you’d want to ask, feel free to drop me a line at vegassober (at) gmail.