Balancing work and the creative life
The ability to work and pursue creative endeavours without going mad, or forfeiting the right to sleep and eat regularly, is pretty much the ideal life for creative people.
People, particularly employers, talk about providing a work-life balance for their employees, but the emphasis is usually on work first, then life. Work and the company’s bottom-line is the important part, and whatever you do on your time is your own business.
This isn’t much of a balance.
It is nearly impossible to find a job that is interested in supporting creative people because, despite employers filling job postings with phrases like, “out of the box thinker”, “dynamic self-starter”, “innovative problem-solver” and other such hackneyed nonsense, the truth is, that’s exactly what they don’t want – and in my experience, that becomes clear very quickly. I’ve worked at many places where I went in ready to contribute ideas and make positive changes as the need arose…only to be shot down at every turn.
I’ve had the odd great manager who was supportive of an idea – and it would get shot down by her bosses for reasons unexplained. Then, because shit really does roll down hill, she’d get to tell me that the great idea was now dead in the water…because the Powers That Be said so. And we’d sit in her office and feel gloomy, knowing that at the next company-wide meeting we’d be listening to speeches about taking pride in the product, and how wonderful the company is, and why we should all love the leader.
I used to call these Masters of Universe speeches – and after the first few times, I started tuning them out because I learned that it wasn’t me, or my fellow co-workers that were important, it was the bottom line. It was profit and happy shareholders and CEOs hemorrhaging money on impressing clients with fancy lunches. As a co-worker of mine used to say, “I’m not the Madam, I’m just the whore.”
Well. No more of this for me. I’ve just started the holy grail of part-time jobs.
I’m now working with a small web design company whose owner has a great philosophy: You don’t work for me, you work for the company. Use your best judgement, do what’s best for the company, and if you need help with that, just ask.
The difference between this company and most others is that, he really means it. So my hours vary from day to day. Yesterday, I spent several hours taking care of an important task – it needed to be done, so I did it. Today, I spent less than an hour doing company related work, and have been editing a story, writing this post, and searching Google images for pictures of the holy grail since. I only get paid to do company-related things (which is only fair) but I can do creative stuff right here in full view of the person who signs my cheques and not worry that I’m going to get fired, or put on probation. The work that needed doing to keep the company and its clients happy and moving forward is done, so now I can play (and the work was all stuff I like doing and am good at, so it barely qualifies as “work” anyway).
It’s nice to be trusted. It’s really nice that it’s assumed I have two brain cells to rub together and that I will make good decisions without being told what to do. It’s amazing to me that I can be open about the creative things I’m doing (short stories, a novel, drawings, crocheting little monsters) and not only can I work on it “at work”, I have a support network that is interested in me being happy! And people who feel supported are happy. And happy people make far better employees than people just punching a clock and counting down the minutes until they can leave.
Why don’t more employers subscribe to this philosophy? I have no idea. I know not everyone can work in the environment I’ve just joined, and that’s OK, some people need a more rigid structure in place. But that kind of environment is a first class ticket to misery and a resignation letter for me.
I’ve said it before, but I think that this time all the things that were discussed at my non-interview (we had coffee and just chatted – it was pretty relaxed) are a real thing, a real way of working and living that means I don’t have to choose between necessity and happiness.
I can have both.