“Striving” is the word that comes to mind when I think back on conversations that I have had this week with several former employees. Our conversations were coaching talks, catching up and just plain venting. And, I sit on this side of my decision to leave my job and am relieved. What is gone for me now is the burden of striving, that tremendous expenditure of energy to meet the corporate expectations of other folks to help them achieve their end result (i.e. profits), whether or not I agree with the vision of how to get there. All because that is the culture of the corporate world. All because it is a paying job. All because (insert the reason here).
Now, striving is not in of itself a bad thing. I have a problem with where the energy expenditure is often applied. I have come to learn through experience and observation (look at this country’s political scene) that you can expend a lot of energy towards a goal that is not your own and then what you have accomplished through blood, sweat and tears often ends up reversed. I must caveat that I am not including parenthood here, because if you have produced a kid, it is your PRIORITY and OBLIGATION to develop and nurture them so that they are loved and can contribute in a positive way to society; no child asks to be born into neglect or abuse. What I am talking about is the energy that you can exert at the day job that puts your craft in peril. This expenditure can start out with good intentions: you put aside your craft to devote more hours to learning the job and securing a foothold or you have a special project on which you need to spend extra time for a short period. There are a multitude of well-meaning intentions, but too many intentions for too long can put you on a very slippery slope where you are an “artist on hold” and not an “artist at work”.
One of the most difficult lessons I have had to learn as The Fixer or The Closer (who is also Artist) is that the day job is a “business transaction” that should support my craft, no more, no less. I actually had a writing mentor use these exact words and give me a bit of coaching until I was willing to accept this relationship. Many F-bombs later, he had me listening, because clearly, vehemently he had been down this road before me and been burned many times in his youth as a writer with a corporate day job who expected more from that job, like security or life meaning. I have always been a top performer for many reasons, all related to ego, competitiveness and the desire to please. But that mentality was detrimental to my craft and wreaking havoc with my family. How do you tell a 1-year-old that “Mommy can’t hold you now; I have to get on a conference call”? That scenario repeated often and gutted me. I also found that it was too easy to not work on the craft because I was tired, I’ll work on the weekend, I have to complete this project tonight, excuses, etc., etc. And then another year rolled by with me sitting in disgust at my writing portfolio which I had put dead last. The raises were great, but the satisfaction and justification only lasted a few weeks and then the angst of not creating returned greater than ever.
So, where am I going with this post? After more than three years of kicking my craft to the curb for the sake of performing at the day job, I hear that less than two months after leaving, things are falling back in the direction of the mess they were before I was hired. And I ask: Exactly why again did I put my health and family at risk over the past three years AND have little writing to show for it?
Now, I am not condoning being a poor performer; I have fired my share of those folks. But, as my mentor challenged me, can you settle for being an average performer (the 60% of the performance bell curve) and save your top performer energy for your craft? I wish I had listened to my mentor last year. Instead, I dove into trying for a promotion, but with a caveat: if I work at the top of my game and do not get promoted, then I know that this place is not where I am supposed to be. If I had just carried on in average performance saving my energy for my writing, I would have stayed in a bit more sane, created more and gotten to the same point of understanding: the day job was not where I was supposed to be.
Save your best energy for your craft. Period. Form the necessary habits so that you are creating while your day job supports, NOT takes the place of, your craft. Period. You will be a lot more sane and content in the day-to-day because you continue to create. If you cannot do the above and there are no other extraneous circumstances explaining why you choose to spend 16 hours a day on the day job, then do some soul searching and ask yourself which you really love more. There is no wrong answer or shame as long as you are honest with yourself; rather, you will have the freedom of living and performing from a more genuine place.