How Hardships Transform Your Career
We've all had those days where we've opened the fridge to find two tomatoes, some stale bread and very little else, felt deeply uninspired and thought we didn't have enough to make a meal.
Yet one of our friends could probably take one look in the same fridge and invent a new dish, or whip up a salmorejo soup or a panzanella salad that feels like a feast.
Sometimes, we feel the same way about ourselves or our work.
At some point, often right in the middle of grinding away to make something new, when it's all hard work and we're not getting much positive feedback, we hit an unexpected speed bump hard and feel like crap.
We start doubting, questioning why we got in to this in the first place and whether we even have something special to offer.
Money, Fear and Creativity
Our doubt is often exacerbated by money, and the fear of not having any. It's not a place any of us want to be, but the truth is, that kind of fear can make us really creative. It's how you learn to make panzanella.
It's a hard truth, but it's rare that pure, unadulterated art itself makes much money. It’s what can be done with it as an experience, a product, an investment, brand association etc that usually does, which doesn’t come naturally to a lot of creative people.
The problem arises when:
a) That activity detracts from the meaning of the work itself and
b) The person who made it in the first place is losing out or not in control
Which is why one of our most important skills is learning how to take our skillsets and what we make, and doing something inventive with them which unlocks value without compromising our integrity.
Please note, I'm not suggesting you become a hard-nosed business person. Quite the opposite. I'm suggesting that if you want people to experience your work in meaningful ways or to value your skills, you have to do the hard work of helping people to see that value, your way.
Imagine Something More
Part of your job is to break what you have to offer down in to the ingredients, in order to really understand what makes it, and you, special and interesting.
A play is not the final performance, it's; a playwright, a script with notes and revisions, weeks of rehearsals, dramaturgy, choreography, direction, auditions, performers, set design, sound design, costumes, lighting, get ins and outs, a production team, poster artwork, ticket sales, a venue, the team who works there and so on and so on.
Yet we the audience rarely see much of that through traditional theatre marketing. If you’re a playwright, is that enough for you?
Or do you want to build a bigger audience and deepen their experience by sharing some of the process? Your R&D, devising, tatty scripts covered in notes, auditions, casting, rehearsals, the poster design, costume making, the first-night nerves behind the scenes?
Instead of just a ticket and a program, do you want people to be able to buy a copy of an annotated script, a replica costume, the soundtrack on vinyl, dance classes to learn the choreography, a one to one writing workshop with you, and a video recording from the night they attended?
If so, it's your job to stop doing what everyone else is doing because that's what everyone else does. It's your job to look at what's special about your work and bring that to life imaginatively, to the best of your abilities. It may involve untold arguments and pushback, but it’s worth persevering.
Your Hidden Skills
If you're a musician who has invested all of your energies into becoming great at your craft but it's not quite enough to live on right now, you may be in one of the most creatively fertile places possible, because you’re problem solving all the time.
It might not feel like it, you might feel like you’ve made a terrible gamble. If so, have you done a thorough audit of all of your transferable skills?
It's likely you can teach music, A&R, DJ, produce live events and creative projects, do session or function work, songwriting, journalism, styling, event or radio hosting, sound design, podcast and radio production, make music for adverts, do voiceovers, studio and venue engineering, tour managing and a number of other jobs.
Or perhaps you can take your creative skills with you to your side hustle bar job and ask to program their music, people-watch for songwriting inspiration, record found sounds, meet lots of new people and improve your networks etc.
Trying to keep your creative career as narrow as making music and performing - because supposedly that’s the dream - may not offer you the challenges you need to keep growing and being inventive. It may even stop you from discovering new things you’re talented at or enjoy doing.
Make Anything But Lemonade
We’ve all heard the old adage; when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Which is fine.
Except that everyone has already tried lemonade. And life rarely gives you ingredients as easy to make something with as lemons and sugar.
When life gives you crappy, funky, random ingredients that don’t go together you’ll have to use your imagination to invent an interesting new recipe doesn’t really work as a phrase, but it’s a lot closer to the truth.
What curve balls has life thrown at you that ended up helping you discover something new about yourself? Have you learned a new skill or ended up somewhere unexpected? Share with us in the comments below…