Is Your Job Fulfilling? (Shop Talk #3)
Depends: what do you mean by fulfilling?
An art director and I were talking once about the different jobs we had done over the years. Al said he did some work as a freelancer he was not particularly proud of: wasn’t bad work, just didn’t highlight the creative style he had become known for. Why did he do it? “Well, I had a family and a mortgage and…you do what you gotta do.”
This is my story, too. It is everyone’s story.
An English student asked me how someone writing for an agency or corporation can find fulfillment when the writing is essentially voiceless. By that I understood she meant that the writing was not coming out of some personal deep need to communicate. I get what she means and I think this is an important question. But I also think we romanticize the production of art, novels and poems.
I’ve been arguing that work and art sometimes fit hand in glove and sometimes stay at opposite ends of our daily teeter totter. I’ve been arguing you need both to make either work. If you just have paying work, you are not exercising your creative self. If you just are creating, you’re broke and maybe you don’t have a place among real people in real life. Here are a few things that happen when work and art find a way to live together:
- Workmanlike attention: Our work with its deadlines and status updates helps us (sometimes forces us) to be productive. This is useful when it comes to delivering on our art or craft. Just getting to it—every day—is the way we produce anything. None of this waiting for enlightenment stuff.
- Having a place among people: isolation is not good. Those colleagues and bosses and clients who critique our work help shape it (no matter how painful). In the same way as we try to explain our craft or art to others, it gets shaped as well.
- It is your job to develop a voice. It may not be your voice, but it must be a believable voice. And to run that voice through the gauntlet of critics and peevish managers and lawyers and regulators is no small feat. The voice you produce can become a team or corporate asset. That is something to be proud of.
- Now is not forever. If you are not producing the art/poems/novels you intended, find a way to get to it. This usually involves owning up to the myriad excuses we present for not doing it. And if today’s work is less than fulfilling: start looking. It’s the steely beauty of the free market system that you can change. Recognize that this job is for now and not forever (more and more I’m convinced different seasons in life hold different tasks and levels of fulfillment. Plus, we are personally changing all the time, which means fulfillment is a moving target.)
Several of the hard-bitten copywriters I know would say “Who has time for writing outside the office?” To these I would say your own art and copy is a gift to yourself that pays back in meaning and insight.
There’s more to say about this. What would you add or subtract or say to my student?