The Problem With Loving Your Job

This was in my inbox yesterday:

Stop Working!

And start making music :)

It’s Labor Day Weekend. That one time a year when US citizens are encouraged to stop working and enjoy other things in life… like making music, eating hot dogs and drinking beer.  To help celebrate, we’re slashing prices by 35% all weekend. Just enter the code below during checkout:

The only problem with this ad is that, as a sound designer for theater, making music is a big part of my job. And, you know what I’ve recently realized? This sucks. Because music was one of my first loves.

Ostensibly, this makes no sense – according to the modern American Dream, finding a way to do what you love for a living = winning.

Except… well, let me break it down this way: a few years ago, when I was in one of my occasional tailspins, a good friend pointed out that every time she asked me how I was doing, I told her about my family or my work. She very gently suggested that, it might be a good idea to take some time for myself every day, even if it was only an hour.

“Super idea,” I thought. “This is going to be great.”

Of course, I’m so incapable of having a good time for a good time’s sake that it took me about six weeks to figure out something I wanted to do for myself (which may just be a sign that I left therapy too soon). But then I got it – I would write that heavy-metal adaptation of an epic novel that I’d been talking about for years. I was stoked.

I read, adapted, wrote lyrics and songs – one hour a day? No way – I was doing two hours a day before a month had passed. For years – I’m talking two, three years – I was sure I had figured it out. I was in charge, writing what I wanted to write, and having a great time doing it.

But here’s the thing. I somehow convinced myself that the ten hours I spend nearly every day writing music and thinking about plays for a living was somehow different from my two “me” hours, which I had been spending… writing music and thinking about a play.

When you take what you love and make it your work, then no matter how much you love it, it’s still work.

I played bass and wrote songs for a metal band in Junior High School because it was fun, not because I had to get up in the morning and make that music in order to pay my mortgage. Don’t get me wrong – I freaking love creating soundscapes, building acoustic models, riffing in tech rehearsals, or breaking down a play with a collaborator. It’s just that all of that is my job. I can’t make music without thinking of its future. I didn’t adapt that novel without an endgame in mind – I’d be a liar if I said that I don’t want someone to produce it. Instead of me doing something that was just for me, I was doing my job in my spare time.

Recently, I’ve been getting irresponsible. Forgetting meetings, spending money I don’t have, staying out ‘til 3 when I know my kid’ll be up at 7, acting as though it’s possible to have rational discussions about politics, race and humanity on Facebook, playing Clash Of Clans on three different i-things at once… I’ve been losing my temper, running out of steam, and getting into fights with everyone I love.

Because I refuse to indulge myself for real. Because my childhood hobby became my grownup job, and I never replaced it with a grownup hobby. I think that everyone who drives their own work-engine needs this, and if someone did a study, I’d be willing to bet that they’d discover 70% of social media content and time-waster games are just people spinning their wheels as an unconscious attempt to get away from their jobs.

Making music, writing a play or even going to a play cannot be something I do for myself, because that’s already been claimed by my work – it’s a thing I do for other people. And if the way I define myself (parent, composer, lover, designer) is entirely focused on something or someone other than me, then who am I?

I’m going to try and learn how to surf anytime I can get to the shore. I’m going to take boxing classes on my dinner breaks. I’m going to go to whisky-tastings, spend my nights out anywhere but the theater, and have rambling conversations with strangers. I’m going to make friends with people who only go to plays on special occasions. And I’m going to write this blog, because I love writing. It took me three years, but I finally understand the idea of that hour a day – it’s not for doing work that I’ve chosen, but for actually doing a full-on activity that can’t be mistaken for parenting, working, or installing a kitchen sink in the studio.

6 thoughts on “The Problem With Loving Your Job”

  1. You are SO RIGHT. I’ve wrestled for several years with the truth that the things I was, or would have been, doing “for fun” (choral singing, dance class) were too close to the things I do for work (it’s all working hard at making art, one way or another). This challenge also has the dimension of forming and nurturing friendships with people who treasure me for my personal qualities and not for what I can do for them artistically. Thank you for writing this post about it.

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  2. Reading this post galvanized me a bit. I’m glad I’m not alone.

    My situation is a little bit different from yours – you make Art, I make Commercial Media. About five years ago my career took a turn. I found myself getting opportunities to use a theatrical skill set (production, creative ideation/iteration, collaboration, all the -tions) in a very, very commercial context. In very short order I found myself no longer working on theater – I worked on experiential events.

    The tricky thing is that my toolkit BA (Before Adbiz) was the same as my toolkit PA (Post Adbiz). I used Ableton to sequence MIDI, so I could trigger stuff. I used VDMX to throw pixels at displays. I used guitars to make noises. I used Vectorworks for plots. I threw myself at the game 100% – only to discover that the game doesn’t get played, the game plays you. Cut-throat competition – a foreign idea to someone from a community as all-embracing as theatrical audio – is a very real thing. Vulnerability gets harnessed, and fed back into the machine. Busses go by, and people get thrown under them.

    I was a bit young when I made my transition – after a few years, I ended up hating not only my clients and their shows, but also my tools. I stopped hitting “save” on music I was making – I was simply playing to play, as that was what I do, but every button push and knob-twist came with pangs of anger, resentment and regret. The music sounded laborious – which it was. Who wants to hear that? I didn’t, really, so I stopped hitting save. My digital work became ephemeral. That’s a weird choice to make with a computer.

    I’m not going to tell my partner’s story, but suffice to say that you can transpose “The Devil Wears Prada” to that entire industry – just add a heavy scoop of gender and racial discrimination. I see it happening to my design friends in graphic arts, too – there’s many practitioners, and not so many gigs.

    It took me five years to commit to a reset, but this fall my partner and I are attempting a reset. I love techno, I love nightclubs, and I am a killer visual designer in that context – so that’s pretty much all that I’m doing. It’s been difficult, but I’m forcing myself to relax and release the tension NY Media dumped on my shoulders over the past decade. Where you’re making time for you, I’m trying to get to a place where I need to make time for me. Fingers crossed.

    It’s great that you’re willing to put this out there – most creatives I know won’t even chat this in private. The more we all talk about it the closer we will get to developing an adequate toolkit for handling the unique stresses faced by passionate creative professionals.

    This wasn’t as eloquent as I’d have liked, maybe more later…

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  3. One suggestion, get your agent working on some west coast gigs for you … ’cause when you are out here and surfing, the only musical part of it is the board humming across the waves.

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