Sunday, April 14, 2013

You Gotta Know When To Hold 'Em, Know When To Fold 'Em


"When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be"--Lao Tzu
Robert Phelps the Warehouse Monkey
Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself and your career is to stop. At least for a little while. From October 15, 2012 to April 1, 2013 I worked at HSN as a "scenic technician". I only made it 5.5 months at a regular job. I gave it my best shot but by now I'm far too feral and entrepreneurial to work hourly. I met a lot of really interesting people but more importantly I became, through a vast perspective shift, reacquainted with myself--and more importantly, my goals.

Prior to taking this position I had spent the better part of 17 years working as an artist in various forms--fine artist, illustrator, muralist, faux painter, scenic artist, caricaturist, product designer, web master, etc. It was a good run but I had finally reached that dreaded point that all creative types must at some time endure--burnout. I have stubborn Irish genes so I just fought the notion of giving up at all costs. I fantasized about a stable and secure income and a nice, steady paycheck but I was unwilling to let go of all that I had built. 
Robert Phelps, corporate stooge ;-)
Ultimately though, I found the bottom of the barrel and just wanted a reprieve from the daily grind and hustle of maintaining an art career in a protracted recession. So, imagining the grass to be greener in the neighbor's field I hopped the fence and signed on at HSN. As a guy who perhaps too strongly associates with his work I found myself in a whole new role/identity in a job I had no training for and very little understanding of. I was grateful for the opportunity but felt as though I had been sucked into a vortex of confusion. I did my best to retrain my mind to accept this new reality but I just couldn't. 

I found myself chafing at the shackles of regular employment. There was no room for creativity, adaptability, or innovative thinking. In true Irish fashion I had signed on for a workhorse position (despite the title of "scenic technician") as a warehouse monkey. All day, every day I struck and set Studio sets with ridiculously heavy props and furniture. Everything was a novelty-level pain in the ass. Schlepping massive rolled rugs, painting and repainting props to suit each set design, loading and unloading the moving truck. Essentially I was a mover. I'll tell the tales of my adventures at HSN another time but for now I'll just say I was a fish out of water flopping around. 
Robert Phelps--set model for "blocking" photos
The story has a happy ending though. I find that although the work was grueling and exhausting I am recharged and renewed in my artistic intent. The break between what was and what will be is distinctly marked with a fascinating chapter which I suspect will ultimately be profoundly useful. I met some really great people and lost 20 pounds of depression weight (recession-fueled depression resulting in over-eating and boozing). 

Having wandered so far away from my "home" as an artist I now am refreshed with appreciation for what I do. I can see it anew and enjoy it in a much more fun way. I spent that entire 5.5 months working on my business from outside of it (I spent every day at lunch doing web work and reviewing my business plan and technical challenges) and now I can plug the leaks that drained me so badly in the past. So, not to get too Taoist about it I can honestly say the best way to find yourself sometimes is to get totally lost. Try it, you'll like it.