The New Job I Didn’t Know I Started

The change of season here in New Hampshire puts me in a reflective mood. For once, that mood isn’t a foul one, but one of relative calm. I tried a bunch of different things this year, nailed down some critical definitions, and ping-ponged between extremes in a seemingly-endless set of balance-seeking experiments. Although none of them have stuck as pure habits, my eerie sense of calm comes from the sense that I have a set of goals and the tools that go with them. Most importantly, I’ve gotten past certain mental barriers about business and creative thinking, learning that the uncertainty that bedevils any new endeavor is manageable and necessary. I think I pretty much know, at least for now, what I’m doing.

My memories are triggered by remembered emotional states, and the last time I felt this way about my work reminded me…of work! I’ve been freelancing for years now, so I’d forgotten what it felt like to know what purpose I served in a job context. Yes, categorically I know that I am supposed to “do design” or whatever, but this is not the same as knowing that one is filling an important need within a company structure, and that this need is being filled exceedingly well. At least, no one has complained, and there is no reason to suspect that there are any problems.

On Sunday, that’s how I felt. It seems that I’ve stumbled into alignment with my job. If I’d started working for someone else, I would have had the compassion to give myself 6-9 months to learn the company culture and expectations. But because I’d given myself this new work goal, I didn’t even think of the possibility that I would have to learn how to get comfortable with it over time. It has been a big internal shift, one that has been going on longer than a year actually, but now I think I’m starting to get it.

Earlier this year, I’d labeled my sense of purpose as seeking creative independence in an attempt to identify the core of my many scattered creative activities. By labeling it, I hoped this would give renewed focus to my pursuits; I could apply a simple “this helps / this doesn’t help” test to all prospective activities:

Q. “Does this activity help me become more creatively independent?” A1. “No. Be aware that you are delaying the next phase of your creative life adventure.”
A2. “Yes. Rock on.”

One of the major challenges is that I can’t actually spend all my time “seeking creative independence” because:

  1. I have existing project commitments.
  2. I need to spend time with my community of friends and family, otherwise I am disconnected and unhappy.
  3. I wasn’t 100% sure what “seeking creative independence” meant in terms of daily productivity.

Finding balance between creative independence, the above needs, and my need for copious amounts of solitude to recharge is a major challenge for me. I’ve been balancing the best I can, but how does one know that the balance is working at the end of the day?

There have been a few signs:

  • I was able to save enough money from the ongoing printed Emergent Task Planner operation to buy a new laptop, replacing a really old Macbook Pro. Truthfully, the reason I could afford to shift the money because I have other project work to cover expenses, but still this felt like a win. I now know that part of the business, which is a key to creative independence, is viable.

  • I am scheduling far-fewer meetings during the week, and treating those days as “light productivity” days. Meetings, as enjoyable as are for me, are death to productivity. The kind of creative work I do requires solitude, deep focus, and lots of energy. As an introvert, meetings of any kind drain my reserve of energy, so I have had to be very strict about scheduling them. This means that I am not as available as I used to be, but it is paying off.

  • I have settled on a baseline of daily/weekly productivity. If I get three big pushes done during the week, I am feeling like I’m making progress. Between those big pushes, I do errands or light research tasks. Maybe do some writing. Maybe help a local artist with their website. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but I’ve been tracking my time and that is what realistically gets done.

  • I have given myself permission to be guilt-free about the way I’m approaching my life balance by NOT comparing it to other people. Or even letting other people lecture me on how I should be doing things.

  • I have also been practicing NOT feeling negative reactions. I’m not really doing it very well, but I have noticed when I feel outraged, and I am slightly better at putting those thoughts out of my mind.

  • I have gotten better at recognizing that a lack of certainty is a license to explore, and that exploration is not a non-billable waste of time that isn’t valued by the client. While it may NOT be valued by the client, IT IS THE PROCESS.

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p>Net result: improved calm and less anxiety. One side-effect of all this, though, is that I’ve also been feeling rather calm about not going to the gym; I need to figure out how to cycle that back into the life equation.