Thursday, August 19, 2010

Joy, shit, art and inspiration: How much of one not to take to get the others.

After almost two weeks of work straight, say 12 hrs a day+ with just short breaks, I finally came up for air. I got to a point at the end of the stint where I wouldn't even have the TV on or listen to music because I was so concerned with getting everything I needed to get done for a publication that had a rotating deadline and a constantly shifting list of "things to do". In a world where change is the only constant, this work played true and the only thing that wasn't changing was my fee.

As an employee one can do little about this syndrome and when one's employer guarantees a certain level of security and hopefully fair pay it is really our responsibility to just suffer the work and get it done with as few complaints as possible. But as an independent contractor the rules change a bit. We do our best to estimate the time involved, the work to be done, our competence at said work and a reasonable rate of pay. And then the nose goes to the grindstone. If one has been briefed relatively well by the client, then one's estimate should be fairly close. But if not, one of two things will be true: Either you've estimated poorly, or the client has not been completely honest with you. In my case recently, it turned out to be the latter - and that doesn't necessarily mean the client was not honest - more logically it seemed as if the client was not particularly good at estimating himself. In any case, the job swung wildly out of control in a way that I hadn't seen since the very beginning of my career. Nothing at my company in Korea had ever become this far gone, nor at Leo Burnett or any of the major agencies I have ever worked for, so it fell back to my early career experience to figure out what to do.

Concern, issue, problem.

In order to let people know what level of severity a job might be it, the above diplomatic language was explained to me to describe just how deep the shit is in any crucial work situation. It works like this: When the boss says he has a 'concern', that's the first red flag - something has been brought up and it's your job to address it. But concerns, if not addressed becomes 'issues', the second red flag - And issues, if not resolved become 'problems', usually the third and final red flag, - and that usually means that something is now costing somebody money - maybe a lot of money.

When you're an employee this system needs to be understood from the top down - meaning that if your boss uses this graduating scale of severity to impress upon you, your responsibilities, you better hop to it. But if you're working as an independent contractor and the client requests become well outside the original agreement, this scale can be reversed, and used to let the client know that things are getting squirrely. 'Concern, issue, problem'. Don't use it at your own peril and you'll loose a ton of sleep and money.

I used it for a week this last week and made sure that people were aware of a situation getting worse. It didn't effect their behavior much, they were still late and disorganized, but at least it made me feel better and put me in a position to say, "I told-ja-so", later. CYA. It reminded me how much I dislike a lot of the defense mechanisms I learned in a corporate culture

Having finished a bit of a 'a few weeks in hell', I set about understanding my home again - not the bunker I has established for my month-long+ writing war. The place with a full ashtray everyday, a grimy computer, tons of magazines and books and notes and rubbish all around. The place that looks like a war room. So I cleaned the fridge.

There's something so thrillingly liberating about remedial tasks. I remember having a job at Avis Rent-A-Car when I was paid to sweep a large garage every week on Saturday. It took four hours. And took all my cares away. In four hours, sweeping mostly in one direction, around antique cars under shrouds, with one rolling garage door up and the sunlight shafting through and casting a wide dusty widening stripe across the oil stained concrete floor, I was able to daydream and think and create and put my problems into the background for the afternoon. I loved it. And that's what cleaning the fridge, washing the dishes, cleaning nasty surfaces and making an actual meal did for me today. It helped me think. It helped me clear out my email. It helped me remember what is important in life - and that, I remembered, was balance. And I seem to have been out of balance for quite some time now. Out of understanding that the reason we work is not just to pay the bills, but to get to spend our money in a way that is enjoyable and meaningful to us every day. Isn't that why you work? Having music around makes me feel this way.

And so, in my shuffley, scroungy, no program cleaning day, I stumbled across this illustration by Seth Godin. (above) This illustration that juxtaposes graphs on joy, hassle (shit) and the inverse reaction one has on the other. Going through Seth Godin's stuff is sometimes difficult because he explains things too much. But this one is simple. The less shit you get, the happier you will be. And this, I needed to remember. The thing that told me that when the stress of the job outweighed the joy that job gave me, that maybe it was time to do another job. Or simplify the one I had and let the client know that things had become, a problem.And so I did, and tomorrow I will find out if that argument hit any paydirt with the client.

Joy, Shit, Hassle, Art, Inspiration, Passion, Concern, Issue, Problem, Seth Godin,  Hugh MacLeod,  Gapingvoid, In Seth's writings I also found the following quote, which I like very much. is says: "A is for Artist: An artist is someone who brings humanity to a problem, who changes someone else for the better, who does work that can't be written down in a manual. Art is not about oil painting, it's about bringing creativity and insight to work, instead of choosing to be a compliant cog." (from Linchpin). And I accompany this quote with a drawing from Hugh MacLeod. A drawing that exemplifies what we all should be working towards. Inspiration. - In my life I have gone above and beyond the call of duty for different reasons at different times but always in pursuit of something that was well above average. Yes, I have done it for money, and certainly I have done it for love but it's far more important to do it for art and inspiration. Stan Richards said to me once, "Do what you love, and the money will follow." I just keep believing that every day, and that way, I do something I love every day, and sometimes, get paid very well for it.

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