ask A.

Common sense advice for life and work by A. from recognizd

I have so many interests and skills but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to get them to work for me.

Dear A.,

I have so many interests and skills but I’m having a hard time figuring out how to get them to work for me in a stable and money-making way.

I really enjoy creative pursuits but my job as a software developer today is mostly coding without any creative input from me, and it's eroding me. I would like to take the skills I do have in music, production, and charisma and turn it into something valuable for myself and other people, but I don’t know where to start - or if I even should start.

— Jack of No Trades

Dear Jack of No Trades,

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but you have been lied to.

Lie #1: We've been told since we were small that we must find a job and stick with it. That the stability of full-time employment and the paycheck that comes along with it are the ultimate goal, and we should be grateful to have them. 

The problem with this, is that stability is an illusion and one that serves companies far more than it does their employees (and let me tell you a secret, it’s designed that way). 

Lie #2: We’re told that if we’re passionate about our work “we’ll never work in a day in our lives”. This too, I’m sad to say, is untrue. 

How many tales have we heard of people who quit everything to start working full-time on their creative pursuits only to realize they are still unhappy, just differently so? Proceed with caution here, my friend. 

So what then? 

The real question isn’t should you start, or even how (though I will answer both of those), but: how much joy might just be on the other side of realizing it isn’t an all-or-nothing choice between the stable-but-soulless job and the thus-far imagined fulfilling creative career? You can have both. Or rather, you can have a little of both, as a treat. 

Should you start working on music production and creative projects and putting that charisma to good use? Absolutely. In fact, you must. The clue is right there in your own wording. Your current job is eroding you. Beautiful rock formations come from the constant, gentle lapping of the ocean against the cliffs, that is to say - your coding work will probably produce some wonderful results. But erosion means the gradual destruction or diminution of something, in this case, you. If something is making you feel smaller, whether it be a job or a relationship or a situation, it is imperative to move yourself away from it, and towards different, bigger things. 

But how does one do that? And specifically, how can you do that? 

In the short-term: what could you do to make your current job more bearable? Could you use that charisma to convince a higher-up to let you work on something more creative? Could you start a lunchtime music production club with like-minded colleagues? Could you write truly awful fan fiction about your job in a secret diary never to be shared with the world? 

In the mid-term: what jobs might be out there that could make better use of your creativity and charisma? Off the top of my head, sales is a field that generally rewards charismatic people, and your work as a software engineer probably means you could talk to technical buyers in a way other salespeople can’t. Maybe your company has a Technical Sales department, and you could take someone out for coffee and ask some questions. Maybe that person isn't in your company but can be found on LinkedIn. Maybe you could see if a music-focused company is hiring for software developers, or maybe you could offer your production services freelance to up-and-coming artists as a side gig. 

And long term? Keep in mind that the ultimate goal, the reason you are here, is to construct a life that resembles you, that nourishes you and that - as you rightfully mention - creates value for yourself and others. It will be scary, for most people still believe in lies 1 & 2. But fear of somebody else’s opinion, in my opinion, is not a good enough reason to miss out on your own life.

(You might also enjoy reading Mari Andrew’s June missive: It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense).

— A.