Time is Money: Where Should You Be Spending It?
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Creatives are often taught that they should work very hard on whatever creative talent they possess, and that if they work hard enough, their hard work will pay off.
I’ll agree with the part that says you should work hard at your craft. While the whole 10,000 hours rule is debatable due to scope of the task and interpretation, there is something to be said about the need for a vast amount of deliberate, productive practice. Indeed, that is necessary, and it’s astonishing to me how many creatives don’t realize just how much work it takes. But it’s the other part of the statement above that disappoints me: if you work hard at your craft, that work will be recognized.
This statement is far too generalized, implying the same kind of misinterpretation that has been applied to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule – just because you spend that amount of time practicing something by no means guarantees you will be an expert in that field. There are other factors, like whether the dynamics of the field are constantly changing, one’s genetic physicality if that applies to the field, and the quality of the practice time itself. And the same goes for this hard work: you can’t just work at your craft. Your chances of being successful in your field are incredibly slim if you are banking on someone to “discover” you based on your great talent.
The reality is, there are just too many talented people out there, and whether someone’s talent is appreciated or not is based largely on opinion. So while you do need to invest the time to cultivate and continue to grow your talent, there are other things you need to be spending your time on as well if you would like to see a return on that investment.
First and foremost is mindset. You can be the most talented person in the world, and if you don’t believe in yourself, you’re not willing to take risks, you are easily discouraged by the negative remarks of others, and/or you tie your self-worth into your talent’s ups and downs, all of that talent may not take you anywhere. Most people are taught that it’s the talent that matters, but really it’s YOU that matters. Again – I’m not saying the talent part isn’t essential – I consider that part to be what I call Step Zero. So assuming that the talent cultivation is going well, your perceptions, mental fortitude, and thought energy will form much of what happens along the way. If you are spending your time complaining or harboring feelings of jealousy, anger, frustration, or defeat, you might want to ask yourself what you could be using that time for instead, and what that is really attracting to you. Really – what is complaining attracting to you? Pity? Commiseration? Now, it’s important to honor our feelings. And then we have to make a decision about how long we’re going to hang out with those feelings before moving on. We all experience moments of self-doubt, fear, frustration, etc. – and so the big question then becomes now what? I would assert that training the mindset is just as important, if not more important, than training the talent. Sadly, mindset training is rarely discussed, let alone addressed, in the course of one’s talent training, leaving most to discover its necessity much later.
Something else that should be in line for your time is research and development. R&D, as it’s known in the business world, is essential for the success of any business, and being a creative is a business if you want to make a living using your talent. Sometimes people learn what they need to know through experience along the way, and that’s great. Though this can lead to feelings of ignorance or even embarrassment in a professional situation, or missing out on professional work altogether because of a lack of knowledge. Of course there will always be things that we can’t know until we experience them, and yet many, many things could be known before we even begin. Enter R&D.
The more you know, the more you can develop an effective plan and career path. When I was starting out in this business, I was as clueless as any, and I like so many others relied mostly on what I was told, which left out a lot. I had a bit of an excuse, though – this was over 20 years ago, and the internet was brand new back then. Google didn’t exist, and if you wanted information, you had to use 411 and search for people’s numbers and call them or write a letter and mail it and hope for a response. Now, however, there is no excuse. With search engines calling up information in seconds and almost every company accessible through its own website and social media, the ability to find out what you want to know is at your fingertips – it just takes time and a little effort. And if the information doesn’t seem to be available, our access to people is now broader and more convenient than ever as well.
Lastly, I would be remiss if I did not bring up networking, which I talk about a lot and for good reason. Don’t like connecting with others or reaching out to new people? Let me warn you now: you might be in the wrong business. As a creative, you must promote your own work, EVEN IF YOU HAVE A MANAGER, and you can’t promote your own work if you don’t have anyone to whom you can show it. And the first phases of promotion have nothing to do with your work – they have to do with people. Ever have a stranger ask you to do something for them? That’s what it feels like when you send unsolicited materials to someone you don’t know. How would you feel if you got this email: “You don’t know me but please look at this stuff and then hire me!”
That’s what I thought. Even if you did take a moment to look at the materials, and even if you did like them, there’s no trust factor here. Building trust means getting to know someone – NOT because of what s/he can do for you, but to get to know them as a person. Every artistic administrator, general director, donor, artist manager, stage director, conductor, etc. is a person first, with feelings and accomplishments and insecurities and ups and downs just like the rest of us. You know what they appreciate? Being valued for who they are as people rather than for what their job title is. Getting work has always been a “who you know” adventure, and unless you’d rather take a chance on being in the right place at the right moment wearing the right thing and saying the right things to the right people, which happens but is much more rare, start getting to know people.
If you’re one of the many who bemoans a lack of career advancement despite all of your training and hard work on your talent, I would encourage you to look closely at these additional components of building a successful career. And while you won’t get paid by anyone to spend time on these, your chances of having a return on your time investment should increase dramatically.
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