Quit your crappy job already, ok?

Gypsy Rose Lee, another powerful woman with theatrical talents.

This is an email I received yesterday from a very close friend. I was inspired by it and wanted to share it with you for the reasons I express at the bottom of my response to her (below).

What you should know is that this friend is brilliant and one of the hardest workers I know. She majored in theater and history at Northwestern, attended Harvard for law school, and is now working in the DC Public Defenders office, where she has pretty much always dreamed of working. Sadly, like many dreams, it’s not going quite as she planned. I’ve offered her my words of support, but if you have your own, please share them in the comments. I think we all need to encourage each other to make these kinds of life changes 🙂

The Email

Our conversation last night caused me to spend the first hour of my waking life this morning lying around thinking. Which is something I have not done in a long time, really. And I feel that, being in the pensive state you are in, you’ll be thrilled to hear all about my musings.

I am trying to pick a new career, and place to live. I don’t think my career is good for me for several reasons. One is that I have no life and I don’t like getting out of bed in the morning. The other is that it doesn’t help people the way that I had hoped it would. Our criminal justice system is despicable and disgusting and when my clients are like, “How can the system be this way? Isn’t there anything we can do about it? Can’t you tell the judge that it just isn’t fair?” And I’m like, “Well, no, it doesn’t work like that. The Supreme Court already decided that it’s OK, so now, you’re just stuck in it.”

So now I’m looking for two things in a new job. (1) I would like a job that doesn’t make me want to stay in bed in the morning. High bar. (2) I am looking for a job that will actually help people, and make some small difference in one of the many arenas in which the U.S. provides completely different treatment to rich people and poor people, to black people and white people. It’s crazy and totally unacceptable.

I am also, however, exhausted of thinking about this stuff. I could just go live in a nice small town in Colorado not too far from my family and join a small law firm that does land issues and spend the rest of my career being paid more than decently and writing legal memos about whether someone is allowed to use the water from a particular river or not. I could volunteer to tutor kids in my spare time, and buy a house, and have babies, and see my family members, and die happy. And my selfish little self is like, yep, that sounds good to me.

But I’m not going to do that because of my white guilt.

I also have been struggling a lot lately with whether or not pursuing something artistic is selfish. One idea I had is that I could do some kind of non-profit bringing theater and/or dance and/or music to public school kids. Denver is cutting most of their arts programs pretty severely right now.

P__ says that he thinks that is not that useful a contribution to society. I find this very upsetting because I would love to spend six months teaching theater and putting together a cabaret. I love cabaret. I love performing and I love artistic things. I love reading novels, which P__ would probably argue is a huge waste of time. I love the arts, but I can see his point that a lot of artists are just drifting through life trying to “experience” it and make art about it and are not really thinking much about having any effect on others, or indeed, even thinking about whether their career choice SHOULD be one that is helping others in some way.

On the other hand — art can make a social movement happen. Art is where a lot of the good ideas come forward. Art is often political. Hello — all I have to say is “Brecht.” And P__ and I watched this fairly bad movie about the federal art project, which I didn’t even know about, but which was started by FDR during the depression and put all these actors and producers to work making theater (so cool), and apparently they made these really political plays about labor unions that were of course deemed Communist, and then our American government shut it down because we don’t really believe in free speech in this country.

The point is that it was very political. And then I was thinking, right — Hollywood was a huge target of the McCarthy Communism hearings, because artists are liberal, political people. The problem being, of course, that a bunch of liberal people living in huge houses and making movies like Father of the Bride are not exactly doing anything with their liberalism to help society. Steve Martin is no Brecht.

So, artists have huge potential to effect society in positive ways, it seems to me. But do we (or they, I guess I don’t know if I count as one) actually do it?

After all these musings, I had an idea. We know a lot of very artistic people. Fuck, our reunion alone could write a paper, put out a book of short stories or a novel, put on a play, make a movie, make a CD, create a photo exhibition, and probably teach a bunch of kids to do the same. And then we could write reviews about all of it. 🙂

This kind of talent should not go to waste.

I was thinking of some kind of organization or co-op or something for artists who are dedicated to producing art that encourages or effects social change. Maybe not all of their art — everyone likes to do a good show of Gypsy that has nothing to do with social change — but some of their art.

Maybe it starts out as just a group of people with a website who sign on to a pledge — they will do one creative thing a year that they put forward for the purpose of creating social change. And they pledge to assist the other members of the group in doing the same. Maybe some of the members are artists who are just promising that at least one of their works will have that purpose.

And maybe some of them are artistic doctors and lawyers who promise to use whatever lost artistic talents they abandoned for their new career to do something artistic and socially changey each year. For those people it serves the dual purpose of keeping their creative sides alive and doing something useful. Maybe it starts out as just a support system but it becomes a place where people can help each other to find grants and funding, where people collaborate for bigger projects, where we put together a showing or yearly event that actually draws some attention…

Or maybe I’m a crazy person driven by guilt. The collaboration idea was born of my plan (made this morning) to become a teacher and teach a class to urban kids living in poverty about theater that did, or tried to, effect social change. It’s kind of like teaching kids how the topic can be useful. And then letting them put on a play, which is also fun and keeps them off the streets. If only someone would let me do this.

Organizations like this, of course, already exist.

This one seems to be based in New Jersey: http://www.artistscollective4socialchange.org.

This one seems to have no clear mission, like most artistic groups: http://projects.tigweb.org

Apparently there is something called ArtCorps, which looks awesome, but is not what I’m talking about: http://www.volunteerabroad.com/listingsp3.cfm/listing/64538

And that concludes my musings, because I am late to go to a crime scene, go visit a child at the kiddie jail, and go to the jail to see my incarcerated clients. Which is how I spend my Sundays. I would definitely rather be writing a lesson plan or a script for a documentary about the horrible situation in DC public schools. Or, you know, going to brunch.

My Response

First off, let me say that I’m in tears. I’ll also say this happens to me a lot more often now than it used to, but the point remains — this brings tears to my eyes because a) you are doing something so hard that is making you unhappy, b) you have the absolutely best intentions, and c) it seems that you’re really ready to move on to something that both fulfills you creatively and makes the world a little bit better, which is pretty much what I am trying to do right now and what I hope my blog does for people.

Second, I don’t know who this P__ character is, but if I did I would give him a solid piece of my mind. This idea that our society has that artists are somehow selfish, that art doesn’t make any difference, drives me nuts. Anyone who thinks you get into the arts to be famous and make money has obviously never tried to do anything truly creative in their life. It’s incredibly hard and generally pays shit. You’re 100% correct about the incredible, political power that art has had and continues to have in our society and I’m so excited to think that someone as smart and dedicated and talented as you wants to put your efforts into developing that further.

There are a lot of ideas in this email (thank you for sharing, really, I’m honored), and I don’t have time to address them all. But, in a general sense, I think that you finding a way to use your passion for theater to create a career that is sustainable for you and also helps kids in the way you want is totally doable and a noble ambition.

I like the idea of an online support network, etc. but right now I think you should focus on you. BE SELFISH. There is nothing wrong with it. You have to learn to take care of yourself before you can take care of other people. Period.

If I were you, I would pick the place you want to live, find a school or district that is cutting their arts, put together a program, look for some funding, and run the shit out of it yourself. I have seen you create big things out of nothing but your own perseverance and I think this would be no exception.

Then, when it’s a big success and everyone loves you, you can write up some documents about how to do this in other communities with other arts, and export that, probably on the web, and get bigger grants, etc. The details are not important here; I just think you should not try to go too big, too fast — a tendency I think we both share 😉

I love you and totally support all of this. Call me any time if you want to talk more.
~M

P.S. Just something to think about…I would love to publish your email (with a few edits for anonymity sake) and my response on my blog. I’ve talked to several people recently who are making life changes like this and I think it really helps to share them with the community, so other people stuck in jobs that make them not want to get out of bed in the morning have the courage to take the leap and find something else. Feel free to tell me, hell no. Thought I’d put it out there 🙂

9 thoughts on “Quit your crappy job already, ok?

  1. It has come to my attention that 'Fire Masks, London England 1940' by Lee Miller has been included in your blog without permission or licence and so contravening Copyright law. Whilst I appreciate your enthusiasm for Lee Miller's work I must ask you to remove the image or contact me immediately.Thank you

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  2. My advice? Hell yeah, quit the crappy job, and do it soon – as soon as you know you can support yourself.I quit my crappy job 6 months ago, but it took me more than a year to pluck up the courage to do it. Since I did I haven't looked back and would never go back to working for someone else, even though the future is far from certain and I don't know if I will have earned enough to live on this month.Thing is it takes a massive change in mindset to do it; you have to *embrace* the fear of having no reliable earnings instead of running away from it; you have to *relish* the awkwardness of not knowing how to describe yourself when people at parties ask you 'so what do you do?'; you have to *run with the thrill* of not being able to plan more than a month ahead rather than letting it paralyse you.Best advice I had was from Jonathan Fields in The Career Renegade (read it!); he said before you take the leap, sit down on your own and visualise failure once – and only once. Imagine what it would actually be like if the worst came to the worst…you quit your crappy job and after 4 months nothing happens, it all goes wrong and you run out of money. Then what? You have to move back in with your parents and start again. Or you have to get a temporary job in a restaurant…is that really so bad? Visualise the failure, realise it isn't the end of the world and then never think about it again.Thing is we live in unique times, when the risk of striking out on your own is smaller than it ever has been; and at the same time the supposed security of the nice small law firm, typing out memos has been proved a myth: the recession taught thousands of people that the hard way.So go out and live your dream…when you die and people are talking about you at your wake they won't remember you in facts or numbers, how much money you earned or how big your mortgage was…they'll remember you in stories – so make them interesting! Oh and dump P_ he sounds like a douchebag 😉

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  3. Shit, I have a lot to say about this. (I teach art and dance to high school-ers! I want to make the whole world partner-dance again! Makes me want to post my phone number online.)

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  4. As Albert Ellis used to say:'Stop SHOULDing on yourself. Stop MUSTerbating.” We do this all the time.Figure out what you really really value. What's truly meaningful. And commit to continually turning your rudder back to doing and being in ways that embody those values, that fulfill that meaning. Don't worry – we all go off course intentionally and unintentionally – life gets in the way. The point is exactly what you're doing: evaluating, examining, reassessing, and then DOING! Intention is not enough here. There's absolutely nothing selfish in going for the things that make life more than just wake up go to work and do it all over again.If you think about it, we don't have infinite time left, so we better all slow down and make the best use, for ourselves, of what we've got.

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  5. I used to work in the ad industry and felt that way for the most part. Especially for the creative dept. you were expected to work long hours and on weekends for crap pay. It got to a point where I felt guilty if I wasn't. I knew that wasn't healthy and plus I had other things I wanted to do in life so I moved on and have never regretted it once.

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  6. This is such a powerful dialogue going here. I'm feeling the energy, the momentum. Funny, I was laid off over a year and half ago, so I didn't really have a choice in changing my career. It just sort of happened to me. I always wanted to pursue the arts. The arts are everything I am and the best parts of me that I can contribute to society. Singing, dancing, writing, photography, drawing, poetry…all of it. I've done them since I could walk, but I've had to learn how to walk again with an entire new set of beliefs. Learning to walk is not easy, especially when we're bigger, the fall is a little harder. Just like a child, all you can do is pick yourself back up and keep exploring.This was exactly what I did. I was pretty excited at my potential discoveries at first! I had severance and savings, which did dwindle. Did I fall? A little, I had to move back in with my parents. Failure? I've had a few days that feel like I have, but most days I'm so happy with how everything has happened. I have only the best feelings, intentions and actions for my future. All I can do is keep on learning to walk.So what have I been doing? Well, I made this and redid it several times, http://www.rachelwolfe.com and I've kept up this: rachelmwolfe.blogspot.comAm I changing the world? I doubt it, but I feel like I'm contributing more to the greater good and growth of humanity than I was working in advertising and marketing. I was a copywriter. I sold you food with trans-fat and high fructose corn syrup. I am sorry, but I'm working to right these wrongs now.I still really enjoy writing. I write essays and creative works still. I photograph and am working on a book. I'm going to have an exhibition this fall! And I'm still looking for more steady ways to earn my income, but for now, I don't see myself as having a choice. I must remain open and I do. Everything that has happened over the past couple of years has been a blessing. It hasn't been nearly as scary as I thought it was when I sat in my open-plan cubicle. You have to blow the doors off of your house, that house being you. Life will bring you opportunities if you let them in. They don't always come exactly when we think they should, but they do come. When they do, you'll be so proud of yourself, and the rest of the world will be so much better off with a happy, inspired and inspiring individual such as you! Learning to walk can't be that hard when you have thousands of people, and more importantly, the people that really love you to catch your fall. Plus, it helps you figure out which ones really love you and which ones only like you a lot.Keep us posted on your progress!

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  7. Wow. I totally got the chills reading this because I'm in such a similar mind space. I created a Meetup group a week ago to take action toward these goals. (and 94 people already signed up–holy moly)Visit this link: http://www.meetup.com/createandinstigate/This book has helped me:http://www.amazon.com/What-Color-Your-Parachute…I think this org will be SO up your alley. I watched their play and felt so moved: http://www.cpnational.org/This is also good for perspective: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UF8uR6Z6KLcThis movie looks cool:http://www.lemonademovie.com/Friend me on Facebook if you want to continue the discussion. Loretta (Miki knows how to find me)

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  8. Pingback: Let me tell you something embarrassing about myself | HEY MIKI

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