7.18.2011

Work/Life Balance. And the obverse. And the inverse.


The author went out to fly kites with the kid.  The kid took the photographs, for a change.


"Never put the quality of your life in the hands of a commercial corporation."  - Nigel Marsh, TedX Sydney.

"I'll have a life when I retire.  After my wife has left me.  When the kids are grown.  When my health has failed....."  - Nigel Marsh, TedX Sydney.

"The small things matter."  - Nigel Marsh, TedX Sydney

I was so smug.  I'd be driving down Mopac expressway, heading for Dell Computer at 10 am in the morning to do a portrait of an executive at one of their offices and I'd think, "I'm a freelancer, I make my own schedule.  No rush hour traffic for me.  Not trapped in an office cube.  No crappy boss with sociopathic tendencies.  No hurried lunch at my desk.  How wild and free!  I must be the envy of all those working stiffs....." And then, in 2008 I woke up to an awareness of my own rigid and joyless habits.  I had become my own bad boss and I worked under the tyrannical control of freelance general fear and anxiety disorder.

Let me explain.  It's true that I can sleep till noon and not be fired.  But I also won't get paid any money.  And when the money runs out all hell breaks loose.  And it's true that I rarely participate in rush hour but it's usually because I'm too busy compulsively checking in with Twitter, Facebook, LinkenIn, and all the other little niches to see if my clients still love me, if the world still works the way I presume it works (doesn't, never did) or I'm doing accounting or frantically marketing so I have work coming in (I hope) in two months or five months or whenever.  While I'm being smug about not working in a cubicle I'm trying to become an expert in health insurance policies because, big surprise, as you get old your health insurance rates start to double and triple (what the hell happened to the Healthcare Bill?) but if you work for someone else they eat a lot of the financial sting.  Self-employed?  Suck it up and start looking for more cash.  Or never, ever plan on getting sick.

I'd like to do more fun work because I think it would be fun and it might be nice for my clients to see some more reach and flair but I'm usually hunkered down in my cheap office chair writing a blog or responding to something or trying to figure out how to light a fire under a book that's quietly succumbed to the wimpy and frayed part of its long tail.....

I wanted to shoot some video yesterday (Sunday) but I needed to write a few chapters of my new book on video.  I have a deadline.  If you are a freelance person you always have a deadline.....or many deadlines.  The only thing worse for your morale than a deadline is not having any deadlines because the way most freelance brains are wired not having a deadline is almost certainly linked with the not so irrational thought that you might be out on the street, living out of your SUV with your family in no time.

And it's not just me.  I watched another photographer put up 127 post in one day on twitter in the hopes that his followers will increase, that they'll pay to come to one of his workshops.  That his online training scam will finally pay off.  That he can ride the wave of some new social media trend and make some money.  I watch another photographer who's been paralyzed by the economic downturn and the wholesale abandonment of most forms of profitable business.  He stays hunkered down in his home studio, sitting in the dark, endlessly going through the tutorials about some dire boring aspect of PhotoShop and waiting for salvation or armageddon.  And I feel for these guys and myself because we're not surrounded by co-workers who buffer the fear and, through social pressure, mitigate our growing idiosyncrasies that may one day blossom into full bore neurosis.  No shared plate of cupcakes or uniform disregard for the manager...

We worry about younger photographers giving away the farm.  We worry about trends that move so fast we can't understand them.  We overanalyze the tea leaves looking for whispers of our own demise. and yet,  I can't help wondering why we choose to always go to the dark side.

A year or so ago I came to the conclusion that I worried too much and that worry was advanced payment for a catastrophe that hasn't happened, and may never happen.  I decided to stop worrying.  to stop paying into the fund in advance. "Don't worry, be happy."  And it's been a tough, tough sell to my inner psyche.  It's hard to simultaneously undo four decades of self-training.  But I feel more at ease and life seems less threatening.  Funny that, when I acknowledge that I have less control than I imagined over the big arc of life I simultaneously feel happier because I don't have to spend the energy trying to control it.

It's nothing big.  I didn't need to loose 200 pounds or stop smoking five packs of cigarettes a day.  I didn't need to give up binge drinking since I haven't tried it.  I wasn't addicted to any prescription meds.  Not in the middle of a messy divorce.  The kid isn't rebelling too hard.  We weren't insolvent, or even close to the edge.  In short, there's a ton of stuff a lot of people have on their plates that wasn't even on my radar.  I'd simply let my worry about business take over the rest of my life.  Irrationally.

To fix it I took baby steps.  I decided that exercise at least four days a week was mandatory.  I could always put off worrying about taxes or the lack of tax liability (logical next step in the thought process is....) or the funny sound my car is making, until after I swim or run.  I cut back on my caffeine consumption.  No one really needs fifteen strong cups a day.....   I stopped buying everything I wanted and try to only buy what I need.  I've spent more time making sure my gardens look good and get some water.  I pay the bills now the minute they come in the mail.  I write when I feel inspired and stop when I feel stale.  I try new art and I'm coming to grips with the idea that, in the Southwest, life quite naturally slows down a bit in the Summer months.

It's a firm family rule that we eat supper together (no electronics at the table----ever) and it's Belinda's rule   (since time immemorial) that we save money every month.

I'd like to say that I never worry or that since my resolve to stop worrying the business has miraculously returned to the halcyon profitability of the 1990's but those would be a couple of bold-faced lies.  Business ebbs and flows with the pervasive currents of hope and fear that flow through our culture.  I'm not out buying new Porsches and Bentleys but neither am I skimping on good food, good wine and art supplies.

I try to learn new ways to do business and new things to offer to my clients.  I am surprised that writing, something I've never worried about "monetizing", is becoming a larger and larger part of my overall income.  I'm also surprised at how quickly clients have accepted my overtures as a video producer.  I'm getting my Bodhi Bikes electric bike at the end of the month to see what it's like to be more green and less dependent on my car.  I'm swimming more and enjoying it more.

The remarkable power we have as humans living in the cultures we do is our ability to change and grow.  To look back at something we were invested in and slough it off like a snakeskin to embrace something different and better.  Lately I feel like my lowered resistance to change is my ultimate super power.  Try something new.  Abandon something that doesn't work for you anymore.  Change your routine to change your perspective.  You get one shot at this, you might as well not suffer.

Sometimes I think freelancers think too much.  The thoughts aren't necessarily better than anyone else's or worse.  It's just that we have more time to think and maybe that's part of the problem.......

17 comments:

Bill Beebe said...

Good photos. I think you should be worried about the kid taking over :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot for this great post!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this. I really can relate, even though I'm only 32 years old and I live on the apposite side of the world. And I'll be posting this anonymously to make sure you won't think I'm flattering you to create some kind of social networking connection bs.

Bill Beebe said...

I wouldn't worry too much. I'd say you shouldn't worry at all but I know better; you will, just a little.

Just remember that when somebody makes an outlandish claim that they made a fortune via some current social phenomenon like twitter that it's a fluke one-off condition at best and outright lying at worse.

I've never held any job yet that didn't require hard work, dedication, understanding of business, and most importantly respect for the client/customer to succeed. And I think you've got all that in spades.

Mindless said...

THANKS!!! :)
It's like the anonym meetings, I guess. Only the knowledge that the others have the same problems can help a lot. :) Although I'm not drinking coffee (I did at the office until I recognized I'm going to get used to it), buy what I need and make wish lists... try to not worry too much but it's hard to stop if I start.
I'm doing sports since I was 7, although these months it is less than usual and I has begun cooking (and don't care about my garden :D)...

I'm a woman and young so I have to prove in every moment that I'm good for the work. :)

I could write more and more but the point is that it is familiar and good to hear that there is a way out... THANKS :)

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy you wrote this. I read other photographer blogs and I was starting to think that they were all magic. That they were all immune to the stuff that real people have to deal with. You know, they just get up and someone begs them to do photos. Then they get paid a million dollars. And all that. It's refreshing and wonderful when someone who is really good at their work tells the truth about all the regular shitty stuff we all have to deal with. Now I don't feel so bad.

Frank Grygier said...

A well written (as always) article on the day(s) in the life of Kirk Tuck. You have nothing fear. Talent trumps all need to worry. I just hope there is room for a cup of java every once in awhile now that you are cutting back.

louisjkim said...

One of my favorite posts on what is becoming my favorite blog, photo or otherwise.

Louis

Bold Photography said...

Fear keeps you sharp.

Bad habits keep you broke...

kirk tuck said...

Frank, I'll just shift consumption times. Always up for a good coffee break.

Bold, fear makes me scared.....

Dave Elfering Photography said...

Is the G10 part of down sizing? :)

I've been reading 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and there is some synergy with what you are saying. The important thing isn't necessarily WHAT we are doing as much as ensuring that it falls in line with principles that form our foundation. Maybe the process of sorting out our economic issues will make us address what our lives are grounded to; what is important versus the things which are not.

Mel said...

Hey, if you had everything, where would you put it? Seems the older I get the less I have to worry about...

louisjkim said...

I shared with David Allen (of GTD) as an example of common wisdom uncommonly told. He tweeted it.

Riley Wilkinson said...

What an upbeat, clear, simple reminder of what matters. Thank you for writing this.

Crispy said...

Thanks for sharing, Kirk! Instead of putting energy into worry, you're redirecting that energy into action. Saw this via David Allen and just had to share it on FB.

Eduardo said...

I think we worry about things that we shouldn´t be worrying and that´s the problem, we are looking to the past on how things were, we look forward and start to make lots of hypotesis based on the paranoia being sold by a few "internet experts" and that never materializes... you see the problem? we are worrying about things that don´t exist (past and future aren´t tangible one is only memories and the other is only possibilities).

Buddha had a great quote: "Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment." it is only in this very exact moment the present that we can change our wrong doings of the past and that we can give shape to our future.... If we want a better future (family, friends, loved ones, job, professional goals, personal goals, etc.) we have to act in this very instant, time doesn´t stops to wait for those daydreaming about the past or future :).

In less words if somoene wants a better tomorrow then they should start right now to build it. :)

Anonymous said...

Stumbled here via @davidallen. (I'd nearly forgotten about him, tho had found his GTD book of rare value in that genre.) Reminded of @davidallen by @erikschmidt, whose discernment I admire.

So here I am, to say: I've been self-employed writer/editor for 30 yrs now. All you said rings true! Thanks for the reminders.