Me: I’ve fired my boss.
My son Skyler: “Uh…but don’t you work for yourself?”
Me: “Yes, as I have done all your life and for many years before that.”
Skyler: “So you’re firing yourself?”
Skyler: “So you’re quitting working?”
Me: “Hell no. You like going to college don’t you? And living indoors? With heat and food? I’m just tired of working for the voice in my head.”
Skyler: “But she’s you.”
Me: “Yes, she’s also a perfectionist, relentless, task master that rarely lets me have any fun.”
Skyler: “Ah, I see. Who are you replacing her with?”
Me: “I’ll find a kinder, gentler person.”
Me: “Yes, me.”
Skyler: “So you’re going to have this conversation in your head?”
Me: “Yes, exactly.”
Skyler: “Good luck with the interview.”
This was the conversation between Skyler and me after an epiphany last fall about the 37+ years of working for myself (I started when I was a teenager). It was just before the holidays, and I was driving myself…I started to say “driving myself crazy,” but as I typed the first two words, I realized that “driving myself” was a more accurate description of my work style.
My friend Michi Mathias turned me onto Jessical Abel’s blog, and through it I found Abel’s book Growing Gills. – If you’re a creative with lots of projects, I highly recommend it. – Abel aptly describes the way some of us drive ourselves as exactly the opposite of how we would treat a loved dog. If you’re trying to get your dog to do something, praise works way better than guilt trips, belittling, and a puritanical work ethic. I tell our pups, “Good girls!!!” all the time. I realized it had been a long damned time since I’d told myself anything of the kind. Instead I treat myself like an angry female dog who is ready to bite anyone who crosses her (me).
That’s when I dubbed my boss-self as The Bitch in My Head.
And then I decided to go out on a limb and fire her.
But before I tell you all of that, first let me give you a glimpse behind the curtain.
I’ve always been happy to keep multiple projects going at once. In fact, I highly recommend it from a creative perspective. When it’s difficult to figure out the next move design wise, shelving something and coming back to it later can make for a much better work of art. What looks like a mental block one day can suddenly morph into an aha of what to do next the next day, the next week, or even months later. I have projects in progress that literally span years, and I do finish the ones worth pursuing.
I make incredibly complex work. Nothing I do can be done quickly, so the reality that my book Giving Voice took six years or that even a ‘quick’ pair of earrings means they take 4 weeks to make is just what it takes.
That’s not the problem.
The problem is that, in addition to all the commission work, teaching workshops, mentoring people around the world, and other projects for which I’m accountable to other people, and for which I always come through 200% of the time, there is all the other very cool work I think up. All that artwork on the website, all the books, videos, and tools, this blog, etc. those are the results of my imagination, and the voice in my head that says, “”Wow, it would be really cool if I made ____.”
People always ask where I get ideas from. The answer is my imagination and my insatiable curiosity. The truth is that I get so many ideas that I want to pursue, most end up in various stages of not-started or just-begun, and I begin to feel overwhelmed by my own imagination. All those projects are proverbial balls in the air that feel like a chain I’m trying to keep around my wrist, but all the links have been left open. One wrong move and the links will shift to the open slots, and the bracelet will fall off.
Definitely not a way to make functional art.
Enter The Bitch in My Head who says, “If you don’t finish all these things in the timeline you’ve created, then you’re a failure. Worse, you’re one of those ‘flakey artists’ that talk about things they never complete.” My response has typically been to make daily to-do lists longer than most people would expect to get done in a month, freak out, flail about, complain, then be ultra disciplined at working no matter what, all in that order.
It’s my name that goes on my work, which is why everything I do is to the absolute best of my ability. I often work with other people, and certainly I create work for clients. The outside accountability keeps me moving forward, but I don’t work for any of these people. If I did, I’d probably have way better health insurance and other benefits. I could leave it all behind me come quitting time, and, unless I worked for an all out sociopath, I’d probably have a more understanding and compassionate boss. I might even be able to retire one day.
The Bitch in My Head is nothing like the kind of boss I am to other people who have worked for me. When I’ve adamantly lectured employees and assistants it’s been about taking care of themselves, getting enough sleep, and not driving themselves into the ground. When it comes to me, however, I’m a compassion hypocrite.
I fired The Bitch in My Head on a Friday but wondered how I would find a replacement in time for the weekend. Saturdays are my favorite days to work because they involve the fewest interruptions, and, when a deadline is not staring me down, they are the days I block off time to work on whatever I want, with less emphasis on the endless management side of being a professional artist. This little bit of freedom has been my creativity’s saving grace. It’s also a way to ensure I work at least 6 days a week. [Yes, insert eye roll here.]
I decided that surely I was more than self disciplined enough to work without worrying about what my possible new boss would think come Monday. I ended up spending the weekend continuing the same projects I’d been working on but without the Bitch in My Head. I discovered I was actually more productive because I wasn’t wasting time having “meetings” or evaluating my progress, and I was definitely happier. I decided that perhaps I’d try not having any boss as my interim boss with the succession plan I/she could become official if needed.
So far so good, and while I love Sir Elton John’s* music, I’ve not had any reason to play his song, “The Bitch Is Back” even once.
*Sir Elton and I have a very unique thing in common: We both have 9′ concert grand pianos in our Atlanta residences. His is a Yamaha in a high rise. Mine is a Chickering in a 103 year old craftsman bungalow (long story). I was told by our mutual piano movers that Sir Elton’s was definitely the easier job. In fact, the crew dubbed my piano ‘Shamu.’ The other difference is, of course, that Sir Elton knows how to play his.