Déjà vu – Defining Your Career Path to Make Good Art

I’m about to test the limits of my sanity by returning to graduate school in January for another masters degree.

e1189207765442523d1a5d3595a8950a4bf8c9be0810ac3e06d7e8fb8c09d437

Before you ask, no I was not drunk or under duress when I made this decision. I was thinking of the future and trying to determine what would be most beneficial to advance my career.

Since moving to Forth Worth two years ago it seems as if I’m still assembling puzzle pieces in this game of life. Some pieces are still elusive and others extremely difficult to acquire, but the ultimate goal is to settle into a career that excites me. Can a career be a source of happiness? Absolutely!

I often write about career happiness and the importance of making sure a job is the right fit, because we generally spend 8-10 hours a day (or more) working. Doing something you enjoy has a positive effect on the mind, body, and spirit. Doing tasks you do not enjoy for extended periods of time produces a negative effect and can be damaging to the mind, body, and spirit.

I finally watched Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech and felt encouraged upon its conclusion. He talked about the importance of doing work that pleases you and not forcing yourself into conformity. Jobs said:

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking and don’t settle. You’ll know when you find it.

His words reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” commencement speech. I found Gaiman’s words to be encouraging while I pursued an MFA. He states:

Life is sometimes hard. Things go wrong, in life and in love and in business and in friendship and in health and in all other ways that life can go wrong. And when things get tough, this is what you should do. Make good art.

So why do we waste our talents in lackluster positions instead of pursuing something more pleasing and making good art? It’s not about having the courage to follow your dreams. Many of us are already doing that. It’s just easier to make good art when you have a reliable source of income.

Jobs asked, “If today were the last day of my life would I want to do what I am about to do today?”

His response:

If the answer is no for too many days in a row [you] need to change something. Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. Stay hungry. Stay foolish.

I’m glad I earned an MFA. It provided me with tools I needed to get on the path of becoming an author, helped me develop relationships with other writers, and opened doors to career opportunities in writing that previously did not exist.

For all intensive purposes I have a job for which I’m thankful, but when I asked myself Jobs’ question the answer was a resounding no. I’m a trapezoid that doesn’t wan’t to fit into someone else’s idea of the perfect box. An MBA in Marketing will enhance my current skillset, complement my other degrees, and hopefully make me more marketable to the type of companies for which I’m better suited.

In the meantime, while I’m looking for escape routes from my current box I’ll be preparing for a new journey to an MBA. I hope you will come along with me for the trip. If it’s anything like the MFA you can expect an exciting journey.

Trust your intuition. Find your career path. Make good art.

Advertisements

How to Write About Something That Doesn’t Interest You and Still Get Paid

Not all topics are exciting or interesting to write about, but as writers we are occasionally tasked with the impossible – to make that which induces boredom and encourages narcolepsy sound interesting.

Sometimes this requires superhuman writing powers: a monthly energy conservation newsletter no one reads, a review of a a hotel with a history of thefts and drive-by-shootings, or a travel destination piece on a location tourists should never visit, let alone consider as a vacation spot, unless torture, captivity, and imminent death are on their list of must-see attractions.

There are misconceptions about the life of a writer. Some have great magazine or script writing jobs, but they normally don’t come overnight or without a lot of networking. Many work 8 – 5 at jobs they hate that may have nothing to do with writing, but provide health insurance and the rent paid while they search the job ads for something more fulfilling. Others work mundane jobs that barely pay the bills, but give them time to write. The idea that we sit by the beach or lake all day churning out magnificent pages for our next novel is a fantasy.

But the opportunity to write – in any capacity- is priceless, which means sometimes working on something you hate.

Usually the promise of a paycheck, the anticipation of a byline, or fear of your reputation being eternally ruined so that you never get published is enough to keep you writing. In case none of this works here are some things to get you through it:

  • Give yourself a deadline or a strict punishment if you miss it.
  • Imagine winning a Pulitzer for your research and all those who told you to get a real job were forced to sit in the audience and clap.
  • Have a glass of wine when you finish. You probably already drank the entire bottle.
  • Compare “my job is worse” stories with a writer friend who is also procrastinating.
  • Have a mini-dance party with loud music and angry lyrics.
  • Imagine what life will be like when you’re living in a box with no electricity.
  • Write the piece the way you would if you could say all the things you really wanted to say and not get fired. Then write it the way you’re supposed to.

If none of these suggestions work, swap out the wine for a few shots of vodka and put your fingers to work on the best piece of drivel they’ve ever read. Once it’s published and you become the author you’ve always dreamed of becoming share it with a writer who is new to the game as encouragement that things can always go up from here.

 

 

 

 

Why Hire a Freelance Writer Instead of Doing It Yourself?

 

a-paint-job-can-look-horrible

Remember the time you decided to paint the living room yourself and an hour later it looked like a group of three-year-olds helped you play hide the baseboards? It’s the same concept when it comes to hiring a freelancing service to complete a creative project. You are capable of doing it yourself, but a professional has certain skills that would provide a more professional output.

Hiring a freelancer does not mean you lack creative skills. It could have nothing to do with creativity at all. It could be you have so many projects you don’t have time. Or it requires work in an area you are familiar with, but not an expert. Hiring a freelancer means you care enough about your creative project to want it done right.

How do you find a freelancer?

computer search image

Luckily, it’s a social media world, so the best place to find what you’re looking for is online.  Sites like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Indeed, and even a Google search will provide good options. Many freelancers have business pages advertising their services or are working within a group of freelancers.

How do you know which freelancer to hire?

A good freelancer should have a portfolio of completed work. If it is not available on their website, ask to see it. It’s a good sign if you like what you see. If there is not an example of the type of project you want, but you like the rest of their work, ask to see a sample draft. Make sure to ask if there is a charge for the draft. Imagine taking your vehicle to a mechanic and asking for a repair estimate. You will most likely be charged a small fee for the work that was done regardless of whether you decide to hire the mechanic. Freelancers provide the same service and deserve to be paid for their work – even estimates.

How much should I expect to pay once I hire a freelancer?

Depending upon the project, a freelancer may charge by the hour, by the word, or a flat rate. Be specific in defining your needs and ask for a quote. Don’t be dismayed if the quote is a range between X dollars and X dollars. Sometimes more is involved in providing the desired output and a specific rate cannot be arrived at until they get deeper in. As long as you are okay with the range it is okay to hire them. Just make sure to sign a rate agreement before work begins.

I love my project. How do I reward my freelancer?

Word-of-mouth and repeat business are the best ways to thank your freelancer for their services (besides paying them in a timely manner).

Back to Basics – A Writer’s Journey

It’s never too late to start over. The original plan after graduation was to turn my thesis back into the novel it was on the way to becoming. At the time I was working on a novel of linked stories and to comply with thesis requirements I had to choose three to present. After thesis when I began to put it back into its original format I realized I no longer liked the way it was laid out. Not only that, I had grown as a writer and my characters had matured. So basically, I started from the beginning.

Many writers cringe when they look at their old writings. I started by separating what I liked about what I had written from what needed to be discarded, and now I’m in the process of rebuilding the story.

For me, the most difficult part of writing is self-judgment. I’m my harshest critic. I learned at a young age to aim for perfection, but in writing, as in life, perfection does not exist. Unfortunately, this habit of harshly criticizing my own work produced writers block and delayed the progression of my work.

I was pleased to discover I’m not the only writer with this habit. I follow @thewritelife on Twitter and saw their blog post “The Real Source of Writer’s Block (And and Exercise to Beat It).”  The post recalled how as children we effortlessly told stories because our audience mainly consisted of our parents. As we grew older we became aware of a larger audience and doubt settled in, which produces writers block.

To combat writers block the author recommends a five-minute free writing session before you begin to write. During the five minutes you are encouraged to purge your thoughts onto the page. The purpose of this exercise is to find your writer’s voice in a judgment-free place so that you can once again capture that childlike spirit of producing judgment-free work (that will one day be harshly judged by others). The exercise may seem menial at first, but if you stick with it, eventually when you do start writing again you’ve stopped judging your work enough to write freely.

I have not tried this technique, but definitely plan to do so. I have a novel to finish.

 

 

 

 

Unfinished Business

quality-ferris-wheel-for-sale-in-China

Life after graduation feels a lot like being on a Ferris wheel at the carnival. The ride begins slowly. When it picks up the pace it sometimes takes you places you realize you don’t want to go, but you must stay seated until the ride comes to a complete stop. At times, it seems as if the ride will never end, but eventually it does, and you get to try something else.

I received my masters degree two-and-a-half years ago, but it feels more like a year. In that time, I’ve settled in Fort Worth, dismantled my thesis in an attempt to create a well-written novel, started a collection of short stories, and set out on a quest to find the job of my dreams.

The novel and short stories currently riding the Ferris wheel are works in progress. Like me, they anxiously await the moment I get THE JOB OFFER OF A LIFETIME so that my quest can end.

Is it really that important to find the right job? Absolutely!

What interests you? Where do your strengths lie? What do you do exceptionally well? These are the important questions to ask yourself when choosing a career path, or considering a job offer. It’s not about what you majored in, but what makes you happy. We can all agree it’s best to find a job you love, but if you’re stuck in one you hate then everything else in your universe will be thrown off balance until the ride ends.

Professional career coach, Christie Mims, describes job dissatisfaction in her Muse article, “2 Big Signs You Don’t Just Need a New Job, You Need a Whole Career.”

She writes:

  • You’re currently slumped over your desk.

  • The very thought of work makes your stomach curdle.

  • When you try and muster excitement about that next PowerPoint or team meeting, you suddenly start to daydream about chucking it all and opening a bar on the beach.

The image Mims depicts summarizes a typical workday for someone stuck in the wrong career. So how do you get off the Ferris wheel of a job from hell?  First figure out where you went wrong in choosing your current position. What aspects of the job make you the most miserable? If the problem is with a co-worker or manager ask yourself if the job would be fine without their presence. If so, it’s not the job.

If you truly don’t enjoy the day-to-day tasks in your position, feel uninspired, bored, and stifled it’s time to start looking at other career paths.  In “Finally! A Simple Formula for Finding Your Passion,” Mims writes:

Some of the things you are passionate about are probably going to be hobbies, like chocolate is for me. But some of them will be new career options.

There is a correlation between the things you are passionate about and your career pursuits. Why not work doing something you enjoy? It will make you a much better employee and happier person.

Once you figure out what you want to do, how do you go about finding a dream job? It is important to determine what factors meet dream job criteria.

Do you need an exercise membership as one of the company’s benefits? What are your salary expectations? Are flexible hours important? Would you like to travel? What about company culture? Do you prefer a small company where you rarely interact with your co-workers or a larger environment with numerous opportunities for group outings and recognition? Before you begin to search for a new position, figure out what you want.

When you’re ready to search, start within your own network. Contact friends, colleagues, and mentors to see if you can connect with their network. The best way to get hired is by referral.

If you have a small network or are just beginning to establish a network try the job boards. I’m not a big fan of the creative job recruiting agencies, but it doesn’t hurt if you find one you enjoy working with.

Make sure your resume and LinkedIn profile are top-notch, and avoid posting anything you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see on social media. Thinking of hiding your profiles? Don’t. It makes it appear as if you have no social media presence at all. This can hurt your chances of securing your dream job.

While you’re waiting, stay up-to-date on the latest interviewing techniques, media trends, and technology. Subscribe to several career blogs and read their recommendations about how to create a personal brand. The Muse regularly posts career articles and some job leads as well.

If writing is your thing, check out job listings from some of the writing magazines or offer freelance services to build your portfolio while you wait. I strongly recommend practicing the AP Stylebook Quizzes to stay on top of your skills.

Best of luck in your endeavor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Right Fit

e555c06ea75285ac376e355da43fe547

Finding the right career is a lot like trying on shoes. It’s difficult to find the perfect fit and looks can be deceiving. Sometimes what you try on in the store feels different later because it’s the wrong size. Often, it’s just the wrong shoe.

After graduation the hope is to immediately settle into a career. Some students have positions lined up before graduation and already know where life will take them next. For others, it’s a struggle.

The first 6 months after graduation you’re optimistic and determined to find the perfect job doing something close to what you majored in, if only the right company will give you a chance. You flood the market with recent graduate resumes and stalk your own email.

Six months later, after no responses, you’ll take anything that pays enough to make your student loan payments. But it’s the anything’s that make for bad fits. The hasty “it’s not what I really want but it will have to do because they don’t have my size and I’m tired of looking” fit. In the end, these fits are uncomfortable and only leave you shopping for a new shoe.

So how do you find the perfect fit?

If helps to have a great network and a marketable brand that people are interested in. I’ve joked that finding a job is like prostitution for work, but reality is you have to sell your skills to get noticed. Everyone wants a job. Many want the job you’re interested in and employers are looking for the best fit. It is more than just being qualified. The competition may be just as qualified, if not more. To land the job, you must be the purple cow – you must stand out.

It starts with a spectacular resume that showcases your skills. No matter what field you are entering a poorly organized resume or one with errors (even one) can cost you an opportunity. So think outside the box and find a unique way to showcase yourself. Second, prepare to be frustrated with the application process. Imagine spending an hour filling out a job application only for a computer program to sift through it in search of key words to determine if you’re a good fit.

I hate uploading a resume I’ve spent weeks revising only to have to parse it into little boxes that make it look ugly. Whose brilliant idea was that? Sometimes I wonder if it’s a test of patience. If you survive cutting and pasting your beautiful resume into an undesirable format you’ve passed the first test. To save your sanity, prepare a simple version of your resume as well and save it in rich text format (.rtf) for easier parsing.

Reality is we must work to survive. Sometimes in order to do that we must wear shoes that some days feel cramped and confining until we can get a better pair. But don’t stop trying on shoes. The right fit is everything.

Think about how much time you spend at work and the people you spend most of your time with. Are you happy? Do you like your coworkers? Do you feel satisfied in what you do? If not, you should. Happiness, not a paycheck, should be your ultimate goal, because you spend more time at work than any other place. What good does it do to drive a chariot if you have to meditate in the parking lot each day before you go into the building and avoid your coworkers?

Steve Jobs said it nicely,

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.
If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.
As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.
And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on.
So keep looking until you find it.
Don’t settle.”

It may take some time to find the right fit. There may be some imposters along the way. Just be more selective in the brands you try and get to know your preferred style. They should be attractive and comfortable, with just the right amount of space. Nothing beats slipping into a pair of shoes that feel good, but still leave you room to grow.

Best of luck in finding the right fit.

When Death Calls

Saying goodbye to someone you love feels like death stuck its fist in your chest and ripped out your heart while it was still warm and beating. You see it clenched in the bloody fist, desperately pumping out its slow, final rhythms, begging to be spared, but you’re too paralyzed to move. This can’t be happening. Not now.

That voice in your head, the rational one, is saying, “Be strong. Don’t cry. You know this has to be done.” The voice is right, but you want to be selfish and hold on a little longer.

The child in you wishes for just one more year. The Christian pleads with God to let this not be true while the sinner promises to be good and this time really forgive all those you’re “secretly” still angry with if only He’ll make the pain go away.

Death is cold. Death is numb. We all wish for one more day which will never come. Death is sterile and white and silent accompanied by an unending river of tears.

Life after death is like walking backwards uphill. Around every corner lurks a memory. Hallucinations come easily:

Sometimes I think I see you standing there. I feel you brush against my leg.

It wasn’t you. It can’t be you. You’re no longer with us. Oh, how we miss you.

I miss having someone follow me around all the time, give me kisses and hog my bed.

I miss tripping over your steps, picking your hair out of my clothes and sharing my food.

I miss your smell, the sound of your voice and the way your ears bounced when you walked.

I miss you watching me write, comforting me when I needed a hug and stealing my favorite blanket.

I still have your chair. Your favorite seats, blankets, toys and travel houses too.

They’re covered right now because they remind me so much of you.

One day, when I’m stronger, I’ll put these items someplace special.

I know it’s been four months, but I’m not ready yet.

Harry and Hermione miss you. I’m sorry they didn’t get to say goodbye.

Me-Mee misses you too. She said she will always love you.

Symba is still watching Dora, and the cats . . . well, they’re cats.

Taylor sends her love. Her heart still aches too.

You were our world. You still are. We miss you.

Love always,

Momsie


Caity

Jack Russell Terrier

11/6/00 – 4/27/15


Caity had a tumor. I drove four hours to see the same veterinarian who has been Caity’s doctor since she was six weeks old. She cried with us in the office that day as we all said goodbye.

I heard one of the best ways for creatives to deal with grief is to work through it using your medium of choice. Mine is writing, but the last thing I wanted to do was write. There was nothing happy or inspiring to talk about and I dreaded the entire emotional purging process I knew was sure to come. Fourteen years is a long time to spend with someone and love is love whether they walk on four legs or two.

Writing is a powerful way to come to terms with loss. So, if you can, write your way through it. Music (words with melody) is a wonderful expression of writing – unless your dog just died. We tried to eat something before the long drive home and stopped at Taylor’s favorite Thai restaurant. They were playing a Pop station and the first song that came on was “See You Again” by Wiz Kalifa. I lost it, put my head on the table and cried in my noodles.

This post is for Caity.