When I’m not working on this blog or writing fiction, I’m mostly either sleeping or at my full-time office job.
I’ve always worked a lot. When I was sixteen, I started working at a library, 30 to 36 hours a week during the school year and full time in the summer. I worked similar hours through college, though a little less in grad school.
A while back, a lot of my writer friends were talking about this article, “Sponsored By My Husband: Why It’s a Problem That Writers Never Talk About Where Their Money Comes From.” That’s not me.
I’ve worked as a cocktail waitress, an artist’s model, a fast food worker, a proofreader, a retail salesperson at various stores, the person who pestered you to take surveys at the mall, and the person who cleaned the bathrooms at a Mexican restaurant. I’ve been a composition and creative writing instructor at university, a retail advertising executive, and mostly, an editor and a writer.
I now consider myself a Seasoned Creative Professional™, and here are a few of the most important things I’ve learned.
1. Don’t argue much.
I was more idealistic when I first started working at a corporation, and I had a high opinion of my opinion. I would often argue for what I believed was the good of the company — tarnishing my reputation in the process.
Creative people often don’t think much in terms of hierarchies. However, many people in high positions do. They may believe that because they are where they are, they must have the best judgement. Whether or not this is the case doesn’t really matter from a practical standpoint.
It’s great to bring up concerns — along with practical solutions to address them. And of course, if there is a moral issue at stake, you should argue. But otherwise, if higher-ups aren’t interested in changing something, it’s best to let it go.
If people perceive you as difficult, you are less likely to get promoted and more likely to get laid off (though plenty of people get laid off even though they’ve done everything right.)
It’s possible that your creative talent will make people overlook the fact that you’re a pain, but then again, there are lots of talented people out there.
Along the same lines of not being difficult…
2. Don’t complain.
Complaining is pointless.
If your job is basically good but there are some frustrations, you don’t have a strong cause to complain. Lots of people would love to have that position.
If your job is truly awful, no amount of complaining is going to fix it. Make good impressions on people so you can use them as references, and look for another job.
I don’t think complaining in private to co-workers or friends is all that useful, either. You may think you’re “venting,” but really, you’re reinforcing your own negative feelings. (A lot of people disagree with me on this point, which is fine!)
Again, you can make suggestions, especially if you are positioning them as good for the company.
3. It helps to look like a professional.
This is mostly for people who work in regular offices. Creative people don’t always understand that people judge them by the way they look. After all, lots of us went through art school or the writing program looking like rock band performers or vagrants (and okay, some of us actually were those things as well.)
For the first couple of years at my corporate job, my wardrobe was ridiculous. I would wear a thrifted velvet gown one day and cutoff jean shorts with fishnet stockings the next. I honestly didn’t know that it made people underestimate me.
When a manager finally explained this to me, it was like scales falling from my eyes. I was like, Oh my God, you’re right! Some managers would never have told me this, because they wouldn’t want to have been perceived as being “uncool.” I was so grateful she told me the truth.
When you look polished, people will assume you are smart and responsible until you provide proof to the contrary. You can put together a creative and distinctive style that’s still appropriate.
Of course, it’s not fair for people to judge others based on their appearance. I’m just saying that they do. You might decide that you don’t care, and that’s your business.
Professionalism is one thing, but if anyone ever criticizes your appearance for being too “ethnic,” not masculine or feminine enough, or expressing your faith, that is absolutely unacceptable. If there’s an HR department, I hope you file a complaint.
4. If nothing else, HIT YOUR DEADLINES.
Some creative people struggle with this because their perfectionism leads to procrastination. Do the best work you can, but remember, “on time and okay” beats “late and brilliant.” “Late and brilliant” isn’t even close.
The quality of your work is subjective. The deadline is not. Treat deadlines like sacred contracts, and you’ll build a great reputation for yourself.
The best way for creative people to avoid arguing and complaining in their day job is to work on outside projects of their own. When you’re unfulfilled creatively, you sometimes develop the expectation that your job will fulfill all your creative needs, which is unrealistic.
Outside projects where you have most or all of the creative control are best. When you can run your blog, shoot your video, or paint your painting any way you want to, you’re less likely to rail against the confines of your day job.
Do you think any of these are way off base? What have you learned as a creative person in your day job? I’d love to hear about it. Thanks for reading!