Being Your Own (Not Shitty) Boss

It’s 8:30 am on a Tuesday and you’re hungover from a night of drinking with your roommates. While you sit on your stoop with your iced coffee and watch the working-class walk to the bus stop to get to their 9-5 you indulge in just how lucky you feel to not be part of the system. You’re punk as fuck. You’ve got no money and nowhere to be today, and you don’t really know where you’re going.

If this is you then you could be what one calls a “self-employed artist”. The day I entered the working world and proclaimed that I’m a self-employed musician I felt so cool and liberated and thought I was totally awesome for working for no one but myself. Two years later in New York City, I’ve worked for many bosses on many different jobs and I’ve also consistently worked for myself, and let me tell you, working for myself was the hardest job I’ve ever had. It’s really hard to be your own boss and be good at it.

I believe the biggest struggle for those who are self-employed is being disciplined. It’s actually really difficult to make sure you get up at 8 am and that you work a full day without messing around on Facebook or watching Spongebob Squarepants in your pajamas ‘til noon. If you do the experiment of adding up how many hours a week you actually worked on your craft it’s amazing how few people reach at least 40 hours. So you might want to hold off on indulging in that feeling that you’re beating the system, because it’s way more likely that the system is beating you.

Some people don’t pursue their passions because of fear of failure. But in my experience, it’s way more likely that you’re just straight up lazy or that you’re not aware of exactly how much you are not working. The in-between of working and not working is a dangerous place. Sitting in Starbucks on Tumblr while writing your novel isn’t really working. Sitting in a public place where you know you’re going to run into friends (I went to Berklee, I know we all sat in Pavement Coffeehouse to get a whole lot of nothing done), is already setting yourself up for a wanted distraction. Jamming every day with your friends while never getting a solid songwriting idea laid down isn’t really productive. It’s super fun, but it’s not going to move you forward in the long run. There’s a time and place for everything. I call this 21st century anomaly “half-working”; it’s the in-between where you fool yourself thinking you’re being productive, when really you’re not.

I have a lot of respect for those who work a 9-5. A lot of creative people talk about a 9-5 like it’s the enemy because their “personality type” can’t handle it. But I think that anyone who works a consistent job every day faces the same issue on a varying degree – the issue of how to not get bored or depressed or uninspired. Even writing an album every day from 9 am to 5 pm will probably start to feel mundane and Twlight Zone-ish after the first two weeks. We’re basically spoiled, over-indulgent, overly stimulated children who refuse to believe that our parents' old-fashioned way of career is the answer to our woes of boredom and being broke. But the thing is, not even working for yourself is going to feel amazing all the time – it’s still work. You can’t really escape it, so learn to embrace it.

If laziness is our biggest culprit, then its sister is excuses. People will always find excuses for not pursuing things. The biggest one is not having enough money. But every fulfilled and successful person believes that there is an answer to every problem and that no hurdle is so big that it’ll end your career. It’s important to remember that no matter how stuck you feel in a situation in your life, there’s always a solution to your problem. Isn’t that cool? How liberating. It usually comes down to just how lazy or not lazy you are in pursuing the solution. It's usually really difficult but that’s not any reason to shy away from it, right? Since we’ve already figured out that working for yourself is a life of kicking your own ass consistently that you've willingly signed up for.

One of the best things I ever did was work as a composer for another composer. My boss told me everyday how much music I had to write by when, and he checked on my progress over my shoulder about every 4 hours. After this experience my mind was blown by just how much music I was able to write everyday, mainly out of fear that I was going to screw up and get fired, but I also learned that I’m capable of much more productivity than I had originally given myself credit for. If you want to be your own boss you have to be really good at looking over your own shoulder.

Some creatives may find themselves at a crossroads at times asking, “what if I’m just not feeling it?” Well, you could either “write the bad stuff out” (another blog post to come) or just give up and watch Netflix all day until you feel inspired again. Just kidding. I’ve actually found from personal experience that it works very well to balance your day or week with creative and non-creative work. Writing this blog is a great example. You may be wondering why I write a blog when I’m a musician for a living. It’s because it’s good for my mental state, to be honest. It helps with this exact problem that I mentioned above. Mornings are difficult for me and I often need a little bit of time to get my bearings before I’m ready to like enter into self-therapy and write my heart out into song. I usually make some coffee, put on a new record, and sit and write blog posts until I feel ready to write music. I also do a lot of non-creative work for other people. I’ve been hired to edit videos and tune vocals for people’s albums. This is still interesting to me, but it’s not self-expression and it's not forcing me to bare my soul the moment I wake up until the moment I stop working. If you’re able to be 100% creative all day every day then you’re a freak of nature and fuck you. Figure out what triggers you being able to relax and get into that place where you transcend menial every day worries and just write freely. Sometimes non-creative work is the key, sometimes going for a run or cleaning your bathroom puts you in the mood. You do you.

In conclusion, I would like to say that I believe there is something incredible that comes from the forward motion of being pro-active. There’s no denying that you get from the universe what you put out. If you’re a good person trying to do good things, you have good people in your life who nourish you with support and optimism. If you’re a negative, lazy person then it’s way more likely that you see the world as a desolate, lonely, shitty place that won’t throw you a bone. Don’t perpetuate the latter. If you’re your own boss you’re unfortunately going to have to work on being good at it. Try to be disciplined; show up to work on time every day and write down your daily goals. Once you lock into that cycle of being professional with yourself amazing things will happen. I’ve been told by many that I’m very lucky for the “random” opportunities I’ve gotten. But I try not to see them as random and instead every day feel grateful for those who invest and trust in me. It’s interesting because the harder I work, the luckier I seem to get. And this is the part where I give credit to whoever wrote that quote but Google is telling me it was Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or Samuel Goldwyn and apparently there’s an entire debate around who originally said that. I’m not going to get involved.

Get back to work! :)

Sulene