It’s cold out there, and I don’t just mean the snow flurries and unseasonal low temperatures. For everyone working in the arts sector in the UK, it’s nippy. When its cold we often draw down on our reserves of fat but organisations have already tightened their belts, now many are facing extreme diets to meet the cuts out there, and threat of cuts still to come. And the weather doesn’t seem to be improving.
As a freelancer I’m outside of the arts organisations, but I’m part of the ecology. It’s hard to not to pick up on the resonance, not to let the icy fingers of recession-thinking get a grip on your planning, motivation and enthusiasm.
So how do you keep your own sense of what is and what isn’t possible for you? How do you marry being realistic with avoiding the negative spiral that the doom-cuts-doom scenario threatens to lead you into? How do you understand the context fully, yet resist vibrating along, setting yourself wobbling off course?
Of course, when I say ‘how do you’, I mean how do I?
I was talking about this yesterday with a friend who reminded me of Rudyard Kipling’s ‘If’:
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
This is my challenge. I do my best work when I’m up and fully engaged. I don’t work as well when I’m distracted by worry. And my best strategy for surviving the downturn is to do my best work. So what do I do?
Well, I can tell you what I have done. I’ve planned well, got some financial reserves in place, diversified my clients, including getting some outside of the cultural sector. I’m looking at both taking contracts and developing my work. I’ve worked out the minimum I need, and so far seem able to hit that target.
Yes, the money out there is tight, but is the money what it’s all about? For me, one of the biggest problems of the current situation is the way it puts all the emphasis on finance and none on the other metrics I use to measure value.
Basically, money isn’t where it’s at for me. I came across this yesterday:
Research has long suggested that money doesn’t buy happiness; a study published in Psychological Science in July confirms that finding and goes a step further, changing the stakes of what we think of as high status: It turns out that if we’re looking to money, we’re looking in the wrong place.
Ok, I can acknowledge that status is important to me. The study found that respect and admiration from peers was more strongly associated with happiness than simply stockpiling money in the bank.
It also commented on a dark side to happiness, or more specifically, to the pursuit of happiness.
In May, Yale psychologist June Gruber wrote a Greater Good essay outlining “Four Ways Happiness Can Hurt You.” Based on research Gruber and others have conducted over the past few years, she explained how feeling happy can actually make us less creative, less safe, and, in some cases, less able to connect with other people.
Ohh err. I don’t want that.
Apparently a single-minded search for happiness makes us selfish, self obsessed – often at the expense of connecting with others, and yet it’s the connections with others that are the very key to happiness itself.
Actually, I’m not sure I want to be happy.
I’m not being ridiculous here, I don’t mean I want to be unhappy either. I think what I mean is that I’m not really sure what being ‘happy’ means; there are other words that describe for me more accurately what I want to be.
I want to be engaged, excited, curious, active, inspired. I want to be busy, doing things that mean something to me and that make a difference in the world around me. I want that connection with people through the work I am engaged in.
For me, it’s the knowledge of this focus that provides antidote to the wobbles mentioned above.
I was asked what it felt like when I was involved in a project that gave me what I wanted; that made me feel engaged, excited, curious, active, inspired. I described it as being like swimming in, under and around a waterfall. It’s that refreshing, energizing, immersive.
I googled waterfalls to swim in, and got this great list of 8 (I’ve swum in the one in Croatia). I like the idea of planning trips around swimming in some of the others. In fact, I’ve decided my next new recession busting strategy is to identify more waterfalls. Where are the waterfalls I want to swim in and under work wise? How can I get more of that feeling?
And for me, this doesn’t feel selfish. When I’m in that flow I’m not worried about the context around me, I feel like I’m directly engaged in changing it. And from where I’m standing, more people challenging and changing it is exactly what we need.