This post has nothing to do with specific creative insights and everything to do with my journey as a creative individual
About 2.5 years ago, the art grind was really taking it's toll on me. I had an unhealthy relationship to it. I would binge on doing an awesome project cuz it was cool, and then go back to supporting my art habit with random day jobs that were horrifyingly boring.
The main problem, as I saw it, was that any attempt to introduce the money component to my art felt wrong. I was creating art only to resolve my own curiosity, and the commercial aspect made me feel like I was commodifying my self-image.
Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of artists out there who I respect who can own that in a responsible way. Properly grooming your brand and defining your value prop as an identity, I feel, is the only responsible way to approach the field. It was slowly dawning on me, then, that I didn't want to be a capital-A Artist, because that work of re-branding my outward image in that manner every time I pursued a new opportunity didn't suit me. I didn't want to negotiate the value of my Albert-branded services. I took the whole practice very personally, unnecessarily, and it was... well, unhealthy.
So, to try to address this situation, I decided to make two rules for myself:
- No art work unless it's impulse is driven towards solving other people's problems. The idea here was that if I was helping others from the get-go, I would have a justified reason to position myself as a brand.
- My day job cannot be mindless drone work... it must at the very least teach me something about how I fit into the world
I soon learned that:
- I was the type of artist who only did things because of my curiosity. No judgement here, but turns out I never had an impulse to create specifically for the sake of others.
- Working on in an awesome and functional business is a phenomenal way to learn how to efficiently convert labor into helping others
I took a job at Movable Ink, which is, hands down, the most interesting player in arguably the most boring space on the web: Email.
The tech is blazingly cool. For you web nerds out there, in a nutshell, Movable Ink creates image assets, and the ".png" doesn't just sit on a server. It is a rasterized endpoint of a web app that could change every time it's requested. Once you grock this, there's an endless rabbit hole of how this can be implemented to make cool email.
Being around this cool tech and the talented people who were able to architect and support it was an amazing opportunity for me to sharpen my development practices.
But about as equally important to my growth was the fact that my position put me in close proximity to the business side of things. I got to see and eventually assimilate into the practices / attitudes / culture needed for persistent value creation. I got to see the top-to-bottom funnel in the most functional, streamlined way I could have asked for, and I got to participate in all aspects of the servicing and implementation side of that.
I got a hands-on glimpse of how my work was affecting other people's lives in measurable ways. Yes, it was just in the boring corporate world of email, but I got to see, proof-positive, real ways that my actions were impacting the lives of others, and I got the hands on experience to run at a fast pace towards value-centric goals.
And in the blink of an eye, 2.5 years pass, and the company grew from 30 to 100 employees. I found that all I had to do was show up and hire around me, and eventually I found myself managing a team of three. If I were to just kept doing my job I could continue climbing the corporate ladder by virtue of us just needing to hire more people.
But that's not why I joined in the first place. That's someone else's dream job, not mine. I joined because I wanted a day job that could teach me business fundamentals. And in this regard, I like to think of Movable Ink as my on-site 2.5 year MBA program.
In light of this, Wednesday was my last day.
And so now, I'm reacquainting myself with my creative side in a fresh new light, and it feels incredible. I never would have thought that a day-job could be so inspiring to my creativity, but it has. Now I feel like I'm realigned. I am asking the right questions, getting to the right people faster, cutting out lots of operational fat.
I'm also flirting a bit with how to manage self-image in a way that would have made me very uncomfortable in the past. I feel like in the past I used my self-image as a way to validate self-worth, but from this vantage it feels more like a tool one can wield to help simply get stuff done.
So, yeah... what an amazing day job that was. Now, I'm off to build stuff and set myself up to find the next, hopefully equally amazing one.