Starting another new small business has me thinking about how we represent our occupations in everyday conversations. All of those “So, what do you do” questions in small talk. Working with a business partner and partner companies has made for some interesting observations recently. And for me, they’re a good remind of the work I’ve done to be better about how I frame my work as an artist.
A few years ago I started answering the “what do you do” question with some form of “I’m an artist.” It was less a single formal declaration and more of a process. Wading in, not diving. At first I was ridiculously timid about it, only uttering the words in certain artsy contexts. These days I almost always lead with it, and I’m working on doing so with more casual confidence. I’m also happy to talk about my daytime office job, but I’m using the term gig. That took some practice. I take my 8-5 job very seriously, so making it a more casual mention took some getting used to.
I did this for at least one important reason though. It’s less for others and more for myself. By framing my employment as another gig in my portfolio I wasn’t diminishing it. Rather, I was elevating all my streams of revenue to more or less equal footing. While this is an ongoing exercise, I’ve found it to have a very real impact on how I mentally frame things for myself. The effect is powerful.
Externally it also helps contextualize things for others. I was never a fan of the idea that creative types are stuck in offices all day, only able to pursue their “real” pursuits late at night. That’s just not how it worked for me. By framing my office job as any other in my lineup of gigs, it reversed the expectations. Looked at this way, I’m a free agent choosing to include employment in my revenue portfolio.
I’m fortunate in that I have a very creative gig in which to spend 40(+) hours a week, but I think the same framing would work for any occupation. No one thing defines us.