I’m Too Creative To Have A 9-to-5
“If you’re not doing what you love, you’re wasting your time.”
I’ve decided to quit my role as Community Manager for EBANMAN. My heart wasn’t in it. I believe in their cause—creating an online community for black, gay professionals. But the role requires more bandwidth than I can afford to give. And it doesn’t make my heart sing. After only a month of doing this work, it felt like a chore. I became a freelancer so that I could do work that I love every day. There’s no reason to waste time doing something I don’t enjoy. Even with how far I’ve come in a year and a half, I still make plenty of mistakes. The lesson from this one—if you don’t love it, don’t do it.
-Me, Facebook (August 25, 2017)
Seemingly wise words from yours truly. I sound so liberated and honest, free-spirited, and financially stable enough to quit a job I started less than a month prior. But the key phrase here is “sound”. I am not your typical creative, flipping the bird to the man and unable to maintain steady employment. (Though working somewhere for only 24 days might indicate otherwise.)
I took on this part-time role at EBANMAN because I like managing my own social media, and I’ve been quite successful at building the Uptown Bourgeois audience through platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Logically, I thought I’d enjoy doing these things and getting paid for it while also promoting a cause near and dear to my heart—connecting and educating black, gay professional men. But not only did I not like it. I hated it.
Even in a part-time, contract role, in which I could make my own timelines and determine my workload, I was still tethered to an organization. There was still someone to answer to—something I haven’t had in almost two years. As far as bosses go, this was the most easygoing, manageable experience of my entire professional life. But just the sheer presence of a boss gave me anxiety. I was transported back to a place I vowed to avoid.
Waking up to emails from a “boss”. Joining conference calls. Forwarding emails. Coordinating efforts between multiple members of a team. For all you 9-to-5ers out there, this is your daily life. And for 11 years, it was mine, too. But now I’m the one who controls the flow of the day, and any threat to that freedom, no matter how miniscule, is not welcome.
My time with EBANMAN was short-lived because it posed a threat to my professional autonomy. I don’t like having someone to answer to, and I can’t go back to that degree of structure (i.e. org. charts, bcc’s, and meeting agendas). I’ve officially entered my creative era.
What does a creative era look like? Do I roll out of bed at eleven, order brunch, and scroll through the Entertainment Weekly homepage while I watch The View? Not quite. For a creative person, I’m quite regimented:
Up at 6:30 a.m. for meditation, stretching, and journaling.
Breakfast and the news at 7.
First dive into email at 7:30.
Writing for clients by 8:15.
I have a routine, and for the most part, I stick to it. Compared to my husband, who is a 9-to-5er and hits snooze at least three times before 7, I’m practically bouncing off the walls in the morning.
But if I don’t feel inspired to write something, and I have the flexibility to do it another day, I just move the task. I rearrange my calendar at least 3 times every week to accommodate last-minute jobs, client revisions, and days where I just don’t feel like working. I might take the afternoon off unexpectedly and go to the movies. Or watch another episode of Twin Peaks: The Return (so good!). Or lie around like a sloth. If I did any of these things in an office setting when I didn’t feel motivated, I’d be fired.
And I know it sounds a bit like hippie millennial bullshit. Adults have to work even when they don’t want to. I know, I know. But creative work is different. The work I do requires peak levels of creativity all day. I work with a high volume of clients, and each one expects me to treat their article or About Us description or e-book like it’s gold. Even though I’m juggling multiple projects, they’re just working with me. Thus, I can’t deliver incredible results for one client while dropping the ball with another. I have to give each assignment everything I’ve got and ensure everyone gets the best—every day. When that work involves wordsmithing and generating ideas from thin air and telling unique stories about topics I’ve written about a thousand times, it gets mentally exhausting. Sometimes, the brain juice just runs out.
But because I’m living in my creative era, I can say no. I can move the assignment to tomorrow, close my laptop, and go smell some fresh air or snack on a vegan brownie while I watch an indie film at The Angelika.
And the same goes for people I don’t like. Clients who are rude, unnecessarily demanding, micromanagers, or bad communicators get the boot.
For me, a corporate structure represents authority. And if I really think about it, I’ve always had an issue with authority. I was the teenager who always talked back to my parents, who was more sarcastic than the average kid. I was the employee who nodded in agreement while receiving constructive criticism and then read my boss for filth as soon as I left the room. I’m the husband/friend/son who goes on the defensive the second I think my intelligence or expertise is being questioned.
Working on my own has only exacerbated the problem. I’ve learned a lot about how I respond to feedback, and without corporate guardrails, I’ve had to navigate choppy water (i.e. curt responses, nasty emails) on my own. I’m getting better at it but the issue remains: I don’t like having a boss, and I don’t have to have one. So why would I?
If you broke free of something you’d never liked, would you willingly go back?
I work harder now than I’ve ever worked before. I’m essentially putting in 11 or 12-hour days 5 days a week. And I never think, “I hate this. What’s next?”. I’m always thinking about how to do this job better—how to gain more high-profile clients, how to raise my rates, how to take on more meaningful work, how to get to the next stage. I’m hungry, and that hunger doesn’t have to be quelled by an annual review structure, a 3% pay raise, or an argumentative supervisor. If I decide I want to develop a short story and sell it or start editing novels or start writing feature-length screenplays, I can start today. No HR approvals needed. And as my fellow creatives know, when inspiration strikes, there’s a new idea to develop almost daily, if not hourly. So that flexibility isn’t just a nice to-have—it’s required.
I’m too creative to have a 9-to-5, not because I don’t respect organization and power. I do now, and I have in the past. But these days, I have a much stronger understanding of how I prefer to work and how I can maximize my productivity. And because of that, I’m a jagged piece that doesn’t fit into the puzzle. Some people are meant to work in teams. Some are meant to be alone. I’m a professional loner, and I think it suits me just fine.