Posts Tagged ‘success’

In Success Small is Beautiful – and More Fulfilling

September 4th, 2014 No comments

The other day a friend who runs a social justice website told me the story of a former colleague. This woman (let’s call her S) had great success with the fledgling media company she started from scratch, providing the software and logistical support for a project providing access to educational services to disadvantaged people around the world. The project was featured on TED and hailed as a great success. It was quintessential innovative work that, according to my friend, gave her a great sense of work fulfillment.

After this initial success S had pick of future projects. She expanded her company, was able to offer her services to a wider range of clients. At this she was also a success – in as much as, before long she employed a dozen people and had more work than she could cope with.

Except now that she ran a bigger company and had bigger clients, none of her work was of the socially-beneficial kind, and none of it was the type of work she had found so satisfying in the first place. All her clients were commercial, paying more money but commissioning work in which S placed no personal value.

If by some chance I were to make a living from the writing work I like to do (an unlikely scenario), I don’t want this kind of success for my self-made career. For me this is why it is necessary to keep paid subsistence work and worthwhile work in different compartments – because money always affects the work you do. If your entire living is earned from the work that was worthwhile to you in the beginning, there’s a good chance your decisions about future work will be taken out of your hands.

Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Hugh MacLeod

For ‘art’ read ‘any innovative activity’. If you can do the work you want to do without interference, and be paid after the fact, can be paid a living even, fantastic. This is a position very few people find themselves in – this is Danny Boyle and the 2012 Olympic opening ceremony.

But if we set up a scenario where we have the time to do innovative work that we value for no money,  supported by subsistence work, that can be a success. So long as we don’t think of it as a failure because it has not earned us money. Don’t think you need do what you love to earn a living to be a success. That’s the way to no longer love it.

Recent links on careers, fulfilling work and writing:

Success, DIY, and the avoidance of fame

July 28th, 2013 No comments

If you’re going somewhere, where are you trying to get to? […] First it’s just getting a gig, then it’s supporting someone big, then it’s being someone big in your own right, and then what? Eventually, surely, the ultimate prize becomes not being famous, becomes regaining some of the dignity and privacy you so happily shed all those years ago. – Miranda Ward

F**k the Radio, We’ve Got Apple Juice is Miranda Ward’s account of the rise and self-propelled fall of UK band Little Fish at the end of the 2000’s, written in collaboration with the band. Little Fish found a kind of fame when spotted during a gig by Linda Perry from 4 Non Blondes, and went on to support Courtney Love and Blondie on tours around the world before recording an album in LA – only to follow this up by moving back to Oxford and recording their next album in their garage. But the book is less a biography of the band than an honest, insightful analysis of what exactly the band wanted from music, and what exactly they regard as success. Alongside this Miranda Ward examines her own motives for wanting to be a writer, and what that even means in an era of wall-to-wall blogging and self-publishing.

What was so refreshing to read here was what felt like sincere honesty in the band and the author’s desire to avoid fame. Whereas it is common to hear musicians and authors say they do not want to be part of the mainstream music or publishing industries, you still always have a nagging feeling that were they to have a hit single or novel they would lap it up and jump straight in to the fame machine. But it feels like a revelation when Little Fish recall that their most enjoyable gigs were the ones they played in Oxford venues to small audiences of appreciative fans – and when keyboard player Ben Walker describes what he now thinks of as success: as simply ‘being able to do interesting things with my time’.  Miranda Ward herself describes being surprised by a perfect day, of spending seven or eight hours writing, going for a swim then having an evening with her boyfriend, and what this means to her:

I don’t want to be a famous author for the fame; I want to be a famous author so that I can structure all of – or as many as can be considered reasonable – days like this. Because this […] is what makes me happy.

This feels exactly right to me. I’d like people to read what I write, because even though I take pleasure from writing itself there seems something missing if no one reads it. But in the end I just want to have the opportunity to go on writing about the things I consider important. This is the kind of life I aspire to in The Tyranny of Careers.

In this manner a fulfilling life is one that is focussed on what Miranda Ward calls ‘sustainable creativity’ – where the purpose of writing or making music or whatever is not necessarily to produce a book or an album, but simply to find a way to fund the continuation of making stuff. And whilst this means making do with less, and creating in a DIY fashion, these were the aspects of creating that made Little Fish feel more successful, rather than less. (In line with the DIY ethos of the book, it was published by Unbound, who raise the money needed to publish by collecting money from subscribers beforehand.)

This is a successful life for me: one of continued sustainable creativity. Highly recommend.