Last Friday, right in the middle of the biggest economic crisis in a generation, I walked away from my nice, safe, secure job. I walked away from a steady paycheck, employer supplied health insurance, and a 401k. I am betting that my creativity will reap greater rewards and bring more value to myself, my family and the world than working for someone else 40 hours a week.
I took back control of my time and my life.
Saying that I 'bet' on my creativity makes it sound a littler crazier than it really is. A degree of risk is inherent in all our choices. My friends who are working at a 9-5 job right now are betting that they made the right choice and that they won't be unexpectedly laid off or have their hours slashed in order to save their jobs. They are betting that they will do better at their jobs. It's a bet I could no longer make.
"There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom." - Anais Nin
Part of the economic failure we're seeing right now comes to this hard truth - big companies have let all of us down. We've been let down as citizens, consumers, investors and employees. Companies wasted resources and lined the pockets of executives. As I watched the economy start to sink and I realized that some profitable companies were starting to use the poor economy as a way to cut costs, I knew it was time to get real and stop counting on the Corporate American Dream.
It all makes me think of John Lennon's beautiful and heart wrenching song God, where he wearily lists all the things he doesn't believe in - Elvis, The Beatles, and an assortment of deities - ending with...
I just believe in me. Yoko and me. That's reality.
The dream is over and it just comes down to me. Once I decided that, the rush of fear and excitement began. The path was clear and it was time to start working out the details.
There's never been a better time to be a creative person or artist than right now. When I started my job five years ago, the creative landscape was very different. There was no YouTube and social media was in its infancy. The costs of the tools and technologies has dropped dramatically.
Today we face a scary prospect - technology and the internet has brought us almost unlimited creative possibilities. You can create work, distribute it instantly around the world and promote it yourself. It's scary because it takes away our excuses and leaves our future in our own hands
Now the trick is to integrate art and commerce on our own terms, As creative people, we now have to think like business people. You can complain about this new reality or embrace it.
If you want to be inspired, just look at the rock and roll, where the most creative musicians have experimented with business models as much as they did with sounds. Radiohead offered their In Rainbows album available online at a name your own price point...and they made a lot of money doing it. Bands like Nine Inch Nails and U2 are offering limited collector's edition versions of their new albums and making their most dedicated fans very happy.
There are even rainbows in the the bad economic news. Seth Godin is one my favorite authors and I asked him for his thoughts on the tough economy. He said...
"In a down economy, attention doesn't go away and it doesn't cost anything. If anything, it's easier to reach people because the noise level goes down. Which means cash-starved but idea-rich organizations can create ideas that spread farther and faster than ever before."
There are a number of ways that quote can be apply to creatives. It's true for our own art work. I discovered this during last year's TV writer's strike, where I ended up getting a good deal of press for my political comedy due to the lack of 'noise' from broadcast television.
It's also true that our services as creative people are more vital than ever to companies struggling to survive and needing someone to help them become 'idea rich'. Find those companies who are struggling and use your creativity to help them. Maybe it's the restaurant you love but who is on the verge of closing. Maybe it;'s the indie bookstore down the street or your favorite charity. It might even be the company where you work right now. Could they benefit from your knowledge of viral video or ability to design a brilliant poster?
Once you take responsibility for your own time and creativity and start thinking about how you can add value to the world, this frightening economy starts to look different. I see a world full of that's in need of healing but that's full of possibility and waiting for me to let the light of my creative work to shine on it.
The world needs your light, too...
Lee Stranahan is moving to New Mexico to make movies and teach. He'll also be teaching a seminar on UnJobbing at The UnConvention