On last night’s flight from New York, I read Amy Poehler’s memoir, Yes Please . An actress, writer, director and producer, Amy describes the distinction between that thing you do as an artist and your career as one. “Creativity is connected to passion — that light inside that drives you.” On the other hand your career, writes Amy, is simply a series of opportunities and jobs, and should be treated with some ambivalence. “Learn to let go of wanting it. Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.”
I’m pleased to report that I am the top earner of rejection letters amongst my peers. My early twenties were spent painting, writing impassioned cover letters and compiling slide packs for galleries of international repute. In theatre, this is called a “cold audition.” I had misinterpreted what it meant to take responsibility for how my brilliant ideas would be shared with the world. On top of this, somewhere along the line I’d taken on board the idea I had some control over the design of it all.
Instead, something else happened. I call it, “Organic Plodding with Joy.” I learned that the healthiest relationships are mutual, and the best galleries are as equally invested in finding you as you are in being with them. Amy writes that people don’t want to hear about the fifteen years of doing small shows while you work hard to improve your craft. Add to this that there are better ways to stick your neck out than dropping your script on a famous person’s lap while on the train, or building a vision board to hang above your workless desk. Cold auditions of any kind most often amount to not very much. “Almost every job I have ever gotten was due to someone knowing my work and seeing me in something else,” writes Amy. Better just to keep busy while waiting for something to happen.
I filed my rejections and went to my easel for real. When I emerged some years later I found I truly had something to love, something to do, and somewhere to be. Amy was teaching improv at the Upright Citizens Brigade and bringing her comedy sketches to the table readings at her new job at Saturday Night Live. I was delivering my paintings to a new neighbourhood, the Park Avenue moon smiling down on another grateful hustler. Some days I even had a little walking around money — slipped through the hole in my pocket to jangle around in the hem of my coat.
PS: “It likes it when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy. It will chase you when you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you. If your career is a bad boyfriend, it is healthy to remember you can always leave and go sleep with somebody else.” (Amy Poehler)
“Ambivalence is the key to success.” (Amy Poehler)
Esoterica: Letting go and caring less about that thing you want so badly is a tricky feat. Amy sums it up like this: Care about the work you do but not about the result. Care about how good you are, but not how good people think you are. It’s a hard one, but organic plodding with joy might just get you where you really want to go. “Mix in public opinion and past regrets. Add a dash of future panic and a whole lot of financial uncertainty. Career is something that fools you into thinking you are in control and then takes pleasure in reminding you that you aren’t. Career is the thing that will not fill you up and will never make you truly whole.” Creativity, however — and that light inside that drives you — is the love of your life.
Featured Workshop: Joseph Cross
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