I’ve got a job for you.
I just heard you say that the company you work for was sold. I’m looking for people and I can’t hire ‘em fast enough. Starting pay is 90K a year.
Wow. What’s the job?
Easiest money you’ll ever make. Just sitting behind a desk.
Yeah, but doing what?
Setting appointments. Making calls. Basic admin stuff. You’d be working for me and my team.
And what do you do?
I sell machine parts. Essentially, I’m a mechanic.
Oh. I don’t think that’s the right fit for me. I’m a creative: a writer, a marketer, and a brand strategist. I’m really looking for a job in a creative field. But thank you anyway.
I don’t think you heard me. The starting pay is 90K a year.
It’s not about the money.
Bullshit. It’s always about the money.
Not for me. But thank you.
I’m sitting in the lobby of my hotel in Kent, WA, sipping a glass of Cabernet. The awkward conversation (err, confrontation) that is currently unfolding is a perfect example of why I wanted to avoid this hotel-sponsored “Wine and Cheese” night. But after a long workday, the complimentary glass of red mere steps from my hotel room proves too difficult to resist. So here I am, trying to politely brush aside the attention of a strange man who’s sloshed on free booze and – worse – impervious to social cues.
The “conversation” quickly devolves, largely due to my refusal to acquiesce to his worldview that money makes the world go round. He takes personal affront to the fact that I have no interest in the job he’s trying to sell me, and within minutes, he has resorted to cursing and name-calling. Thankfully, it’s not long before he stomps out of the lobby in a huff, but not before delivering his final assessment: “If you’re just a snob that wants to write about eyeliner, there’s nothing I can do for you!” I laugh, in spite of myself. You’re right, dude. There’s nothing you can do for me.
My week in Kent has been a strange one. I’ve been working as an independent contractor, helping train employees of the medium-size company that bought the small Los Angeles-based accessories brand where I have worked for many years. Not only is the town of Kent itself odd – an industrial district populated by block after block of sprawling warehouses in the shadow of Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport – but the situation is odd, too. For a week, I’m immersed in a corporate culture completely alien to me – taking meetings, interfacing with all types of people and personalities (many of whom are suspicious of me and are not particularly friendly to the foreigner in their midst), and navigating office politics – all the while knowing that my immersion is temporary; that my normal life has simply been put on hold for a few days while I try on this very different life and see how it fits.
During the week, I find myself daydreaming both about what my life would have been like had I accepted a job in Kent, and what my life will be like once this temporary independent contractor position is over. It brings to mind one of my favorite exercises from Julia Cameron’s seminal book on creativity, The Artist’s Way, called “Imaginary Lives.” Here’ s a synopsis of the exercise, excerpted from the book:
If you had five other lives to lead, what would you do in each of them? I would be a pilot, a cowhand, a physicist, a psychic, a monk . . . Whatever occurs to you, jot it down.
The point of these lives is to have fun in them – more fun than you might be having in this one. Look over your list and select one. Then do it this week. For instance, if you put down country singer, can you pick a guitar? If you dream of being a cowhand, what about some horseback riding?
The question I am asked over and over again when people find out that my job is ending is, “What are you going to do next?” And what they actually mean is this: “Have you found another job yet?” When I reply that I’m not actually looking for a job, that instead, I’ve decided to take some time off, they are baffled. They usually manage: “That’s great – good for you!” But their faces tell a different story: one of confusion, skepticism and – often – envy.
Of course, “time off,” doesn’t mean lying on the couch binge-watching Netflix or spending every day at the beach. For me, it means taking all the time and energy and creativity that I have invested in working for someone else and instead, channeling that effort into exploring my passions and building a life that I had previously only dreamed of. It means investing more time in this blog and on my writing in general. It means producing a brand new play (that I’m still writing) this summer at Hollywood Fringe Festival. And it means allowing myself the time and space to breathe deeply, to reflect on the hard lessons of the last few years, and perhaps, to try on some of the imaginary lives on my list and see how they fit.
At the end of my week in Kent, I tagged on an extra day in Seattle with no agenda other than to relax and explore. I took a long walk through the city and ended up at the Space Needle, buying a ticket to a museum I’ve wanted to visit since it opened: Chihuly Garden and Glass. The museum and accompanying gardens are not very big, but I lingered there for hours, immersing myself in the color and detail of every piece. Later, while flipping through a catalogue in the museum’s café, I was struck by this quote from the artist:
I discovered my first collection of beach glass on the shores of Puget Sound when I was four or five years old.
I’ve never stopped collecting since.
As a Pacific Northwest kid, I’ve collected my fair share of colorful beach glass. But as I read that quote, I realized that over the course of my life, the things that I’ve been collecting more than anything else are stories. Stories both real and imagined, both my own and other people’s. And now, as I prepare to move forward on to this next, more exploratory phase of my life, stories are the things I’ll continue to collect. They’re what I’ll continue to figure out how to bring forth into the world. And they’re what will inform my next steps, including any of those so-called “imaginary” lives I might decide to try on.
Until next time, friends.