“New York!” he said. “That’s not a place, it’s a dream.” ― Ralph Ellison
Welcome back! Before we explore more about the intersection of art and business, I’d like to take a bit of a detour to explain why this concept speaks so loudly to me.
If you know me, you know how much I love a good story. I particularly like those that work as a tool to understand something better, help provide clarity or enlightenment, or reinforce a principle or idea. My story may give you a glimpse into how this blog’s concepts about work and art crept into being. So here goes.
As a musical theatre actor living in New York City in the 90s, I pounded the pavement regularly to get acting work. Quite literally. I would stand or sit on the sidewalk outside of the audition locations, often well before sunrise, in all sorts of weather, in the hope of securing a coveted spot to audition for whatever gig or gigs I had my heart set on that week. With a cardboard cup of coffee from the nearest bodega or street vendor warming my hands, I mustered the sort of youthful determination and unbridled hope that is hard to conceive of at this point in my life. It was typical to share this sidewalk experience with several hundred other talented hopefuls. A community of proverbial starving artists with a cup of coffee and a dream.
Getting out of bed in the wee hours to secure my place in line was always challenging, but there was something strangely zen about the walk from my apartment to a nearby audition venue. Crossing Times Square during the pre-dawn hours to the surreal experience of almost complete silence, absent of the cacophony of traffic and daily bustle that was soon to follow, would always take my breath away.
Once I had secured my audition appointment time, I would hurry back to my apartment to ready myself for a day at my temp job. I would then catch the subway to get to work at my assignment in the financial district for a few hours, leave for an hour or so for the audition (I’ll need another blog to describe that part of the experience!) and return to the jobsite afterwards. Luckily, there were many actors who did the same, so I was allowed a bit of flexibility in my work schedule. In New York, at least at that time, actors were typically a hot commodity for temporary assignments: they were well-groomed, had great communication skills, and since they usually really needed the money, were highly committed to the jobs they got.
Several nights a week following full days of auditioning and working, I’d attend an acting class, voice coaching, or dance class before finally heading back to my miniscule apartment in Hell’s Kitchen, grabbing a cheap slice of pizza or a carton of Chinese food on my way.
When not working on a theatre job (which was more often than I would like to admit!) I straddled two very intense worlds: the hustle of Wall Street and the hyper-competitive New York theatre scene. Both worlds showed no mercy. Win or die. But, if you stuck it out, I think it was impossible not to become stronger — that is, before becoming completely jaded!
I learned a lot during the ten years I was in New York. About failure, financial deprivation, fear, and rejection. But also about fortitude, personal strength, and the value of ongoing training to perfect my skills. I also learned — without realizing it — how to hold my own in the business world while staying true to my artistic nature. Though I never got my big Broadway break, I never regretted those years in the Big Apple. Well, let me rephrase that. I may have left with some resentment, but I now look back at that time with the perspective of age and experience, and see it as a priceless time in my life. A time when my true character began to emerge.
I ultimately moved to Austin, Texas, bringing that conglomeration of lessons learned, achievements, strengths and vulnerabilities, along with me.
After New York’s grit, concrete, and steel, and its unrelenting pace and constant demand to win at all costs, I relished the idea of Austin’s green hills and rolling rivers and the opportunity to be a part of its iconic community of creative souls singing and playing their guitars in emotional bliss devoid of cutthroat, competitive, non-stop motion. It seemed the perfect antidote for my soul. (I would discover that much of this idyllic view was a myth, but that’s another blog).
For the twenty years following that move to Austin, I’ve served in low-level, mid-level and leadership positions in real estate, a very short stint in education, and staffing, earning a Master’s Degree while working as an executive in a successful nonprofit organization in Austin. Over that time, as I increasingly became a player in the business world, I found myself unable to feel comfortable leaving my artist’s spirit completely behind, or at least setting it aside during the work day. I write songs and sing in my extracurricular band in my off hours to help feed my personal need for creativity, but after spending 40 to 60 hours a week working in the traditional business world, I also had to come to terms with the fact that my need to feel something powerful and emotional, as well as my insatiable desire for a good story weren’t likely to appear at the office in the way they might in viewing a great film, listening to a classic song, observing an unforgettable piece of artwork, or even in watching a pretty good play at the local community theater.
I’ve often felt that as a business person with leadership responsibilities, I should want to rid myself of the personal desire to deal with situations in the workplace in a way that makes everyone laugh or applaud or even share a moment of sorrow; to lose the need to create teams that work together like the cast of a stage play, sharing moments that are familiar, but which change according to a particular night’s audience or the spontaneity of an interaction with another player. But of late, perhaps because of the intensity and struggle of the world we have been living in, I’ve decided to embrace what I’ve attempted to suppress and consider the benefits of art in business in front of an audience — you, dear reader.
So, with my own story leading the way, we will move onward with our subject: the art of work. I would love to hear YOUR stories! Feel free to share those in the comment section or reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.