Should. Own. Work.

A colleague of mine was telling me this morning “I know I should be making my own work.”

 

I immediately recognised three key words in that sentence.

 

Should, Own and Work.

 

Work

…has different meanings for different people. Artists use the word work to distance their self worth from the outcome of their craft. We often put it at arm’s lengths by adding the word ‘the’.

 

The work.

 

I make the work. I do the work. I talk about the work. I’m prepared to let you judge and review the work.

 

Artists spend so much time and get deeply invested in their work, making it important for them to distinguish that it is something that they created but it doesn’t represent them as a whole. You can choose not to like a particular piece of work an artist has created, even though you respect their canon of work as a whole and love them as a human being.

 

Should

…is a great word if you want to procrastinate guiltily. Slap me next time you see or hear me use it (I’m sure it slips out from time to time). Instead of “I know I should be making my own work,” consider “I know I can be making my own work”, or “I know I choose not to make my own work.” Whether or not something is expected of me, ultimately it’s my choice whether or not I do it.

 

Saying should is also a way of letting yourself off the hook. Should suggests you’re doing it because someone else said so, or because they expect it of you. If you go ahead and do something that doesn’t work like you planned, should gives you the chance to pretend that you were never doing it for yourself anyway.

 

Own

…is a word that conjures fear. When she said “making my own work” my own body shuddered involuntarily thinking about the stress of having to be your own boss, being the sole decision maker, carrying all the responsibility and the loneliness of going it alone.

 

Then I remembered that doing your own thing is not the same as doing it alone. They may rhyme, but I guess they’re spelt differently for a reason.

 

Jeff Bezos left his job at a New York Hedge Fund in 1994 to start his own company. Amazon is not the sort of business that can be run by one man alone. His own company employs 341,400 people as of 2017. I’m sure he’s devoted an amazing amount of time and effort into building the company, but he didn’t try to do it all by himself. By getting others on board he made Amazon a reality and in doing so changed the way we shop.

Beyonce left Destiny’s Child for her own solo career. The reality is that she’s not alone. It takes a lot of people to make a successful “solo artist”. Beyonce is just one of four writers credited on the song “Crazy In Love”, her breakout ‘solo’ hit. Her Lemonade album credits sixteen producers across twelve songs. Having a team allows her to stay on top of all her projects and businesses.

 

You get the picture. When you come from a culture where you’re told you have to do a bit of everything to get your project made, get your show on stage, get your music heard…it starts to feel like you need to do all of everything. But everything’s better with a team, if you can find the right people whose strengths complement your talents.

 

Think about who’s already in your corner. People that will leap to your assistance if you just tell them how they can help. If they don’t have the specific skills you’re looking for, ask around. Someone you know is related to someone who is friends with the very person you need.

 

Should Can. Own. Work.

The great thing about building something of your own, is that it’s something you own. As artists we aren’t always savvy about how we invest our energy in building assets that will increase in value over time.

 

Creating a piece of art that will be seen by more and more people over time, whether in a museum, or on tour, or through sales is a way you can build a career that sustains you. It will help you be in the position where you can make the art that is meaningful to you. It is a manifestation of your own voice, values and experiences. And it’s the work that you want to do, the work that matters. Work that can feed your soul as well as your family.

 

It’s possible. All you have to do is choose it.

 


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