Tips For The Unrelenting Creative: Resist The Urge To Take Every Gig After The Pandemic

Hi everyone,

Things are warming up here in Southern California and I’m looking forward to the summer months, especially as we start to come out of the Pandemic.

As things start to open up, work will start to flow, especially for creatives.

If you’re like me, the temptation will be great to say YES to ALL of the work!

What if saying yes to everything isn’t the best move for us in the long run? That is the subject of this week’s newsletter.

I hope this helps you make decisions about the work that is soon to come your way.


Resist The Urge To Take Every Gig After The Pandemic

I remember distinctly having an “opportunity” to perform in a local opera orchestra at the beginning of my master’s degree. At the age of 22, I had just moved into the area so the opportunity to pick up some work was especially exciting to me as it helped me build a network in the rather large South-Eastern Michigan, professional music scene. The personnel manager for the orchestra in which I was to perform gave me a call and offered me $500 for the work. At the time, it seemed like a great deal. (heck, even today, I’d think about taking the opportunity.) I gladly accepted the job.

The rehearsals (all four of them) and the performances (all four of them) occurred over an hour away which meant that, in addition to four 2.5 hour rehearsals and four 2.5 hour performances, I had a two-hour commute to and from each service. My original estimate of 20 hours for the work turned into 36 hours of my time with my commute. When it was all said and done, I put in countless hours of time and energy in order to earn $13 an hour.

I enjoyed (needed) the money and $13 an hour was still technically a good salary but there were two glaring problems behind my decision:

  1. The pursuit of the work involved way more time than I should have been spending in pursuit of my art.
  2. I was inextricably connecting my payment for work to something I was supposed to love (playing professionally), even though the opportunity was more work than artistic output.

Like my budding career as a bassoonist, a career in the gig economy can be a challenge when the work is unsatisfying but you have to take every opportunity that comes to pay the bills. Ultimately, this takes you away from the things you love most, including your creative pursuits and family.

For those of you working in the gig economy as creatives, the next six months will test your ability to make good decisions about what work to take on, especially when so many of us have gone without work for so long.

Action Steps To Help You Navigate The Gig Economy After The Pandemic

  1. Don’t take every job that comes your way. All work in the gig economy is not created equal. I often hear from people that the most frustrating work is work that compromises their career values.

    Action Step: Before you accept work of any kind, make certain that you can check off at least three of the four boxes below. If not, pass on the work, no matter how tempting it may be.
    1. Is the work meaningful to you?
    2. Will the work help you reach your financial goals?
    3. If you take on this work, will you continue to have work/life balance?
    4. Does this work enable you to move towards accomplishing your career goals in the next 2-3 years?

  2. Let go of the scarcity mindset, AKA, JUST SAY NO! I remember being fearful that every gig I took might be my last, so I took them all. That mindset came at the expense of my sanity.

    Action Step: Over the next few months as we come out of the pandemic, be strategic and make yourself turn down at least one work opportunity that doesn’t align with your financial and/or career goals.
  3. Consider the economics of executing your work. Let’s say that a company hires you for some consulting work and they are located an hour away. The compensation they offer you for three, one-hour site visits, and a written strategy report is $500. At face value, this seems great. $500 for ten hours of work (three hours of face-to-face time, plus seven hours to write up the report) is $50 an hour. However, when you account for travel, research, meals on the road, and gas, the rate quickly goes down. Here’s a hypothetical break down:

    a. Hours in face-to-face meetings: 3
    b. Hours on the road: 6
    c. Hours of research for the project:4
    d. Hours crafting the report: 3
    TOTAL hours spent on the gig: 16

    e. Amount spent on gas: $50
    f. Amount spent on food: $40
    TOTAL amount spent on all expenses: $90

    $500 payment – $90 in expenses = $410

    TOTAL: $410/16 hours = $26 dollars an hour

    Action Step: Use the formula above and consider a threshold for the minimum you would need to make in order to commit to the flexible work being offered. I like to have an hourly rate in my head before I take on every job. If, after negotiating the initial offer, the number is below my threshold, I say no to the work.
  4. Don’t define your career by the percentage of income you make in your specific field. I think there is a misconception that, in order to be a successful worker in the gig economy, individuals must be working in their sector 100% of the time for 100% of their income. If a gig economy career is the objective, throw that idea out the window. Looking at our example above, I can think of several things I could do in order to make more than $26 an hour.

    Action Step: Take 30 minutes and break down every instance where you get paid. Remember, you’re looking for balance. Your goal is to identify areas where you make more money in less time and pursue that work more deeply.


  • How To Make The Most Out Of Your Time And Life: My most productive weeks happen when I set clear goals for what I would like to accomplish during a given time. Setting clear boundaries and expectations for myself always helps me tackle my big projects. In this post, author Nir Eyal states that “Highly productive people have a limited, focused list of what they want to accomplish and allocate time accordingly.” The article has a number of fantastic tips for staying focused, check it out!
  • How To Price Freelance Projects: Speaking of the Gig Economy, one of the biggest challenges I face as a consultant and artist is knowing how much I should charge when I’m hired for work. Luckily, I stumbled upon this fantastic Twitter thread that lays out everything you need to know when figuring out how to price your projects.
  • How To Work In Beer Mode Or Coffee Mode: Admittedly, beer and coffee have been two staples that helped me survive this pandemic. What I love about David Perell’s essay is how beautifully he defines the work we are doing in each mode. “Beer mode is a state of unfocused play where you discover new ideas. In contrast, coffee mode is a state of focus where you work towards a specific outcome.” While I love both modes, I will say that I tend to lean towards beer mode most often in my work.
  • Stop Doing Low-Value Work: One of the reasons I burn myself out is that I take on too much work that isn’t worth my time because I’m scared the phone will stop ringing. As we come out of this pandemic, use the time to redefine the type of work you will take on, especially since many of you face the prospect of new work on the horizon. Pricilla Claman created a fantastic post about strategies you can take to reduce low-value work in your life.
  • Let Algorithms Make Your Life Decisions: Instead of coming up with the perfect plan for your work and life flow, maybe you should simply let a computer tell you what you should do next, like this guy.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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