Wear Real Pants

Real writers wear colorful blouses. I thought.

Real writers wear colorful blouses. I thought.

When I was first drafting my first book, I had a “writing outfit.” I loved wearing it during the writing hours I carved out of my schedule. I loved wearing it on non-writing days to remind me that I had something else in the works, even if I wasn’t actually working on it.

 

It was the professorial equivalent of what I imagined successful writers wore. It included beautifully tailored long black pants, a blouse with just enough color, and a jet-black cardigan.  There were also high heels involved, for obvious reasons.

 

It made me feel like what I imagined a writer felt like: Professional, but not too professional (certainly no suits), comfortable, but not too comfortable (no pajamas either). Dressing the part made me feel like I actually made sense playing the part, even if my insecurities railed at every turn.

 

I imagined others could perceive me as a writer. How could they not? In my own mind’s eye, I looked exactly like a successful writer.

 

The truth is no one cared. No one who saw me hard at work in a coffee shop thought I was a writer. No one who saw me anywhere gave me a second thought. Everyone else was too busy with their own lives, insecurities, tasks, and perceptions to care about my own.

 

But even if I pretended I was wearing my writer’s outfit so others could identify me as a writer, the truth is I was wearing it so I could. I set high expectations in my own brain, and dutifully my body helped me fulfill them. I looked like a writer, so surely I should be writing. I looked like a successful writer, so surely what I wrote was good. It was useful. It was accomplishing what I wanted it to accomplish.

 

It started as a trick for my own self; but it didn’t end that way. It ended with fulfillment. I was writing. I was really doing it!

 

It felt amazing.

 

I remember that feeling with some regularity, especially when I’d rather wear pajamas all day. Wearing pajamas doesn’t make me feel successful. It certainly doesn’t make me feel professorial. I tell myself I do my best work when I’m not in a stuffy, uncomfortable outfit; but the alternative doesn’t have to be pajamas.

 

We’ve gotten remarkably good at dressing comfortably. Thank goodness. As corporate environments have relaxed their dress codes, we are no longer required to wear suits or garments that misalign our outsides with our insides. Once upon a time in another lifetime, I relished the chance to wear jeans to work on Fridays, a “privilege” the leaders of the patriarchy were reluctant to bestow on us crazy vagabonds who almost certainly were more concerned with our own well being than the firm’s. And of course, we weren’t permitted to wear jeans every Friday; that would be crazy. On some Fridays under certain circumstances because we were very lucky, we could wear jeans. You’re welcome, they told us.

 

Now years later, in a slightly different context, I wear jeans regularly and professionally. Neither my work nor my clients’ perceptions of me are hurt. In fact, I suspect they are helped. My outward appearance reflected the work I was trying to do authentically and comfortably. I gave my work the respect it deserved, and I felt good doing it.

 

There was an article floating around the Internet not too long ago with a few tips for coping with a bad day. “Have you pet something furry?” the article asked. “When is the last time you got a bit of fresh air?” “When did you last exercise?” All valid tips for resetting what otherwise might be a less-than-pleasant day.

 

But my favorite, by far, was “Are you wearing real pants?”

 

By dressing for the part—and yes, wearing real pants—we trick our brains and our bodies into exceeding our own expectations. We treat our activities each day with the respect they deserve. Whatever we’re doing deserves real pants.

 

Painting in the studio requires real pants, and certainly some precautions to protect our garments. Rehearsing a piece requires comfortable garments, and yes, real pants. Editing our own work requires a professionalism and respect for the process we might otherwise minimize. Updating our websites and CVs, checking our bank balances, revisiting our record-keeping systems, and even building our budgets are all vital tasks to running a successful business.

 

They deserve real pants.

 

“Real pants” don’t have to be tailored, uncomfortable pants associated with a formality that doesn’t work with our industries. But it should be something more than pajama pants. And perhaps by matching our outward appearance with the professionalism those tasks demand, we’ll be more apt to finish them quickly. We’ll complete them well. We’ll give them the attention they deserve.

 

And the sooner we do that, the sooner we can get back to our pajamas.

 

Community Connections

The below post was written by Elaine for the Clark Hulings Fund’s blog and it was originally published in December 2015. Elaine is a quarterly contributor to the Fund’s online publication.

 

Kinfolk Issue 18

Kinfolk Issue 18

Working in the arts comes with some pretty fantastic perks, not least of which is being surrounded by incredible professionals doing incredible things. There is a shared sense of civility among those of us in creative spaces that I completely adore. There is value beyond our physical exertions. We emphasize our citizenry in addition to our creativity.

 

We are a community.

 

“Community” is derived, not surprisingly, from Old French comunité and Latin communitatem, both meaning “everybody” or “society, friendly intercourse, affability.” There is a spirit of togetherness that runs through the word, both in its history and in its use.

 

I find the notion of community particularly compelling now, in light of world events and the shared response and support to those events. The world, at its best, is a community in action.

 

In reading this quarter’s edition of Kinfolk magazine (Issue 18) I counted 73 uses of the word “community.” Perhaps I was primed to watch for it; perhaps this issue, which focused on creativity and design (two fields where community reigns supreme), would naturally contain liberal use of the word; perhaps simply the holiday season encourages us to yearn for community around us. There were 157 pages in total within the issue. Seventy-three uses of a word on 157 pages—nearly half of which only contained images—is absolutely delightful.

 

As I was counting words, I noticed related words appearing more than once.

 

Comfort is a “feeling of relief,” also derived from Old French. Our communities can be a source of comfort.

 

Commit is to “unite, connect, or combine,” derived from Latin. Our communities unite us. Our challenges unite us. Our successes unite us.

 

Are you sensing a theme? “Com” is the part that unites us, that brings us together.

 

I was delighted to notice this uniting theme in words extend to business settings as well. Because business themes, knowledge, and expertise is useful when shared with a community. In isolation, it is considerably less useful. It is lonely.

 

Commission is “authority entrusted to someone,” derived from Latin. The commissioning of a work or a task can build community, especially among unrelated parties, say for example a commissioner and an artist. They may share a common language, but they have uncommon ways of expressing that language.

 

Commodity started as a benefit (Middle French), then it evolved to be a convenient or useful product.

 

A company (Old French) is a “large group of people, a society, or a friendship.” The origin differs from the disparaging way in which we sometimes refer to companies, especially those from whom our values differ. The foundation is with people. And people have—at least—our shared species in common.

 

Competition (Latin) began as a “contest for something, a rivalry.” Only later did it become a noun to describe those against whom we compete in business (1961).

 

Complex (French) means “of many parts.” Building communities can be complex; mastering business tasks can be complex. But that simply means there is a lot going on. There are many parts. Those individual parts aren’t necessarily any more challenging than a complex piece of art, which is also comprised of many parts.

 

Our communities can help us break down the complexity of the unfamiliar. And build familiarity and common knowledge in the process.

 

The word “community” and its related words are indeed common (Old French, belonging to all). And that is fitting isn’t it? The common nature of these themes reflects both our craving for community and our need to describe it… and its absence.

 

We communicate information by way of expressing our thoughts and ideas with each other. We don’t even need words to communicate. Our art can do that too.

 

Art and business transcend language, especially when either is done really well, to make a common point, understood by all. Both impart information. Both originate with people. They have a common root.

 

We can embrace this common root as we incorporate business practices into our studios. By recognizing the shared foundation of business and art—people coming together—the two seem less divergent.

 

Of course we can consider creative ways to plan financially, including budgeting to ensure our creative, personal, and professional goals are met.

 

Screen shot 2015-11-29 at 7.26.51 PMIn fact, the best budgeting processes begin with goals. As I’ve described in other settings (like the Artistic Budgeting podcast from College Art Association and in Arts & Numbers), the foundation of a successful budget is a goal. The first step of the budget process is to identify the parameters of the budget. What are you budgeting? What is the time frame? What is the budget’s goal? As long as it connects to something that matters to you—within your studio practice or in your life more broadly—the budget shares a common foundation with your creativity.

 

It exists in support of your creativity, rather than in opposition to it.

 

And as anyone with any experience in community cultivation knows, common ground—any common ground—can be the foundation on which to collaborate in support of some shared goal, big or small.

 

Our families are communities because we share a history, and sometimes DNA. Our friends form our community based on shared interests and experiences. Our colleagues make up a community because of shared appreciation, shared knowledge, and sometimes shared values.

 

By acknowledging the value of community, both in business and in creativity, we can take very real, concrete steps to prioritize this value within our budgets.

 

The second and third steps in the budget process are to list the expenses (all of the expenses you can think of related to the parameters you identified in step 1) and quantify them (usually with a long break between steps two and three).

 

Listing the obvious expenses is easy: Studio rent, utilities, supplies, insurance, marketing, web hosting, etc. Once we starting thinking about community, though, we identify additional expenses that might be less obvious.

 

Do we pay to participate in certain organizations, professional communities, at a national or local level? Do we pay to attend certain events in support of our community? Do we share meals or coffees with members of our community, fostering that community and cementing its impact over a latte? Do we contribute to others in the community by purchasing work? Do we collaborate on shared promotional endeavors? Do we attend classes to build our knowledge and our communities of learners?

 

These potential expenses connect to the idea of community, and they come with a financial cost (usually) as well. By including these line items in our budget, we are best aligning our communal values with our financial expenditures.

 

Our communities can help budget as well. It is from our communities of support that we learn tremendous amounts of knowledge. Is membership in that particular organization worthwhile? Do you derive value from this particular marketing strategy? Did you have success at this festival last year? Would you want to split the cost of a booth?

 

This shared knowledge and common language makes the budgeting process easier. We don’t have to rely solely on our own knowledge and experience to make value judgments about our expenditures. We can draw upon the common expertise of our community to inform our choices.

 

We can even draw upon the common expertise of our community to improve our budgets. A set of fresh eyes on a budget—particularly during Step 5 “Make it work”—can be a source of creativity. What have we forgotten to include? What optimistic assumptions have we made? How do our budgets align with others’ budgets within our communities?

 

Building a community budget group—a small group of four or five artists to help keep each other on track when it comes to building, editing, and sticking to a budget—is a delightful use of a community.

 

And there’s an added benefit (beyond a functioning budget) as well.

 

Supporting our creative community is good for our own business. Supporting each other is good for our own studios. Not only can such support inspire creativity; there is a very real, personal connection that comes from engaging with our community, even if we engage with them around an arduous task, like budgeting.

 

The community fills us up with good feelings.

 

And in fact, the word complement (Old French) means to fill up. It shares a common root as well. That is indeed what community does for us. It fills us up, fuels our creativity and supports those around us (both literally and figuratively).

 

So as we embrace the end of this common year, one that has been full of worldwide ups and downs, let us embrace our shared community and use it to our own, shared financial advantage.

 

For it is within this community that complex conversations become simpler, even if the solutions remain elusive; competitors become supporters, even if the common ground is hard to see; and divergent ideas find common ground. Even common financial ground.

 

For Further Reading

Artistic Budgeting podcast from College Art Association (January 2013) 

Kinfolk is a slow lifestyle magazine published quarterly by Ouur (Issue 18)

 

Put This Into Practice

Budgeting Basics | $49

Part of the STARTING SMART online learning series from Minerva Financial Arts