The Myth of Doing What You Want
October 3rd, 2016
“I just want to do what I want.” Of course you do.
“I don’t want to spend all day in a cubicle answering to someone else.” Who does?
“I know best.” Yup, we’ve heard that one too.
Entrepreneurs often don’t have a lot of patience for administration and bureaucracy. They tend to favor autonomy, fast results, and few roadblocks. They don’t mind navigating the politics of an existing system (too much), but there are certainly other things they’d rather do.
Think about how you spend your time each week: How many hours do you spend in your studio? How many hours do you spend refining a deliverable? How many hours do you spend practicing scales or working on technique or stretching and strengthening? Even if we count all of those hours as “creative” hours (and really, there’s an argument to be made that some of them are “administratively creative”), there’s still a massive list of non-creative tasks that support your creative career.
How many emails did you return? How many funding applications did you complete? How many hours did you spend updating your CV or resume? How many hours did you spend editing your artist statement or program notes or performance information? How many hours did you spend polishing? How many hours did you spend building your list of allies, supporters, partners, and customers? How many tweets did you post? How many Instagram images did you share? How many times did you engage with the online community that loves your work?
Chances are, the answer to those questions isn’t zero. (And if it is, we should have an entirely different conversation.) If you really start to track and measure your time, you may find that you spend somewhere between 50% and 60% of your time in any given week on these administrative tasks, not the actual creative tasks you pursued your passion to do.
And that’s okay. You’re not alone.
Most of us spend a portion of time working in our chosen field (i.e., creative time) and another portion of time working on our chosen field (i.e., administrative time). We’ve observed that In any given week, creative entrepreneurs, particularly those in relatively early stages of creative careers, will likely spend 50-60% of total time on the administration of the business, rather than the actual business.
We just don’t talk about the administration a lot. (And if you follow us online or read our work or interview us for articles, chances are we’ll talk about the creative work, not the administrative work. Who wants to read about administrative work?)
But that doesn’t mean the administrative work doesn’t happen. It has to. Otherwise, there will be nothing to support the creative work. Without soliciting funding or building a community of support, there will be no diversified revenue streams to fund creativity. Without updating the written summary of our work, the message won’t be shared more broadly. Without engaging with our community online, we’ll forget that our work exists as part of a larger conversation. Without returning emails, we’ll lack professionalism and probably miss opportunities.
The irony of entrepreneurship is that very little of it is “doing what you want.” Oh sure, it involves laying solid groundwork and building a foundation for “doing what you want” over the long run, and more than a small portion of work each week is filled with total and complete bliss. But when it isn’t blissful (read: most of the time), it is tiresome. It is administrative.
The trick is to accept that administrative time is part of building a sustainable creative existence. Then plan for it, and do it really, really well. It is through administering well and managing well that we actually start to do less administration. Administrative tasks never go away, but we can find efficiencies to spend less time on them. And less time administering means more time on the creative work we find most fulfilling.
And that really is doing what we want.