Here’s a great article by Caitlin Kelly on how the current economy is affecting many of us.

Broadside

It’s not just lawyers who are hurting  — 7,500 of them surplus in 2009 in New York alone.

Or older men.

Or those who used to work in manufacturing.

The “creative class” is as well.

Those working in photography, architecture and graphic design have seen a 20 to 30 percent drop in employment, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Since August 2002, those working in the music field have seen their work opportunities plummet by a staggering 45.3%.

“The story has really not been told,” Scott Timberg, an arts and culture writer in Los Angeles said to host Kurt Andersen on the weekly public radio show Studio 360, which examines all forms of culture. “They don’t always have a tattoo or beret.  They’re like Canadians, among us secretly, silently and invisibly.”

“A life in the arts…means giving up riches, making a trade-off to do something they’re passionate about,” Timberg…

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What’s Fun About Starting Over?

What’s fun about starting over?

One of the addictive qualities of computer solitaire card games like free cell (included with the Windows operating system) is that you can replay the same hand until you get it right—if you want, you can have another chance with the same cards, a chance to learn directly from your prior mistakes.

This leads many people to replay their free cell hands over and over until they win.   When I first learned the game, someone told me that every hand could be won if approached correctly.  So whenever I lost, I would immediately replay the same hand as many times as necessary in order to win it.

(There are apparently a few unwinnable hands, but winning is still almost always possible if you play it right.)

But here is the interesting part:  No one is standing over us requiring that we replay a hand we just “lost.”  We just “failed,” so why aren’t we discouraged?  We willingly take on the challenge because we still expect that we can win.  Surely we will do better now that we know how much we’re going to need that red 8.

The other huge difference is that in free cell, the stakes are low and we are playing a game.  Our emotions aren’t involved as strongly as when we are making more consequential decisions.  We feel playful and we enjoy the challenge of figuring something out, so it’s fun.

Back in the 1970s, I worked in the Yale Psychology Department with Professor Irving Janis who did research on decision making.   (He coined the term “groupthink” in his analyses of the Cuban missile crisis and other incidents of faulty decision-making by policy makers.  He also studied adherence to personal decisions where following through was difficult, such as deciding to lose weight or quit smoking.)

Professor Janis and Professor Robert Abelson (another member of the department) used to talk about “hot cognitive processes” by which they meant the difference in decision-making on issues in which one was emotionally involved vs. those which were purely questions of logic.  (Before that, much of the academic research on decision-making had assumed that our decisions were made as Spock on Star Trek would have made them, which had resulted in a fair amount of work on decisions that were essentially trivial.)

Starting over in real life is a hot cognitive process!  It’s an understatement to say that there are often significant feelings attached.

If we are starting over in building a relationship, unresolved feelings from prior relationships are just waiting to show themselves.   If we have been fired or laid off from a job, a part of our new job search has to include managing the feelings we have about our previous work experience and how we were treated.  Otherwise we risk answering interview questions in ways that hurt our chances of creating a new opportunity.  If we are working toward regaining our health after a threatening illness, our feelings about having been vulnerable are part of the baggage we carry into our new health regimens.

None of this sounds like fun.  But if our goal is to have more fun more of the time, how can we apply that approach here?

The world keeps changing under our feet.  And the pace of change appears to be accelerating.  Many of us are going to have to start over numerous times during our lives.  (This blog is part of a new chapter for me.)  What helps make it fun when we are starting over?

Talking things out with a good listener who really pays attention makes a tremendous difference.  With someone who knows how good you are and isn’t upset by what you are discussing, burdensome feelings can lift and very serious matters can suddenly seem hysterically funny.   Sentences like “there go ten years I’ll never have again,”  “it’s only my career,” or just “I’m still here” can seem sad one minute and like the funniest joke in the world the next.

I wish I could actually hang out with you and listen to you and let you experience what I mean, but you probably already know.  Feeling connected to someone else who “gets” us is enormously reassuring.  Letting the wind blow through some of our feelings of failure and frustration makes everything start to look a little different.  It loosens up our thinking so that we become more flexible and more able to respond in a fresh way to whatever comes up.  Little mammals and little children play as a way of learning about how the world works and how they can affect what happens.  When we become a bit more playful, it helps us too.

We can choose a light and kind touch in what we say to ourselves.  So long as we’re not weighed down by disappointment and discouragement, starting over can be great fun.  A new world of possibilities awaits us.  As with playing free cell, here’s another chance to get it right.

Paying Taxes

What’s fun about paying taxes?

I recently spent a surprisingly enjoyable couple of hours meeting with my accountant to file my taxes.  Given the terrible press usually associated with taxpaying and my personal goal of examining everything through the lens of fun, this struck me as too good an experience to ignore!

What made our tax visit fun?  Jokes.  A congenial atmosphere between us.  He was hassled (duh – it’s tax season!), he complained about it loudly and enthusiastically, we both laughed a lot, and that set the tone.   We have done this tax filing process together for the past dozen years and have a pretty good idea of how to proceed.  The sheer reality of cooperation and teamwork was enjoyable.  Little quips here and there kept us in a good balance between work and play modes.

Later on, as I was trying over and over again to understand how the various figures fit together, I argued that this couldn’t be right, since business in general was down and therefore our taxes should also go down – a lot.  I ended up asking what he assures me is the every-day question in the tax preparation business: “how can I owe this much?”

So it wasn’t fun because I am wealthy or didn’t owe anything, or enjoy watching my bank balance drop before my eyes.  It was fun because of a working relationship, our senses of humor, and our unspoken agreement about being able to argue about facts and ideas without being angry at each other.  It was fun because we like each other.  We would never hang out socially, it’s a totally professional relationship, but we like each other and cooperate easily.

On a personal level, it can also be fun to get more of a hold on where our money has gone.  Even if it’s only for a few days a year, we get to notice the big picture of what we are taking in and what we are spending.   On a more meta level, it could be fun to consider how our resources are going to be used when they leave our hands, but it’s hard for most of us to get our minds around the numbers that are often involved in discussions of governmental spending.  As individuals, we feel relatively powerless to affect choices about the national budget.  We each carry a world of strong emotions stemming from our own relationships to money.  Whether we have struggled hard all our lives to make ends meet or have grown up thinking that we deserve more than other people, simply because we have always had more than others around us, we are all trying to punch our way through our early conditioning to a clearer view of reality about this resource called money.

What’s fun about paying taxes?  Finding people you can joke about money and taxes with, having some laughs, and keeping your brains in gear at the same time.  Just holding out the possibility that even paying taxes can be fun can make a difference.   We have to pay them either way, so we may as well enjoy the scenery.

Now come on and comment.  Write some “smart remarks” and give us all a smile!

Serial Patchwork Employment (We’re all playing single dates now.)

What’s fun about serial patchwork employment?  (We’re all playing single dates now.)

Musicians know that diverse sources of work are often needed in order to make ends meet.  The rest of the world seems to be catching on to this now.   Many career coaches advise that each person consider themselves the CEO of their own company.  This may be a stretch, since many people don’t feel very similar to a CEO in many areas of their lives.  It’s more useful to say that the current realities of economic uncertainty and free-lance casual employment make everyone a gig player.

Musicians create a patchwork of “gigs,” many of which may be single date engagements  (my main source of income for many years).  The musician’s patchwork can include playing concerts with a band or orchestra, teaching classes or lessons, performing in bars or for social events, selling or servicing equipment, writing arrangements, recording, DJ-ing, or doing other forms of musical work. Musicians may also have “day jobs” involved with technology or computers, since there is a natural carry-over of skills between music and these fields.

The tremendous range of activities is part of what makes this fun.  We may not get rich, but the variety keeps it interesting and engages us on many different levels.

Gigging experience is going to be relevant to more and more people if current trends persist. The old model of security with one company until you retire is something only the older ones of us even remember.  If all of us are journeymen now, what can we learn about fun from musicians, the people who have been patching it together all along?

1.  Transferable Skills – Gig players have a certain body of skills that we constantly maintain or add to, which equip us to step into many situations competently.  The situations constantly change, but the underlying skills remain, and a professional gigger is usually a great deal better at adapting to new situations than a lay person will be.

For musicians, there is basic repertoire to know, basic patterns that exist within various styles of music, skills such as sight-reading, having “good ears,” or getting into a groove with others, that equip you to hit the ground running.  With these basics, a pro can often play well with others, even with little or no rehearsal.  There’s a certain sense of scrambling sometimes, but it can be fun and even exhilarating, so long as you aren’t drastically outside your own comfort and competence zone.  And when things get rough, the knowledge that “this too shall pass – and it’s gonna be a great story later!” helps keep it fun.

2.  Responsibility, professionalism, and playing your position – Just as in so many other areas of life, responsibility and professionalism, combined with a sense of humor, make someone a welcome presence on the bandstand.  As in many team sports, the understanding of one’s position and the physical and mental ability to play it well are crucial.  It’s important to be able to step up and take center stage when appropriate and yet remain a team player and not take up too much space when it’s not your moment to do so.

3.  Playing well with others – The level of cooperation that musicians usually engage in while playing together makes gigging fun.  The sense of being “a band” is a wonderful contradiction to the isolation that free-lancers can feel when they are not working (and that many of us can feel simply because of how our lives are organized).  A good leader promotes this group spirit, but sometimes a “bad” leader brings the team together too, as the musicians unite and joke about his or her counterproductive behaviors!

4.  Work breeds work– To keep a full calendar of single dates, we need a large number of referral sources and good word-of-mouth, both from clients and from others in our own fields.  If we “come to play” on every gig, our network will see and hear that.  Likewise when we see or hear others doing something well, we want to support them.

The two most meaningful forms of support for artists are being knocked out by their work and helping them get access to other paying gigs.   We never know where the next opportunity will come from, but work breeds work, both for ourselves and for others.  As supportive members of our extended communities, we can pay this forward and help keep this wheel turning for ourselves and for those we respect and admire.

One way to prepare ourselves for the world of work we’ll face in the future is to expect that we are all going to play many gigs in our lifetimes, patching our work together one piece at a time.

What basics are needed in order for someone to have a possibility of connecting with people, getting work, and having fun in your world?