Over the years, I’ve interviewed many people for Creative Liberty about their creative habits and how they maintain a life that allows creative flourishing. I’ve also pondered the fate of the artist at work – that intersection of making art and making a living. However, when I saw that Pamela Slim was coming out with her new book Body of Work, I immediately sent off a request for an interview, because I could tell this was a book that would bridge the gap some of us experience between flourishing in our creative discipline and feeling like we are crafting a successful career.
I posted a review of the book a few days ago, and it’s well worth the read. At the end of December, Pamela and I had a lovely phone conversation. Here are some highlights from that interview.
Creative Liberty: Tell me how you came to write this book, and how it fits with the message of your first book.
Pam Slim: What I had noticed over the past 8 years since Escape from Cubicle Nation was published was that in working with early-stage entrepreneurs, there was a light and a dark side … People would end up believing that working for oneself was the only way to experience freedom, when I never put that forward. I was quite fond of my time in Corporate America…. In the new book, I wanted to open up the discussion about how to create our own security in a market that’s more uncertain than ever.
Creative Liberty: Although there’s plenty in the book that creative people can gain from, it’s not aimed entirely at artists and innovators. What parts of the book do you think will be most useful for creatives?
Pamela Slim: The most relevant chapters are Chapter 5, on creativity; Chapter 7, on collaboration; and Chapter 9, on selling your story.
For entrepreneurs, getting good at creating, and definitely getting good at getting your work shipped, is very important. Building a collaborative network is also important, especially if you’re moving into a new area. And everyone needs to improve their storytelling abilities. We all have to tell someone a story to convince them to work with us.
Creative Liberty: I especially liked the tip in the chapter on creativity and innovation that urged readers to “think like a scientist.” What did you mean by that and how can it help creative people?
Pamela Slim: When doing something new or creating from the heart, it’s easy to look at things in terms of success or failure … When we release our art into the world, it’s a sensitive time. If it doesn’t go well, it’s far healthier to take an objective view and ask, “I wonder what happened?” Other people may have succeeded because they had a huge platform of support, had a timely idea, or had more resources to pour into the launch of their work. When we’re able to look at a situation objectively, it’s possible to discover things that will help us be more successful next time.
Creative Liberty: You spend some time in the book discussing how to deal with the shame of failure. Why is this important for someone building a body of work?
Pamela Slim: The decision to include material on dealing with shame comes from the sort of work I do. I spend hours in heart to heart conversations with people [who are launching new ventures]. What people see of that process in public and on social media is an overview that skips many steps. It doesn’t show the weeks of time when we may have felt self-doubt, stuffing Oreos in our mouth and grappling with uncertainty.
For people who are unknown, it is part of the creative process to experience shame. If it’s not discussed, people beat themselves up more. … If we recognize it’s normal and we have ways to deal with it, that’s very important.
Creative Liberty: One of the things about the book’s focus that struck me as interesting is that it provides a platform for viewing service-oriented activities (social entrepreneurial projects or volunteering) as directly tied to our “body of work.” How do you think this is different from the status quo (the way we tend to view volunteer/service activities now), and how might this play out in the life of a creative person?
Pamela Slim: In the creative community, we have seen 2 extremes when it comes to this question – the starving artist who suffers joyfully for his or her art, but who must be broke to be any good, and the person who makes the choice to monetize everything.
In my chapter on the definition of success, I note that some people prefer to make an impact. Money isn’t really part of it. What’s important is that you focus on what’s important to you. … You need to decide what you require in order to feel successful, and then ask yourself how you are going to fund that. The person who should judge that is the person doing the creating – not me.
Creative Liberty: Is there anything else you’d like to share that’s relevant?
Pamela Slim: I’ve noticed that when I’ve presented the Body of Work perspective to clients, they’ve reacted with relief. In the entrepreneur’s world, there is too much focus on differentiating “work” (a full-time wage job) from startup ventures.
As the book is released, I am expecting some push-back from those representing traditional work paths. Recruiters may read it and say “I’m not going to be interested in hiring someone whose job history is all over the place, versus someone with a focused career path.” My response will be to point out how many fewer people have been able to pursue a focused path thanks to the economy, and how fewer people who are coming out of school today actually want that kind of path.
When you separate various types of work modes from the “traditional” path for a particular type of creation, people have choices. For example, to do an outdoor art installation, you can seek grants, do a crowdfunding campaign, or work on commission. It may be possible to do creative work within an organization – simply realizing that provides relief and support for many people.