On Satisfaction and Work
ON SATISFACTION AND WORK
Maria Askew offers The Quarter Club advice on satisfaction and work, based on her own discoveries as a self-employed artist. Maria is a performer, writer, teacher and director of Superbolt Theatre. She is currently a visiting lecturer at London Metropolitan University and is developing Superbolt’s award-winning show Dinosaur Park, which opens in London in January.
ADVICE FOR FREELANCERS
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style” – Maya Angelou
Being self-employed or working as a creative freelancer can be an intensely satisfying way of working, but it can also be difficult, uncertain and isolating. Not being a full-time employee of an organisation can mean you find yourself lacking structure, stability and human support. Yet having a flexible schedule and doing something you are truly passionate about is a luxury that not everybody is able to have, even if they wanted to. My work has exposed me to many environments, people and ideas I would never otherwise have experienced. It has demanded that I be brave, resilient, confident and adaptable. Here is my advice on satisfaction and work based on my discoveries so far.
Identify ‘being useful to others’ as a key motivation in your work and place it at the heart of what you do. You can interpret this in countless ways and apply it on a variety of levels. Take the time to consider why you are doing what you are doing and reflect on its impact on others. Sometimes being useful might actually mean not doing something that has negative repercussions. Assuming responsibility as part of a collective humanity and contributing positively to others locally and/or on a global scale can help you to develop a sense of purpose that makes challenges worth overcoming and keeps you motivated. Being useful can help counter negative feelings such as those of futility or emptiness common to society today and is key to developing a sense of deep-rooted satisfaction.
Approach your work with a philosophy of collaboration over competition. This might seem to contradict aspects of the education you have received or the capitalist structure you work in where emphasis is often placed on individual success and financial competition, but the notion of “every man for himself” has proved deeply problematic, perpetuating wealth inequality and leaving many people feeling isolated and unsupported. By transcending this notion it is possible to find yourself navigating a kinder, more provocative and ultimately more productive shared space. Reach out to other freelancers and people in your field, meet them for coffee, chat through ideas, work on projects together. Share your own plans, concerns and revelations generously.
Evidently, if you make your plans known, you are far more likely to meet people who want to collaborate with you. Being open rather than fearful or overprotective of your own projects can help you to be calmer and more enthusiastic about your work, and give you a sense of being part of something larger than yourself. Sometimes you might feel like you don’t fit into standardised ideas of how you are supposed to work and live (you are not the only one with this feeling, we are more complex than a statistic or a character in a Disney movie), and it is through speaking out and offering alternative narratives that over-simplified perceptions can be deconstructed. Sharing your story might make a huge difference to someone else who has been struggling. Supporting other people’s work will lead to people supporting yours. Sharing and collaborating can combat feelings of loneliness and leave you feeling more excited, inspired and satisfied.
Your professional life does not exist in a vacuum (and with freelancers especially the lines between when you are working and when you are not are often blurred) so for complete satisfaction it is helpful to consider your overall outlook and lifestyle beyond that of your work life. There is a lot of advice out there on living well, some of it very useful, but take care that the opinions of others do not make you feel anxious about the way you are living your life currently. It is easy to criticise ways of life that differ greatly from our own, but everyone’s circumstances are different and what works for one person does not necessarily apply to someone else. You will figure out what works for you.
Ultimately, learning to accept what is, regardless of your level of success or life situation, is a great way to ensure long-lasting satisfaction. I am not saying you shouldn’t care about things or try to initiate change (go for it, be passionate!), rather it is about finding a calm, accepting state from where everything else can unfold. If you can live in the present and embrace the reality of each moment then you will not be relying on external factors, people or achievements, in order to feel complete. They will be adding to your enjoyment, not controlling your well-being or giving you your sense of self.
There are some good books and apps out there that can help you to mediate your way to this point and simply being aware of this idea can be helpful. You are not defined by your work, so cherish every moment, whether you are doing laundry or holding a loved one. Take care of your body and be physically engaged, remember you are not just a walking brain. Leave enough space in your schedule for a good night’s sleep (but if you can’t sleep don’t worry about it- it is still totally possible to nail an interview / give a great talk/ perform a show on 0 – 4 hrs). Discover new people and places. Be curious and brave in your explorations. Have meaningful conversations. Have times when you don’t check your phone. Learn to enjoy being by yourself. Read. Spend time with the people you love, the people who revitalise and inspire you. Do things because they are fun. Laugh.