The Arts Nonprofit Career: How High Will You Choose to Fly?

Flying too high or low?
Flying too high or low?

The majority of my life’s service – practically since the age of five – has been devoted to the performing arts and education professions. When you’ve been doing something as long as I have (thirty years), why would I consider doing anything else?

Oh, so many reasons! But then, fear.

Story continues below.

Not straying away from expectation and allowing fear to take hold can keep you stuck; dead in your tracks.

I’ve been lingering in this “stuck” place professionally for quite a while. Settling for very little – creatively, financially, emotionally, morally – in order to feel “safe” having the full-time “secure” 9-5 job with benefits isn’t always everything it’s cracked up to be. I’ve become complacent, lazy and whiny all while silently screaming and internally rolling my eyes about the goings-on in my field.

Enough is enough.

The Icarus Deception

Story continues below.

In January I decided it was time to stop spinning this unsustainable, unhealthy wheel. The timing of my internal pep talk and finding Seth Godin’s latest book The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? couldn’t have been more serendipitous. Godin claims that the industrial revolution set us up to conform to traditional career paths, to never stray away from the norm, to do what is expected and as you’re told.

Since I’m at heart an artist, I never really viewed my career in the arts non-profit sector as an industrialized profession, but The Icarus Deception has completely revolutionized how I view my current situation. I’m working for a broken machine.

Story continues below.

Whether we identify ourselves as artists or not, innately we all have the potential to be artists. Anybody has the ability to create meaningful things, find nontraditional kinds of work (and failing a lot along the way is okay – this makes me feel better already), while many of us choose to be safe and stick with the plan. With Godin’s nudging I now recognize my plan, the expectation I had moving up the almighty arts and education non-profit ladder, no longer feels right.

The world is changing. I’ve been flying way too low and in the wrong direction.

Godin writes:

Story continues below.

Flying too high or low?
Flying too high or low?

It’s far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low. We settle for low expectations and small dreams and guarantee ourselves less than we are capable of. By flying too low, we shortchange not only ourselves but also those who depend on us or might benefit from our work. We’re so obsessed about the risk of shining brightly that we’ve traded in everything that matters to avoid it…The safety zone has changed, but your conform zone has not. Those places that felt safe – the corner office, the famous college, the secure job – aren’t. You’re holding back, betting on a return to normal, but in the new normal, your resistance to change is no longer helpful.

Months of an exhaustive job search that ultimately led to dead ends was the “shining brightly” sign I couldn’t quite see. Life was trying to tell me something, steering me in a new direction. I wasn’t listening – until now.

Story continues below.

Be direct, put yourself out there and own it.

Through my freelance blogging and a slight addiction to Twitter, communities in technology, social media and the entrepreneurial startup has become my playground. I feel like I’m back in the 7th grade when I moved to a new school, didn’t know a single person and longed to sit at the cool kids’ lunch table. This time the cool kids are ten years younger, but I could care less because I’m learning how to fly a different way.

Exhilarating and completely terrifying.

Story continues below.

Recently on a day filled with frustration about my current professional situation (for which I now refer to as my professional transition) I decided to type a few thoughts into my iPhone entitled:

What I want TODAY: Experiences that…

More time for play
More time for play
  • sustain me creatively, intellectually and empower me to be my best self every day
  • provide open collaboration with other like-minded competent, creative, innovative and grounded communities
  • provide an outlet for greater communication, a place where I’m constantly storytelling and interacting with people for the purpose of greater social good
  • are forward thinking in philosophy, integrate technology and are open to this constantly evolving and ever changing world
  • financially support my needs, provides opportunity to invest in my future, I no longer feel the daily anxiety of financial worry, of not having enough
  • provide flexibility throughout my day, time and space to write and play

Nobody else is going to do it for you.

When the Aha revelation appeared that I was indeed headed in the wrong direction there was an immediate sense of relief. In the past, when instinct spoke to me loud and clear I often chose to ignore the call. As a result, I’ve made some seriously dumb moves both personally and professionally. By making the choice to be curious and listen to the inner voice, this time I’m flying my way hopefully headed in the right direction.