One of the things I’ve been enjoying about Penelope Trunk’s blog is the way she defines what a good job is. It’s pretty simple, and it’s not about most of the things you’d think. (Let me just warn you now: this lady is a little crazy and calls Botox a “necessary career move” for most women. Suffice it to say, I don’t agree with everything she writes.) Reading her blog has helped me reflect on how much responsibility I have, and how much I want, in my work life.
Right now, I’m at a time in my life when I feel allergic to Responsibility — yes, I’m capitalizing it. The big, obvious reason for this is that my mother died four months ago. And nothing makes you feel like a Responsible Adult like permanently losing your mom. When my mom was sick, I was Responsible for planning my wedding pretty much by myself because, understandably, she was a little busy with chemo, radiation, and cancer. When my mom was in hospice, I spent a few weeks being Responsible for her pain meds. Now that she has passed, I can no longer call her to ask what the hell is up with my credit score, so I have to figure it out myself. I’m Responsible for figuring out how to carry my grief around in everyday life without scaring all my friends away. I’m Responsible for paying for therapy.
I guess you could say it’s been an extra-responsible couple of years for me.
So some regional orchestras have auditions coming up, and I’d like to take them. Tyler asked me the other day, “Why do you want to take these auditions?” It was a good question. I’ve often rejected orchestral work because it makes me feel like an automaton with no agency.
And then it hit me. I’d like some orchestral work because I want to feel like an automaton with no agency. Or, to put it more reasonably, I’d like to show up to work, get my paycheck, and leave.
The work I’ve sought out in my career so far has been very high-responsibility work. Starting your own ensemble certainly tops the list. We’re responsible for every facet of our organization, and each of us is essentially irreplaceable in our musical and administrative roles. Teaching is up there too: in each family that I work with, I’m sort of the Violin Guru — and if I must leave my student for whatever reason, it’s a major adjustment in their lives.
I love both of the jobs that I mentioned above. But grief has temporarily changed what I’m capable of and comfortable with. Now, like never before, there’s a part of me that wants someone to just tell me what to do, and pay me to do it. Luckily, I have a freelance career with flexibility, and I can bring this “yes, maestro” aspect of my career into balance with everything else.
I think we each have our own emotional profile when it comes to work, shaped by events in our lives that have nothing to do with work. Were you an oldest child, used to bossing people around? Did you hate group work in school? How do you relate to concepts like authority, responsibility, and control? Would you rather lead, or follow? Work with others, or alone? What kind of work causes you stress, and what kind of work feels relaxed and natural to you? And has this changed over the years?