The Creative Booty Call

Chances are, at some point in your creative career, you’ve fallen prey to the Creative Booty Call…maybe without even realizing it. To define Creative Booty Call we’ll use the same characteristics as those used in the sexual reference:

  • the phone rings late at night or there’s a 3 a.m. knock on your door
  • the person on the other end is looking for services they might otherwise pay for, but in this instance they are wanting it for free
  • being with them always leaves you feeling empty and used
  • you spend days kicking yourself for letting it happen YET AGAIN, and swear that next time, you’ll be smarter
  • they’ve never publicly acknowledged your relationship, except maybe casual friendship…and they make a point to not socialize with you outside of this “arrangement”
  • and when they DO choose to enter into a serious relationship, it’s always with someone else

I’ve fallen prey to this scenario more times than I’d like to admit in my creative career. Out of nowhere, I’ll get a frantic phone call or text…sometimes it’ll even be from people on my client list. They’re in desperate need of a last-minute design service from me.  The excuses for not planning ahead or not contacting me sooner are always in bountiful supply, as an attempt to somehow soften the blow of what they’re really getting ready to ask me for…but buried beneath that pile heap is still the same audacious request: drop everything, forget your life or your obligations or other clients, and give them what they need…while they wait impatiently for it.

So you cancel the appointments that have been on your schedule for weeks, you put off the current project you’ve been working on that is paying full price, you sacrifice time with your family, physical resources (like sleep…and food…and hygiene..and your last bit of sanity) to run to the aid of your comrade who is in critical need.

In the end, you’ve given them the best that you have to give, for nothing in return. Nothing beyond a rushed “attaboy”…not a referral, not a mention on Twitter or Facebook…and certainly not a penny of actual generated income.

For many, it is even more dastardly than that:  You’re called or emailed because of your creative expertise in a particular area.  You give the advice willingly, even joyfully, because it’s your passion…and you LOVE to talk about your passion.  Suuuure you could be a professional consultant, making thousands of dollars per project for all of the wisdom and insight you have to give…but of course, they’re simply looking for a little free advice.  You hang up the phone with a funny feeling in the pit of your stomach…and emptiness that’s hard to describe…I don’t know, kinda like you’ve been used.  Oh, and by the way…they’ll never publicly acknowledge the great ideas you provided for them.  And the kicker is, when they DO choose to invest in a professional relationship regarding your topic of discussion, it’ll undoubtably be with someone else.

Does any of this sound familiar?  Sadly, I knew it would.  But the reality regarding Booty Calls, which ever kind they might be, is that we’re the ones that set the parameters…and if I might be so bold as to say it this way:  If you’re tired of being a Creative Booty Call…the solution starts with YOU!

Steps to help you avoid the Creative Booty Call:

  1. Business hours are business hours.  After hours are, well…after.  One of the biggest challenges of creative work, especially freelance, is the setting of boundaries between your business and personal life.  But if you don’t set some working parameters, then you will always be working…that’s just how creative careers are.  All work and no play makes Jack a cranky, burned out, uninspired so-in-so that no one wants to be around.  So do yourself a favor:  clock in and clock out.
  2. Healthy professional relationships are beneficial to both parties.  If you feel tapped after every meeting you have with a client or you feel empty and used each time you deliver advice to an associate, it may be time to have the D.T.R. talk over coffee.  Defining the relationship can go a long way to increase your productivity and your sense of satisfaction on the job.
  3. Give yourself permission to set and communicate strong boundaries. While it may feel like your being fussy or a tad bit diva, strong boundaries will simply enable you to enjoy the different parts of your life in deeper richer ways without the build-up of resentment or the cause for conflict with opposing parties.  Think about what you want and need from the relationship, and communicate that clearly to your contact.  If met with resistance,  let it be a clear indication of the other person’s lack of value or honor for your expertise or services.  While we all want to “give back” and help out where we can, even Scripture says that a workman is worthy of his wages.  In the least, consider working out some kind of barter that wouldn’t be such a financial drain on them, but that would also provide some kind of positive benefit for you as well.
  4. You don’t have to answer the door.  You’ve seen it all before on some agonizingly anemic chick flick, where in the middle of the night there’s a knock on the door…and as the actress stumbles and bumbles her way through her dark apartment, you almost feel like shouting, “Don’t be stupid!  Girl, don’t you EVEN answer that door!”…but she always does.  And the guy on the other side of that door knows that she always will.  She is the one that allows it to be a Booty Call in the first place.  If she had only stood up to him and said, “no” or never opened the door, she would be quickly be removed from the BC list.
  5. Don’t be afraid to lose out.  I think many of us mean well.  We think: maybe it’ll lead to more business…maybe it’ll garner some kind of recognition…maybe I’ll feel like I’ve contributed something or shared my knowledge.  But the stinging truth is: very rarely does a Booty Call become a long-term relationship. There are the BC’s, and then there are the one’s you take home to meet your mama.  Don’t be afraid to lose out on a few casual relationships in order to save your best for Mr. Right. It’ll be worth a little silence on the phone or a few less email requests in the inbox to be able to focus your best efforts on your best clients.  You know that the best professional relationships are worth the wait.  And they’ll treat you with integrity, respect and honor.
  6. Be ready to move on.  This is where it takes some emotional fortitude.  It’s one step in the right direction to have an awareness that things just aren’t right…that you aren’t happy with the current arrangement…and that there’s nothing about this that’s healthy.  But it’s another step…and a huge on at that…to actually muster up the guts to do something about it.  It takes a lot of guts to NOT open the door…or NOT answer the frantic voicemail…or NOT respond to the do-or-die email.  But it’s the only way to begin to set the healthy boundaries you need to sustain and grow a thriving creative career.  Trust yourself enough to know what is right for you and for your well-being.

Some things to consider:

  • It might be time to do an assessment on the services you have to offer.  Do you have valuable advice to offer people?  Do you give it the value it deserves?  Do you have healthy boundaries in place that allow you to enjoy your life and your career, separately?
  • If you find yourself offering advice regularly, it might be time to organize your experience and knowledge into a product or program that can be marketed to people in need of your expertise.  Considering other options to the “freebie” could open new professional opportunities for you that you never knew were there before.  Consultancy and other avenues may offer you that same sense of satisfaction you were finding in giving away “free advice”…but with personal ad financial rewards for you, as well.  Maybe it’s time to be paid for what you know, and not just for what you do.
  • You may need to wrestle down that pesky need to be liked in order to truly free yourself from the lure of the Creative Booty Call.  We all love to be loved.  But it’s not really love when it comes at our expense.  The more emotionally healthy you get, the more freedom you will experience creatively…and the stronger your creative career will be.

 Some ways to re-establish a healthy sense of yourself:

  • make a list of all of the things that are special and unique about your creativity or your services.  Not only will this provide you with some killer copy to use in your marketing pieces, but it will help you define who you are and what you want out of your career and professional relationships.
  • request client testimonials…you’ll discover some of your biggest fans, and be reminded of the great ideas you had and the fantastic work you did…and don’t forget:  they were happy to pay full price for it!
  • post the testimonials around your office for added encouragement on those days when it’s hard to say “no” to the freebie fix.
  • consider writing a “manifesto” for your creative enterprise that clearly states what you value most, how you want to represent those values, and who you want to be in the process.

Never forget:  you are an active participant in defining your creative relationships. Choose the kind of relationships that build you up, support you, and inspire you to be your creative best.  Don’t settle for the Booty Call.  Have the courage to wait for Mr. Right.

Taking Care of Unfinished Business

Last week I picked up an unfinished painting in my studio that had been sitting beneath a pile of completed pieces for a couple of years.  I don’t know why I’d never gotten around to finalizing it, but for some reason, my piece had suffered from some major neglect.  Oddly enough, within only a few hours the piece was complete, and what followed was a triumphant sense of accomplishment.  I fully enjoyed myself and the work progressed with such ease. Quite a stark contrast to the guilt I felt (for years) for abandoning the project mid-stream.

What I came to realize is that sometimes it’s good to give creativity a break.  The challenge is giving yourself permission to step back and take that much-needed breather without feeling the guilt or condemnation from labeling yourself as “lazy” or a “quitter.” If you don’t empower yourself to press pause on the process, you’ll run the risk of being too emotionally invested in the piece.

In college, I had a painting professor that could sense when an artist was becoming frustrated and putting that negativity onto canvas.  He would quietly slip behind them, lean in and say, “You need to step away from the canvas.”

It’s important to understand that you can never take a “one-size-fits-all” approach to your creative process.  As an artist, you have to maintain flexibility and adapt your methods to best serve the project.  I know there are times when you just need to push through whatever barrier is standing in your way and get on with all things creative, but there are also instances when your process needs time, distance and space.

Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re creatively stumped or frustrated is to walk away for a while, and re-approach when all the angst is gone and your project feels more like an attractive stranger than a needy boyfriend or girlfriend.  I’m not saying it won’t be difficult.  It will.  It will be awkward and you’ll most definitely feel clumsy.  But in your defense, you can always use The Seinfield Technique.  “What’s that?”, you ask? Well, let me ‘splain.

The Seinfield Technique is what I’ve dubbed the brilliant break-up strategy employed by the character George Kastanza on Seinfield.  In true satirical form and in order to keep things from getting too messy, he’d end the onerous relationship with the classic line, “It’s not you, it’s me.”  Other viable contenders would be the “I just need some space” defense or “I think it’s a good idea for us to step back” directive.  No matter which vehicle you choose, don’t be afraid to take control of the creative relationship.  You and your project will both benefit greatly from it.

What’s amazing in the separation scenario is that it proves the old adage to be true: absence does make the heart grow fonder.  And what’s even more amazing is that it’s as if your creative problem solver continues to work on some kind of subconscious level…working out kinks in the flow, troubleshooting problematic elements, and resolving baffling conundrums.  It’s as if it continues unravelling the proverbial knot even as you think you’re taking a break.

In the least it might be good to have a good ol’ heart-to-heart DTR Talk with your creative self.  Defining The Relationship you have with your creativity provides clarity, understanding and a sense of freedom.  The added bonus is that you’ll have a restored capacity to receive fresh inspiration!

Don’t let your muse bully you around.  Step up to the challenge, take ownership, and liberate yourself from the guilt of having “works in progress.”  There is no true progress without embracing the process (even with all it’s quirky idiosyncrasies).

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