Why and How I Forgive Myself for Not Doing Everything

Monica Schley - Pyragraph
A professional photographer took this photo of me playing at a wedding. Photo by Joshua Mahar.

This was previously published in Musicland and appears here with the author’s kind permission.

Do I use subcontractors? You bet.

I have a friend who is a bike lawyer. Yes, a lawyer who advocates for biker’s rights, and he is very successful. He likes to give unsolicited advice. One thing I’ve learned from him is: Do what you know how to do; hire other people to do things you don’t know how to.

I translate this message to read like this:

  • Can you realistically learn this new thing (song, program, instrument, skill, etc.) without stressing out and it ruining the rest of your project experience?
  • Can you learn this new thing and meet your project deadline?
  • Is this new thing way over your head?
  • Can you afford to pay someone?
  • If you paid someone, would they do it way better than you could? Or just a little bit better?
  • If you can’t afford to pay someone, do you have a friend who would discount or trade with you? Maybe you could pay this friend and they also train you?
  • Do you have any future need/purpose to use this new skill or thing you’d have to purchase, or would it be one time only?
  • Does this new thing even interest you to know how to do?

The creative mind is constantly trolling for inspiration (and that’s work too).

I’m a person who’s big on the joy factor. I have a very difficult time doing work that I don’t like. You may think that makes me a bit spoiled, but only slightly. For one, I’ve paid my dues so to speak, having had many years of odd jobs. I started part-time work out in the world at age 14. I worked part-time all through college. Those were some crappy restaurant, childcare, phone bank, cleaning lady, barista, brewery tour guide jobs (oh wait, the brewery job was pretty cool). Anyway, you get the picture. Plus, there’s that Confucius quote: “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Monica Schley - Pyragraph
I’m not as good at taking photos as I am at playing the harp. (Same wedding as in the photo above.) Photo by Monica Schley.

It’s not that if I don’t want to do something I won’t. I do plenty of things I don’t like to. I have pets and a kid and I don’t think there’s a day in the past two years I haven’t cleaned up another being’s poop, pee or puke. Yet still, when it comes to my passions of music and poetry, which largely determine my income on how good that creative product is, I want to enjoy the process in which I work! I need to be able to say no to things I don’t like, so that there’s room for what I do like.

For instance, I am not a musician who takes pleasure in mastering my recordings. For years you had to force me to even record at all, much less sit for hours with headphones on. I like the stage, but need-based changes can certainly help you to grow as an artist and human being. We live in an age where most young people will have several career changes during their lifetime. If you think having a skill will help you years from now, learn that new thing even if it takes much longer than you planned. You’ll be grateful later.

I am not a detail nerd, nor am I a perfectionist. These two qualities make it easy for me to relinquish doing everything myself. It also gives me the go-ahead for some details to slip through the cracks—and to forgive myself about it. For instance, I’ve just come out with a new solo Christmas album. Should have I had it finished a month ago? Oh yes. I should be marketing right now, not finalizing the production. Did I want to pour self-guilt all over myself for not being smart enough and being behind schedule? Sure I did. But then, this other little self said, wait: take a look at what you just did. You recorded a solo album on a full schedule of a weekly day job, whilst also being mom to a toddler and trying to maintain a loving relationship with a partner. Plus, I like to sleep.

The temptation is very real as a freelancer to work like crazy all the time, fueled by the passion that keeps us doing what we do best and the necessity to pay the bills. The creative mind is constantly trolling for inspiration (and that’s work too). I wake up in the middle of the night to write parts of poetry. But I also go back to sleep. Meditation may help my monkey mind to quiet the chatter, but it’s still there. However, recognizing the difference between pertinent, helpful self-dialogue versus overbearing, self-critiquing might be the best new skill to learn this New Year.

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