Shifting Thinking, Shifting Outcomes
Four years ago around this time, an unemployed guy who committed his entire life to art, education, and community, got fed up with getting paid with the poverty wages, the “great opportunities for exposure,” and the unlimited requests for pro bono work.
After the back-to-back dissolution of two teaching artist residencies and a long and punishing stretch of unemployment, he fumed, “What gives?! I don’t understand. I’m one of the good guys! How did this happen to me?” He knew he needed to change something, but what?
Eventually, he would land at these core shifts:
- He adopted an outlook of 100% responsibility for his outcomes.
- He redefined his service to the community from a “labor of love” and martyr model to an equal exchange and fair trade model.
- He would relentlessly seek out skill-building as he arrived at the very harsh realization that education only ever begins at graduation, and that in healthy, intellectually curious, and successful people, it is a neverending lifelong pursuit.
There would be nowhere to run. No illusion to reconstruct. No medication to mask the painfully obvious. He had to evolve or die. After the frustration, anguish, and rage finally subsided, there was silence. Stillness. And in that ravine of calm, a thought came forth. “If I was working at the nonprofit of my choice, what program would I advocate for?” The answer: Professional development and survival skills for artists and creative entrepreneurs. He’d seen the lack in his community and in his own life. It’s what the world needs. And he figured, “If it’s that important, if I really believe that, having a job shouldn’t preclude me from doing the work.”
In October 2009, he bought a domain name and web package. Having no experience in WordPress nor any resources at his disposal (no guides, no collaborators), he tinkered clumsily through HTML and CSS code. The following three months produced nothing close to perfection. Instead, he had “good enough.” And just as a grand bonfire might emerge from a weensy spark over a few dry leaves, he knew “good enough” was… well… good enough. The site had a shoddy web template and a couple blog posts. And with that, in January 2010, he announced to the world the birth of ArtofHustle.com.
When No One is Hiring, Hire Yourself!
I wish I could say that the rest is history. I can’t. We’re not in the clear yet. There is just so much more to learn and to do. Signing up for transformation is a forever commitment. However, I can say that the adjustments I made — essentially meditative and psychological, at first — have altered my life course for the better.
A big lesson: When no one is hiring, yes, hire yourself! My first workshop set my leadership and expertise to the test. It was a modest makeshift offering held in the lobby of a dark theater on a random weekend afternoon. Eight people attended. Since then, Art of Hustle has helped thousands through consequent workshops and its website. Its writing is regularly shared over 100 times all over the net, some classics over 2000 times. Art of Hustle has had the good fortune to be presented by majors such as Theatre Communications Group and Stanford University. Not bad for an ordinary guy who started a business during a down economy, couldn’t even score a job interview, and was entirely S.O.L.
Let me be clear however. I have no delusions of grandeur and I’m sure as heck not selling any quick fixes. What I am inviting you to, when I welcome you to join the Art of Hustle revolution, is to partake in a series of powerful questions. And they are:
Are we fixed? That is, are we tied to a certain level of failure or success? As much as anyone can talk about change, can it be attained? Are the givens (in other words, the conditions in which we grew up or are living in now) permanent and all-powerful? Do guts and fiery dedication count for anything? Imagination or education, for that matter? Does one have to be afflicted in order to be an artist? Is it possible for your passion to be sustainable and a service? Ultimately, can an individual alter destiny?
Don’t Suffer. Solve.
This topic frames the eternal joust among philosophers and scholars. It’s free will versus fate. There are plenty of reasonable arguments for either side. But I’ll tell you right now that people who have their backs against the wall don’t have the luxury of blaming their circumstances on the stars. My scene study coach, Cliff Osmond, used to tell his students, “Don’t suffer. Solve!” He’d explain that frustration or whining were always bad character choices for any story. Why? It’s not convincing. If it hurt that bad, you’d do something about it.
Complaining and blaming demonstrates that something may be bad but not so awful that you wouldn’t put up with it. Meaning that still there’s a level of comfort, of privilege, of excuse-making. Those in a serious bind don’t have the energy to waste on expressing grievances, they’re too busy taking action. Hence, the job title for performers tasked to move through conflict on screen or on stage. Actors. Not emoters. This is it. The principal value of Art of Hustle — making moves. Not against all odds. But precisely because of the odds! It’s that there can be so many antagonistic forces, both personal and systemic, that we must challenge ourselves to aspire for betterment. Antonio Gramsci may have summed it up best when he declared:
“I am a pessimist because of my intellect. But an optimist because of will.”
Thank you for reading along with the thousands who visit the site every month, the hundreds who’ve witnessed the talks and workshops in real time, and the nucleus of beautiful believers and achievers who’ve employed Art of Hustle’s services and have seen transformative upward movement in their own work. I wish you continued health, wealth, and knowledge of self. It’s 2014, let’s do this!