David* started out as a dancer, and soon found his true vocation in choreography.
“Well, I started to dance. I think I’m not an exceptional physical talent, and I felt like it’s most interesting to make things, rather than be the vehicle to make things.”
“There’s a kind of power differential. Rather than trying to form yourself, to be something that someone else wants, by making my own work, I was pursuing my own interests.”
After thirty five years of being his own boss and making his own choices, he’s still relishing the freedoms that gives him. “It really gives you a power to create a context.”
He tells me that whatever he would do for a living now, he can only imagine that he would create that business for himself. “I’m one of those people.”
I laugh, because that’s us he’s talking about. The tribe of the self-employed. I ask him what it is that he thinks distinguishes all of us from the wider community of the employed.
“I think some people don’t want to engage in all of the responsibilities to create something, and to deal with all of the parts. They just want to go in and do their job, go home, and be with their family or whatever else they’re interested. So it’s a different relation to work.”
But for David, having to do everything is a huge positive. “I think I bring more of myself to my work then I would if I was working for somebody else. I’m engaged in planning, I’m engaged in detail. You’re not only making a yearly budget, but you clean the bathroom. I actually think that’s a great thing.”
“Unless you’re running a huge business, you’re forced to deal with physical things, conceptual things, long-term things, and short-term things. You’re dealing with people.”
No-one else picks up the pieces
“I think … well I’m not the one to ask, you’d have to do a survey of people working in a job for a living, but I think that could be repetitive. Not something I’m interested in. So with this, there’s a variety of demands. A lot of different ways you have to engage.”
Although there can be some isolation in being the only person responsible for everything. “ I feel like even my dancers, who are my employees, and other people who are very concerned, I don’t think they see the whole picture.”
“There can be moments of stress even though there’s lots of people around you trying to help. You’re really alone because you’re really holding the whole buck, so to speak. I don’t think everyone can imagine what it means to figure out the dance steps and figure out the finances. No-one else picks up the pieces.”
I ask David if there’s anything else he’d like to share with us all. “Huh. I think that, and I don’t know that I’m successful at it, one needs to not be complacent in how one relates to other organizations and the people in them.”
“You develop your way of finding work, and it can get very tunnel vision-like. I feel like there are often organizations and people who don’t have the obvious interests or need for what you do, but they might be competing. But it’s important to have relationships with those people and then to be available to them.”
“Also in communicating, I think a business owner, anybody but especially a business owner, needs to communicate. I think if you communicate your interest in engaging, things come to you that are surprising. In other words, so if I talk to an architect, there’s no obvious engagement but there is a richness there. Often somehow, something comes of it. Does that make sense?”
To me it makes a lot of sense. I hear David describing the blurred boundaries between work and not-work, when working for yourself. That, and the unexpected blooms of opportunity that can arise in unobvious places. Lovely.
*David prefers not to be identified in this article