Quitter to Winner

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

INTERVIEW: Thomas Dudley - one year later

Artist and graphic designer, Thomas Dudley, left the Happy Valley for the big, bad city - without a gig lined up. Scary? Oh, yes. Worth it? Oh, hell yes.

It was about a year ago that you gave your notice to move to New York City - without a job! I know you stressed but you survived. Can you relive that time without twitching, or was it a good "learning experience?"

I'm still learning and twitching. Everyone likes to tell me that it "takes a year to get adjusted." I'm beginning to believe it. I think the worst assumption I made came from being a big creative fish in a very small pond. Everyone here is either good at what they do or good at networking or, even worse, both. The key, though, is that somehow I'm making it work. Every big, stressful bump has dissipated in a fog of success.

If you had to make the transition over again, what would you do differently?

Line up a job first.

Oof. Easier said than done sometimes. What's your current employment status?

Fragmented. While that perfect agency or boutique job continues to float just beyond the horizon, I'm scrambling together a bunch of freelance jobs. Career counselors often suggest treating job searching as a full-time job, so I can at least congratulate myself for being over-employed somehow. BTW, career counselors fail to mention that the pay is terrible for a full-time job hunter.

The pay isn't so hot as a career counselor, either. You're quite a good artist and designer. And you're in the perfect place to pursue both, no? But would you like to explore something OTHER than art? If so, what would it be?

New York is still, despite what a handful of crabby apples say, full of artists and opportunities. Manhattan may be an expensive Disney shell of its old-school self, but the boroughs are happening in a way they never really did in the past.

I've spent most of my working life exploring: the short list is something along the lines of dishwasher, cook, telemarketer, special effects technician, video editor, camera assistant, data entrist, warehouseman, land surveyor, carpenter, printer, laser engraver technician, reggae bassist, corporate collections thug, on and on it goes.

I'm the worst Village People tribute act ever. The trick is that most of these jobs are just crutches to support my art affliction, and the worst occupations force the best work out of me in my free time. If I'm getting paid to be creative, the last thing I want to do when I get home is make something. I get a lot of accounting done when I have a full-time creative gig. I fully subscribe to the philosophy that if you don't want to work, then get paid to do something you love. But I get bored easily, and sometimes I want to work. While I wish I could say I'm a full-time designer, I pad my lunch money by going out and moving art. So I'm open to change, but I'm becoming intolerant of wasting my time on any position where a paycheck is in some way dependent on dress code or false cheerfulness & vapid robotry.

Word. Are you impressed that you were able to step so far out of your comfort zone and pull it off? Or do you think you were nuts for doing it and would never do it again?

My comfort zone is a nebulous, mercurial thing. I know at some point a few years ago, fattened on newspaper layout & freelance web design spoils, I was pricing digital cameras or buying motorcycle parts or some sort of (relative) luxury activity, and I thought "Boy am I glad I don't have to live on ramen noodles & dahl anymore". Last month I was cooking some ramen & my brain was all "yo, you remember when you was all proud you wasn't eating ramen no more? SUCKA!!!!!". To be fair, I like ramen. HOWEVER!

Yes, I've toughened my day-to-day life considerably in the last year & sometimes have absolutely no idea where rent & food might be coming from (answer: incredibly good luck & piles of last minute salvation). So on one hand I'm impressed, but I'm also a little disappointed that I'd become so spoiled. I'm also doing my thang in NYC, so what I lose in consistency & materialism, I make up for in museums & outstanding chinese food.

What would you say to someone who told you they hated their job of 10+ years yet they don't know how to quit, or what to do?

People actually like telling me that, I have no idea why. I've become so hard assed about it: you don't like your job? There are 2 realistic options available to you: 1) shut up or 2) do something else (this, as it happens, also applies to thirst, coldness, lousy roommates, etc.). Life is so short, why spend 1/8 of your go-round in abject misery? Community colleges are great, they hand out cheap, fast degrees. Make your interests & hobbies pay. For god's sake don't gamble, the house always wins. Which is something else I can't stand: folks who are waiting for that big lottery windfall to make a significant change but fail to consider the probability. The vast, hopeless, more-likely-to-win-an-insurance-payout-from-being-mauled-by-a-truck probability. But I digress.

Make a nice resume and a web page. Sell grandma's silver on Ebay & get a smaller car. Fix yourself up for a change, batten the hatches and quit. But don't do it like a spastic drunk, make lists & maps & a plan. Or at least just a plan.

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