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Getting Real About Work and Money

This week I tried to get back to work after being sick and encountered some interesting resistance. I discovered a polarized tension between my inner artist and a demanding boss with anxieties about money. It got me thinking about what I do for work and how I want to spend my days going forward. I'm pondering a career change and I'm not sure if being a digital designer is really for me.

It’s Jeff here, back with the fourth installment of the Finley Fridays newsletter. I’ve got thoughts, coffee, and a keyboard. Let’s go!

This post is going to be longer than usual. I tried to edit it down and even use ChatGPT to help shorten it, but I just never felt right doing that. At this point I’m overthinking it and just need to hit send. I’m sure some of you will appreciate a deeper dive this week.

But if you don’t have time, here’s the gist:

This week, I tried to get back to work after being sick and encountered some interesting resistance. I discovered a polarized tension between my inner artist and a demanding boss with anxieties about money. It got me thinking about what I do for work and how I want to spend my days going forward. I’m pondering a career change and I’m not sure if being a digital designer is really for me.

Read on if you want to know how I got there.

While I was feeling better, I noticed a gloomy sadness and dread at the idea of going back to work. It’s like that feeling we had as kids when we had to go back to school after being out sick for awhile or returning from Christmas break.

You see, when I was sick, I had full permission to not do anything and give up all responsibilities and obligations. I gave myself extra TLC and my gf was very sweet and understanding to me all week. For this reason, I love being sick. I got to lay in bed and listen to music, watch movies, and even moan and complain like a fussy toddler.

But as soon as I’m feeling better, I’m an adult again and there’s this pressure to get my ass back to work and be responsible.

Parts Work on… Work

I did an IFS session on myself using ​Refract​ and was able to get to know these parts. After giving them undivided attention and love, while hearing out their complaints, they soon started to remember good things about going back to school or work.

Good things like seeing our friends again. Good things like getting back to that creative project I was excitedly working on. Good things like… well… there weren’t many things better than that.

I realized that my favorite thing about school and work was the people. I’ll also add the learning and creating – as long as it was on a subject that I was genuinely curious about. When it’s something I don’t care about, or feels obligatory, I have to force myself to do it.

That’s where the dread came from. Being forced to work on stuff I didn’t want to do.

The Demanding Boss

That there was a demanding boss that was constantly monitoring my behavior, so I had to “pretend” to work on stuff when they were around so I wouldn’t get yelled at. This pretending feels terribly inauthentic and disrespectful to my being.

This goes back to my childhood, growing up with a demanding father who related to work as a shitty part of life that you just have to do whether you like it or not. Grin and bear it. A sacrifice one must make for his family. I also had other authority figures in my life at school and work that acted this way.

I carry this demanding boss energy in my psyche and he comes out when money is tight. He’s the inner fascist dictator. I can project this persona onto others in my life and cause them to play the part so I can somehow fight back or resolve the tension.

But this part is really trying to protect me. Trying to keep us safe, fed, housed, and surviving another day. It’s really trying to do good.

The Artist

There’s another part I’ll call “The Artist” that’s always on the receiving end of his demands. The Artist is a persona developed to turn my creative abilities into an income-generating career. Because he’s talented and creative, the Demanding Boss sees him as a valuable asset to help generate money.

Think of it like a kid who has a knack for singing. “Wow you’re so talented, you should become a singer!” The parent sees dollar signs and makes the child practice and perform to make a career out of the singing. The child grows up in the spotlight and gets used to being admired for their abilities and rests their identity on their singing career.

At some point, the singing becomes a job and an obligation. Their livelihood depends on it. They must continue to perform even when they don’t want to. They lose all love of singing. I talk more about this in my podcast with Brianna about ​Self-Exploitation, Creativity and Capitalism​.

That’s how my Inner Artist felt. It feels a constant pressure to produce so we can put food on the table. It feels pressure to be relevant, to be good, creative, inspiring. Any feelings of unhappiness or dread are seen as inconvenient hurdles to be overcome instead of a keen insight into the human condition.

“Getting a Job”

So if we are to protect this Artist and keep the creative act sacred, then we should “get a job” doing something else so we don’t have to mix our passions with business. The idea of “getting a job” is filled with mixed feelings for me. Sure, it’s a dependable income, but also some form of sacrifice. Turn off part of your self and perform a role from 9-5 in exchange for food, shelter, and maybe health insurance.

I’m way too sensitive to this. I realize “not every job” is like this, and I’m keeping my mind open. After all, my 9-year stint at Go Media was probably one of the best situations you could ask for, but I still found myself getting burned out and depressed. Not because of any particular person’s fault, it’s just the nature of the demands of the working world. Profit, productivity, progress, etc.

Most bosses want you to be passionate about THEIR thing. They want a commitment. They want your brilliance and creativity and genius. Last time I applied for jobs post-Go Media, I was denied because I was too entrepreneurial. I tried dusting off my resume to apply for a corporate design job recently and I could feel my soul leaving my body lol. Not even ChatGPT’s resume writing help could save me from the drudgery.

Money Anxiety

So this week, that anxious boss figure in my head voiced his demands loud and clear. Money is tight, and we must eliminate all distractions and focus on only things that can make money. We don’t want to get a job and work for someone else, so we have to do what we can for ourselves.

I had an idea. A customer of mine was asking for an updated version of my ​Audiobook Mockup Template​ with newer model phone. That felt like an easy enough job and I know that it will lead to some sales on Creative Market where it sells the most. I felt good about it.

So I sat down and got to work. But after a few hours, I started to get stuck. I couldn’t find a photo of a pair of Apple AirPods at the angle I needed, so I started looking at 3D models. I found some free ones and downloaded Blender so I could position them where I needed them and render it out. I was going to combine this with my phone mockup to visually illustrate the audiobook format.

But as I worked, my energy levels waned and my eyes started to feel blurry. I wasn’t enjoying the process. Re-learning the 3d software (I got a degree in 3D Computer Animation in 2004) was kind of a pain. I was constantly asking ChatGPT and Google for basic things like how to adjust the camera angle or where the render button was. I just don’t have the stamina or tolerance to figure this shit out like I did when I was 22.

I wanted badly to get off the computer. I felt disembodied. Like I spent 6 straight hours staring at my screen with a compulsive urgency to complete the task, ignoring bodily functions. I was frustrated that I hadn’t solved the problem and that I couldn’t get it looking how I saw it in my imagination. I had to pull myself away from my computer and go eat. I was discombobulated and ungrounded. This happens a lot.

I felt into exactly what was going on there and I realized a few things.

Getting Real About Work

For one, this “work” I was doing involved literally no other person beside myself. I was “working” but I wasn’t interacting with anyone. Just me slaving away at my computer alone at home trying to meet the demands of my anxious, scarcity-minded brain. When I was stuck, I couldn’t ask a real person, but a chat bot.

Is this really the future of work? lol.

And even after I successfully finish the product and it sells a few copies, I might see realistically $36 this week, a hundred bucks over the next few months. And maybe $500 over the course of 2-3 years. That doesn’t really seem worth it financially.

Apologies to my actual customers reading this. I’m just being honest.

Speaking of my customers, I’ll also never see the face of any of them. I might get a few appreciative comments but that’s it. It just seems incredibly alienating to see no real impact financially or socially. It’s all very abstract. Stuff I’m doing to see “number go up” in my digital bank account.

The main reason I’m doing it, obviously, is that I need money. And I’m doing what I know how to do. It’s not even guaranteed to work. If dollars are what I need, I might as well just do deliveries for Amazon Prime. But that’s absolutely NOT how I want to spend my days.

And the worst part is, I don’t have any coworkers to commiserate with. Nobody else going through what I’m going through. I mean, I could maybe find a Discord server of other artists, or join one of those paid communities like ​SPI Pro​ to find like minded folks doing what I do.

The social aspect of work is completely gone. I realize I miss it a lot more than than I thought.

I’ve been working for myself on my own projects since 2015. Doing just enough to keep my head above water. But work hasn’t been my focus. Life has. Reconnecting to my soul and searching for truth, love, and freedom. I’ve been fortunate that I could take such dedicated time away and construct a life to allow me to do that.

But I can’t really do that anymore. Life has a way of pushing me back out into the world. Sure I’d love to stay in the spiritual realm, my true home. It’s like a cozy warm blanket where it all makes sense. Not messy, painful, and imperfect like here in 3D physical reality.

I had to accept that a larger more intelligent part of me chose to be here in this 3D reality with all it’s “flaws.” I don’t want to be a disembodied mind or floating free spirit avoiding Earthly responsibilities.

I’m coming back to Earth and I want to be here. My spirituality is more focused on embodiment and bringing my soul/spirit here with me as opposed to leaving my body and trying to return home prematurely.

It made me think long and hard about what I’m doing.

How Do I Want to Spend My Days?

Is digital design the thing I really want to do going forward? Sitting at a computer all day?

I’m in my 40s and even if I were to train myself in modern design tools like Figma, I’m a step too slow to cut it in the fast paced working world.

Poking my head back into the Matrix after being out of it for so long feels like it’s all moving at a frantic pace that I just can’t keep up with. I long for something slower and more mindful and present.

The soft spiritual and emotional abilities I’ve learned during the last ten years do not seem compatible with the design and tech world I once loved. In fact, it actually seems like an antidote to the poison of the techy AI-driven productivity and hustle culture.

I know that there will be a trend of AI driven “wellness” companies that aim to help you with your mental health using various chat bots and personal assistants. Self therapy in your pocket. I’m not going to say whether that’s good or bad, but the ​people behind Refract​ are well-meaining guys who are going through their own shit. They just happen to be techy and able to make software.

What I Envision Work to Be

image scaled
Me, touching grass, circa December 2023

I want to work where I feel like my real actual human presence is valued. Where my chatty Gemini self can flourish. I want a career where I can be myself, enjoy relating to others in a meaningful way, and that work feels like a joy instead of a necessary evil. And perhaps not always on a computer. I believe this can be possible.

I don’t have aspirations of being a famous artist like I did coming out of high school. I feel like I have so much more to offer in a way that also nourishes me and others beyond ego or bank accounts.

I still love art and design. But I wonder if I’d be better suited to be more of a mentor or coach. Or maybe even a spiritual/emotional consultant to the CEO to help them stay in touch with their true self and what’s real. I’ve read posts by a few startup founders who go on a soul-searching sabbatical after getting burned out in Silicon Valley. I feel like I can relate.

One cool thing is that I may be starting up a podcast again. I’m in early talks with a possible co-host (you know who you are) and we’re brainstorming ideas. It feels like a step in the right direction for me and I’m excited about the possibility. I’ll keep you posted on that!

That’s about all for this week. Have a fun and festive holiday!

Jeff ✌️

Jeff Finley
Jeff Finley

Jeff is a graphic artist, designer, musician, writer, and mystic with a passion for truth and personal growth. He's the author of Wake Up, Maker/Mistaker, and Thread's Not Dead, as well as the creator of Starseed Supply Co. Learn more about him here.

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