Is it okay to be a follower instead of a maverick?
August 7, 2021 9:01 AM   Subscribe

Is it okay to be a paint-by-numbers guy instead of a maverick creator? An organizer rather than inventor? A follower of rules rather than an entrepreneur?

There seem to be two islands: island A, the island of the trail-blazing creative maverick and island B; the island of the rule-follower, the organizer, the secretary.

For most of my life I’ve felt that I need to belong on island A. I come from a long line of mavericks. I do have creativity inside me, but not enough to make it count. I tried UX Design and then Marketing, and neither one stuck… I always struggled with “thinking outside the box”. I felt like it was a character flaw. I’m not quite squarely on island B either. I seem to exist struggling and flailing to stay afloat in the ocean that divides the two islands.

It’s made finding the right career a nightmare.

But I know I can execute on island B. I flourished in college, making A’s no matter what, and I believe it’s because it was a matter of [study X from textbook and notes chapters Y]… it was laid out what I needed to do.

But after college, with a psych bachelors degree, I’ve floundered for 4 years now.

I’ve finally accepted that maybe I should be a pencil pusher. A secretary. An organizer. Working with Excel rather than Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator.

Why do we ignore and diss (with names like “pencil pusher” and “office drone”) the followers that are comfortable staying within the lines and then praise the rule breakers, the “outside the box” thinkers, the entrepreneurs, the maverick, the ones that create new lines for the followers to stay within?
posted by ggp88 to Society & Culture (43 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
I don’t have a ton to say except: yes! Absolutely! The fetishization of maverick “geniuses” is harmful in a lot of ways (eg used to justify abuse) but it also just devalues all of the work that goes into things.
posted by wooh at 9:07 AM on August 7, 2021 [40 favorites]

you do not have to be your job. your job can just pay the bills and then you get to decide what's important to you and what defines you.
posted by noloveforned at 9:09 AM on August 7, 2021 [27 favorites]

Why do we ignore and diss (with names like “pencil pusher” and “office drone”) the followers that are comfortable staying within the lines and then praise the rule breakers, the “outside the box” thinkers, the entrepreneurs, the maverick, the ones that create new lines for the followers to stay within?

Because an utterly unreflective and usually unwarranted degree of self-belief is part and parcel of the maverick personality type, and this makes them far less reticent about engaging in self-promotion than the rest of us as well as conferring a shameless willingness to take credit for the hard work of other people.

Because it's more attention-getting to move fast and break things than to move judiciously and not break things, and mavericks are so busy admiring their own cleverness that they don't even see the wreckage they so often leave in their wakes.
posted by flabdablet at 9:29 AM on August 7, 2021 [36 favorites]

This is the definition of a false dichotomy. You can be a bit of both, and avoid devaluing the work of one, though it is difficult. There is no need to divide people into groups like this, as tempting as it may be.
posted by Alensin at 9:36 AM on August 7, 2021 [41 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you've fallen for the lie that you have to be passionate about your work in order for your work to be meaningful. You are not your job, and it's perfectly OK for your job to be the thing that you do to make the money that allows you to do the things you are passionate about.

I'm never going to be a maverick. I lack the "self-aggrandizing asshole" personality required for that kind of thing. But, I'm not exactly a "follower" either, which I associate with someone totally disengaged with their work and just doing the bare minimum.

What I am is someone who tries to be very good at their job, engaged with their work, and always thinking about how to do the work better, and how to better serve the people on the other end of that work. I've found that this is what gives me the most satisfaction, not "moving fast and breaking things," as someone else mentioned.

I've had this same mindset / attitude whether I was working in a warehouse, on the line in a kitchen, doing tech support, and now as a technical writer. This is what gives me a lot of pride in what I do, whatever it is I happen to be doing. I've also found that when I'm no longer able to be engaged enough to do my best work that this is my signal to start looking for something different to do.

So, it's OK to be the organizer, the secretary, the follower of rules. That's where I've been my entire career. But being really good at whatever I'm doing is what gives me that feeling of making a difference and provides me a lot of job satisfaction. I don't feel like I'm missing out on anything by not being a innovative maverick in my field.
posted by ralan at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2021 [28 favorites]

Choose a job that isn't helping to make the world a worse place. Do your work with integrity and decency and so forth. Work at a place where you're treated well and aren't punished for treating others well. Be a maverick when breaking a rule means helping someone who needs it. Go against the flow when the flow is a cruel or harmful system. If you do those things, who cares if your role is doing design or execution or support?

(Seriously, all those rule-breaking, maverick Photoshop and Illustrator users - are they having any solid helpful effect on climate change, or this pandemic, or poverty, or the erosion of democracy and human rights, or...? Or are they using their skills to help create or sell some nonsense thing to spend your money on? Or something in between? It's what your work means that matters, not whether you're doing the flashy part of it or not. And I think you greatly overestimate how much adulation most people have for, say, graphic designers and marketers, or how much people see them as any kind of gods of creativity. You said you "come from a long line of mavericks," and that may be where your distorted impression is coming from.)
posted by trig at 9:57 AM on August 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: You should look into DesignOps positions right now. I'm a ux designer too & I struggle with this kind of thing as well, but that's what I love about ux, bringing order to chaos. You just have to find the right niche. A brand new startup who's looking for a "thought leader" they can pimp out at conferences obviously isn't for you, but there's plenty of big corporations who need pencil pushers in the ux department who aren't going to make everything worse and don't feel the need to let their wild stallions loose all over a project.
posted by bleep at 9:58 AM on August 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

But seriously though google Design Ops.
posted by bleep at 10:00 AM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

it's ok to be whatever you are. to wax poetic, however, life is a buffet: a little taste of everything.

I'm not a religious person or a 12 step fanatic, but once at an open AA meeting i heard this.
I am perfect exactly as I am, because I am a child of God, and that is enough.
We are made how we are made. Self-acceptance is the cornerstone of a deeper compassion.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:03 AM on August 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

It sounds like you've fallen for the lie that you have to be passionate about your work in order for your work to be meaningful.

I'll go even further, and say that I think it's a lie that your work needs to be more meaningful than allowing you to pay your bills. It's absolutely fine to find your fulfillment outside of work, and it's not a personal failing to hold a job that has no deep meaning to you. Once I realized that my work is not my identity, source of fulfillment, or really anything other than a means to an end, my life got a lot better. I still struggle with it from time to time, but I think it's important to keep perspective on.

I do also agree with Alensin that this is a false dichotomy, and I think most people have aspects of both personalities in them. It's not all or nothing.
posted by primethyme at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: At the end of the show Malcolm in the Middle, the eldest brother Francis, who was a misbehaving trouble making rule breaker across the entire series run, sits down at some family thing (Malcolm's graduation??) and proudly shows his dad his new badge from his first day at work. (I think. It's something like that, it's been years since I saw it. Anyway...) And whispering, before the program starts, Francis gushes to his dad about how awesome his job is, how he comes in at nine and then gets to leave at five, and they have coffee all day and all he had to do was type some things and sit in a meeting and then he got paid!

We got season after season of this guy being a fuckup, making himself miserable and causing his family grief, all because he felt so deeply that he needed to be rebelling and doing his own thing. And it turned out the whole time that what actually made him happy was a quiet boring life with a medium level of expectation for himself. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

It's always stuck with me. My life is not my job. I don't even need to excel at anything. Just being is enough. Find your satisfaction where it comes, and ignore the noise.
posted by phunniemee at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2021 [17 favorites]

Island B makes the world work. If you are a human being who needs something, you are going to get it from someone on Island B. Island A gets the glamor (because many of them are self-aggrandizing assholes), but Island B is more important. Imagine if your accounting department was full of mavericks and you just needed your paycheck.
posted by Mavri at 10:14 AM on August 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: After ten years of an impressive-looking career at various prestigious advocacy nonprofits, I had a great resume and a crappy life. Constantly stressed, thinking of all the things I wished I had the energy to create on my own time, and justifying it to myself by thinking “I’m doing cool work, I’m making a difference, I’m being paid to write for a living, when I tell people about my job they think it’s interesting.”

I burned out hard and got fired. After that, just looking at job postings in my industry made me feel sick. So I started applying for receptionist jobs - just as a stopgap, I figured. Six months in, turns out I love it. And after almost three years of producing nothing of my own, I have finally started writing fiction again. Good fiction that I’m proud of, and getting steadily better at.

And I feel WAY the hell more like a trailblazing creative maverick now than I did when I was spending all my creativity on other people’s projects.
posted by showbiz_liz at 10:15 AM on August 7, 2021 [18 favorites]

timeless guidance from inactive mefite grumblebee.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2021 [10 favorites]

(seriously. read that slow. twice.)
posted by j_curiouser at 10:25 AM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

So this page and the following page from the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag addresses this pretty directly. Basically, lightbulb shine, but it’s the batteries that make it possible.

In a slightly different approach from Aeon, the split is between innovation and maintenance, with the former getting the attention, but the latter making everything possible. I am much more a maintainer by philosophy, because I see the cost of replacing what is destroyed or undercut by moving resources into reckless innovation.

99% of the time “entrepreneur” is indistinguishable from “grifter,” and the doors to paradise will open when the last disrupter is strangled with the guts of the last entrepreneur. Ok, I exaggerate.

See also: housework
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:30 AM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: In my opinion, it's fine to be an implementer rather than an inventor, or a person with their feet on the ground rather than their head in the sky. In fact, the world needs both and frequently, needs more people who can get something done as opposed to thinking of new things to do.

They are not mutually exclusive, either. Being the person who gets things done for others does require a level of creativity that is easily taken for granted. The rewards are not necessarily money or praise, but come more from a sense of self-fulfillment for a job well done.
posted by JustSayNoDawg at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Why wouldn’t it be OK?
posted by kevinbelt at 10:43 AM on August 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

> Why do we [...] praise the rule breakers, the “outside the box” thinkers, the entrepreneurs, the maverick, the ones that create new lines for the followers to stay within?

Liberal propaganda.

We're all supposed to worship the "innovators", the "entrepeneurs", the "job creators" and to believe that:
1) meritocracy* is actually a Good Thing and totally not disgusting at all, and
2) we're living in one and the wealthiest and most successful are obviously worthy of their status because otherwise how would have they gotten there?

A quick perusal of a list of the wealthiest people and a background check of what great innovations merit their position is left as an exercise for the curious.

* meritocracy here referring to the opinion that more capable people at any particular activity receiving better compensation than others who do the same task but more slowly/not as well etc is fair and just
posted by Bangaioh at 11:00 AM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am a secretary, and I have been a stage manager. The two jobs are very, very similar - but I'll illustrate why by discussing the stage manager's role.

I once described a stage manager by talking about the different roles of the actor, the director, and the stage manager. The actor's job, in rehearsal, would be to creatively inhabit their character enough to have the idea that "you know, I think my character would be eating pancakes in Act 2." The director's job would be to creatively oversee the world of the play to make the final decision on whether or not "yes, I agree, it'd be a great idea for your character to eat pancakes in Act 2." And the stage manager's job, therefore, is that if the director and actor decide this, then the stage manager ensures that there would always BE pancakes for the actor to eat in Act 2.

The people who are predominantly creatively inclined aren't always practically inclined, and they need the people who are practically inclined to help them manifest things. And there is indeed some creativity involved - sometimes you hack solutions to problems that come up on the fly, and that takes a good deal of creativity. You don't always get the same kind of attention and acknowledgement - but I always liked to say that if an audience saw me doing my job as a stage manager, I was doing it wrong. But the actors and directors....they know.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

A couple of issues to unpack here.

First, there is definitely a fork in the road with one path generally leaning into creative and innovative work and the other leaning into maintenance/processing/upkeep/compliance work. Most people eventually find that they predominantly like doing one of the other when it comes to what they want to do for a living. Both are essential in any society. You can’t make progress in any industry or for humanity as a whole without the risk taking innovators. You just can’t. And anyone who says those folks are mostly assholes we don’t need seem to be exhibiting a bit of sour grapes to me. At the same time, every industry absolutely needs the other type of people too for consistent quality of operations and deliverables. The world would fall apart quickly without the steady drum of maintainers getting everything done. So don’t stress about which way you lean. Your work is valuable regardless. And the good news is, except for a few positions that solidly are ideally restricted to one leaning or the other for safety reasons (we don’t want rule breaking Mavericks experimenting with production processes they’re tasked with carrying out on patients for example), almost every job has flexibility built in to allow either type of leaner to do well. Creatives who take maintenance type jobs often spot potential process or management improvements that maintainer types might miss. And maintainers who take creative work jobs can bring practical reliability and consistent quality to their work that can lead to overall better products and services. Great companies create teams made up of both types. In marketing for example you’ll have the creative brainstormers paired with the maintainers. The brainstormers do what’s on the tin and the maintainers sort through all the ideas and narrow them down to the most feasible and implement them. TLDR: both creatives and maintainers are important and you can work at almost any job as either one.

Second, some people find themselves leaning one way at work and the other in their personal time and hobbies. So you could take on a maintainer role at work and still flex your creative muscles with an arts and crafts weekend habit or something. Yes, probably better to focus on the leaning that fits you better for your career since you will spend so much time doing that day to day but don’t feel like you have to choose one of the two paths for everything you approach in life.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 11:05 AM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Mike Nichols once said a person could be either a flower or a gardener. He was talking about marriage relationships but I think it applies more broadly. I'm reasonably imaginative, but in business i was happiest taking the boss's ideas and making them work. Or explaining why they won't.

The flower needs the gardener even more than the gardener needs the flower.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Consider that the people we consider to be trail-blazing geniuses are much more likely to just be often-charismatic people that are good at self promotion and willing to gloss over or claim as their own all of the work that others have quietly put in. It is very rare that anyone is a singular genius, standing alone in their field. At the very least, they're standing on the shoulders of countless others who've put in the time before them.
posted by Aleyn at 11:39 AM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Creativity is a great attribute, among many great attributes people can have. Maverick is an interesting word choice, as it's become a bit of a synonym for jerk. The story your family is selling about creativity sounds kind of toxic and very competitive, and it's not doing you any good. It can be good expanding your comfort zone, but right now, you sounds as if you have no comfort zone. How miserable.

Spend a little time finding out what you're good at and what you like, and move in that direction. I'm great with Excel, and it can be pretty creative, you have to analyze a problem and use the tool to document it and find solutions. I used to have a small business, 1st 2 accountants were really bad, in the bad advice, bad information, cost me money way. 3rd accountant, CPA, decided to use her dreary accounting skills to have a holistic accounting business; she was excellent at the work, delightful to spend time with, made good money, helped me have a successful business. You can choose what seems like paint-by-numbers, organizational work, and if you're good at it, you can be a little or a lot creative with it, if that's what you want.

I think therapy might help you free yourself from your family's judgmental and unkind attitude towards you. Don't just do what you want, do what you want and be proud of it. That toxic crap is keeping you from being your best self.
posted by theora55 at 11:47 AM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Your “we” there is doing a lot of work. In the “we” circles I travel in, very few people venerate the maverick type - we’ve seen way too many maverick types burn and harm everyone in their path, and also frankly we’ve looked closely enough to be aware that a lot of them would get fuck-all ever done if their fanciful genius weren’t propped up by a small army of organizers, administrators, and *practical* creative people who understand how to work with other people.

If all you have in your life is people praising the rogue maverick and rolling their eyes at the boring pencil pusher, you’re not seeing a whole picture. You may need a broader array of viewpoints in your life.

But also, you’re so early in your career! None of the choices you’re making now have to be forever! What if you let yourself take an office job you know you can excel at without overworking yourself, spend some of your non-work hours nourishing your creative impulses, possibly find some ways to be creative in that work environment once you’ve settled into it, and revisit in a year or so to see how you’re feeling? One way or another I bet that would give you a lot of clarity on whether creativity and work can be separate pursuits for you.
posted by Stacey at 11:49 AM on August 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Seeing this as A or B, even seeing a blend, is cramping you I thunk. It's more multidimensional than that.

Take a random job.... veterinarian: maverick, or drone? The question doesn't even compute. At least not to me.

You're mostly describing power and status: who sets the rules and who does not, who leads and who follows. But this is not the same as creativity or discovery or open-endedness, if those are things you want. (You don't have to. But it sounds like you want to wrestle with this question.)

You can creatively see something or have an idea that nobody else would have, and work with it, and it doesn't break a rule or set a rule, it' just is what it is. Oh, maybe that's why this dog is running an elevated CRP. You're looking at outside the box, but sometimes there just is no box.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:28 PM on August 7, 2021 [7 favorites]

Hm, your job examples are about engaging with people and the stuff they do, which I think steers into people rules and people status. Maybe that's why I picked veterinarian.

What are your reactions to jobs or activities that are mostly solo practice, or engage with other creatures or aspects of the world, or both?

Conversely, any job that could be adapted to be done by a brain in a vat is going to lead you into narrowing abstraction.
posted by away for regrooving at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would absolutely do what feels right for you, but I wouldn't discount the creative impulse either.

About ten years ago I was making a living as a freelance journalist and translator. It wasn't a great living, but I had fulfilled my dream of being a full-time writer. After about a year and half of that I completely burned out, and I realized that I just didn't have what it took to live as a freelancer.

So I let my contacts know that I was leaving the field and got a job working in a group home for disabled people, which was a job where I made the world a little bit better, and it didn't eat the entirety of my waking life, like I freelancing had done. I really enjoyed the work, too, much more than freelancing.

But I continued to pursue other creative endeavors, ones I didn't really get paid for, i.e. writing poetry and fiction. Now, ten years later, I'm back to being a full-time writer, but with a much saner schedule, working on long-term projects instead of short-term ones, and getting personal fulfillment from them.

And I know that I might have to go back to regular salaried work, but I've done it once before now, so I know how to go about that, and I know I enjoy that kind of work, and I don't feel in any way like I'm leaving my dream behind doing that.
posted by Kattullus at 12:33 PM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might enjoy the Liz Gilbert Ted Talk, Your Elusive Creative Genius. The tl;dw is that the fetishisation of crazy extremity as the only true form of creativity is hugely damaging. That it has led to many artists taking their lives or suffering huge mental health. And that the best way to be creative is to sit down every day and do the work, tedious and unexceptional as it is. And - good news! - you might even discover your own creative genius through diligent hard work - it's not only those who live maverick lives of extremity who get to contribute or be creative.
posted by penguin pie at 1:03 PM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

So, you've been working for 4 years? I think you need to consider that there's a lot of creative genius that comes from working for a lot longer than 4 years, and that most people who are excellent strategic big-picture thinkers weren't born that way but got there through many years of experience being implementers of other peoples' ideas and learning from them.

It's also totally fine if you're an organizer, but I think it's a little bit early in your career to paint yourself into a corner. Do things that you are good at, and enjoy, and try to push yourself out of your comfort zone a little bit if you're ambitious and want to keep growing, but don't be so hard on yourself! I am extremely successful now, but 4 years out of college I thought that I didn't even belong in my chosen field because I hadn't been immediately successful at the first couple of jobs I took. Once I relaxed and got a job that was outside of my rigid ideas of what would be "good" for me, I started to learn about what I actually enjoyed and was good at, which let me learn the skills I needed to become eventually the creative expert I always wanted to be.

The most unhappy people I know refuse to let go of the "shoulds" that drive them, and stay in roles that aren't a great fit for them because they feel anything else will make them a failure. This isn't to say that you must follow your bliss even if it doesn't pay the bills, pragmatism is a good thing, but don't make yourself miserable worrying about shoulds and false dichotomies.
posted by ch1x0r at 1:17 PM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Also worth considering in terms of your own career and life path: Often the people who do the solid pen pushing jobs are the ones who earn enough that in their free time they can afford to throw themselves into whatever creative (or other) pursuits they fancy, and enjoy the hell out of it because they're not worried that if their creativity 'fails', they won't be able to eat next week.
posted by penguin pie at 1:34 PM on August 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I feel like context is missing here.

I don't think of myself as a maverick. But if I'm in a context where I'm being told to do something that feels wrong to me, and I stick to my principles, then I'm seen as a maverick. If I'm in a context where I'm being supported by good people and I can stick to my principles without violating their expectations, or even while fulfilling them, then I can be a very effective cog in the machine.

The second context feels much more nurturing and happy to me, and ultimately leads, I think, to more creativity, growth, etc. Sometimes I'm caught in a first context, and I have to do my best and even try to indulge in the contrarian elements of my personality. But I wouldn't embrace it as an identity any more than I would embrace cog as an identity.

Figure out what you are about, your values, your interests, and do your thing. Depending on the context (which we usually have some but limited control over), that might make you at times a maverick and and times a cog. But it doesn't matter because those aren't who *you* are, they are the interaction between you and your context.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:26 PM on August 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

UX Design and then Marketing,

these are not fields for artists or inventors except insofar as artists and inventors need miserable day jobs, so there is no need to conclude anything about your abilities or tendencies from your success or failure at them. "maverick" is marketing-speak anyway. might as well be a "creative."

aside from that, you can't be a rulebreaking nonconformist without rules and norms. so if you break rules because you hate rules, you don't want to be a maverick, that's just a side effect; you want to make your own personality type obsolete by abolishing the rules. how people view you is incidental to the real goal. but if you break rules because you want to stand out and get noticed, there are a million different ways to do that; rule-breaking is just one of them.

" the ones that create new lines for the followers to stay within?"

I mean, this seems to me like a bad thing to do or to aspire to, for anybody. some people will be imitated no matter what they do, it's not their fault. but the urge to influence and to lead is very different from the urge to create or innovate. the latter is good or neutral depending on the quality of the work done; the former is bad most of the time.
posted by queenofbithynia at 2:28 PM on August 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

I agree it’s a false dichotomy—within any role you need to draw from your ability to create and your willingness to comply—and what’s more, as a manager I intentionally hire both “types,” slightly favoring yours.
posted by kapers at 2:33 PM on August 7, 2021

I love my work. I'm incredibly passionate about it. I'm a technical writer - I love learning things, I love finding the best way to explain those things, and managers who get all freaked out by "all the work we'd have to do to write accessible documents" don't stop me when I sneak accessible writing and organization into the documents that I write and maintain.

I don't want to be a manager. I tried being a project manager, but I enjoy being too hands-on for that to be a really good fit. I've tried being an entreprenuer, and while there were some aspects of it that I enjoyed, it's not for me.

Society needs all kinds of people, from the super-innovative to the not-visibly-innovative to all of the varieties in the middle. Figure out what works for you, do what makes you the most content all around (you like what you're doing, you feel that you're making a valuable contribution to your own team if not to the company as a whole, your bills are being paid and your "bills" include "savings").

Instead of figuring out what career path to take, figure out what you like to do and why - and what you really hate doing and why. This will also help you when, in 20 years or so, you have to make a career change (because if you work anywhere near technology, you'll have to do that at least once in your working life.)
posted by Tailkinker to-Ennien at 2:38 PM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

One thing to keep in mind is that you don't need to be a "maverick" to be an innovator. A lot of times, real innovation comes from the pencil pushers, the organizers, and the secretaries. The people who strive to be good at their jobs, and are always looking for ways to improve their processes and procedures. It might not be the kind of innovation that gets headlines, but it is still innovation.

the ones that create new lines for the followers to stay within messes for everyone else to clean up?
Fixed that for you... I've worked with a few people who would probably describe themselves as "mavericks," also known as "rock stars," "ninjas," "gurus," or "thought leaders." A few of them had some interesting or innovative ideas, but all of them had the ability to sell a vision of themselves to the people who signed the checks that was always larger than their actual contributions. They weren't "creating new lines," they were just loud and willing to make a mess and leave it for everyone else to clean up.

So don't worry about not being a maverick. We don't need more of those. Be someone who is good at what you do, whatever that is.
posted by ralan at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I trained for a career that has a strong technical aspect (which I love) but which also has a commercial aspect, with an expectation of generating business, cultivating clients, running an enterprise with employees (which scared me to death). The parts of the profession I hated almost drove me away from it. But I found my niche - a sideways move into a role where I need only to use my technical expertise, with no requirement to bring in clients or have any involvement in management of a business.

The job is challenging and interesting and after 21 years I still love doing the work. Of course, the rewards are much lower than if I had my own successful business, but I know I''m not a risk-taker in relation to my career. I've seen friends running their own businesses working far longer hours than I do, in a profession that's strictly regulated and where they're just one bad decision or one dodgy client away from losing it all.

So my advice would be to work out what's important - think about what you like best about the work you've done so far, and what don't you like. See if you can find a job that allows you to stretch yourself in the areas you love, and if it pays less than you can earn doing something you don't like so much, decide if that's a compromise you are able to make.
posted by essexjan at 4:12 PM on August 7, 2021

My ex always wanted me to start my own higher ed blog, "get my name out there" "get your hustle on, maybe start a podcast" "really try to show people how to be creative in higher ed".

(And then spent 4 years unemployed "writing a book" while I first encouraged him to take some time, then begged him to do anything around the house, then begged him to get a PT job... but I digress.)

I don't want to have to get my own hustle on. You know what happens when I show up at work? They pay me! Someone else finds the money! I have a magic card in my pocket that means I can go to the damn doctor when I need to! I make a decent living and someone else does the heavy lifting on making sure the institution holds it together. I feel like I'm the one getting away with something.

(I do have a unicorn of a job where I have a lot of autonomy, which is part of the good part of higher ed.)

But seriouspants, if us cogs don't show up, the world falls apart.
posted by joycehealy at 8:04 PM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Yes, there are many ways to do the things that make up a life. Sometimes people who are mavericks at work are orderly and sedate at home, sometimes people who are clock-in-clock-out people at work have creative hobbies or even side hustles. Or sometimes people are all-around mavericks (they can be very tiring) or all around sedate orderly folks, and that is also okay! The world needs a lot, a LOT, of different kinds of people to keep it all working.

I'm a librarian. I'm a little creative in some ways and a bit of a maverick in some ways but ultimately I am a conduit between community/cultural heritage and the people who would like access to it but who don't want to spend their whole life (or all their money) accumulating it on their own. It scales and it's lovely. And a lot of what I wind up doing is doing work other people might find boring--I spent hours this week just making documentation clearer and simpler and I was thrilled about it--but it really helps people and it matters. And people diss us and I don't care. I'm good at what I do.

I think being an organizer, if you're good at it, is incredibly important. What we say a lot is that everyone wants to build things and no one wants to maintain them (so true in start-up culture). There is a lot of usefulness in the people who maintain the things that make up the world.
posted by jessamyn at 8:23 PM on August 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Is it okay to be a paint-by-numbers guy instead of a maverick creator? An organizer rather than inventor? A follower of rules rather than an entrepreneur?
I suggest you begin by examining your question and ask yourself "OK with whom?" Who is it that you are trying to please, satisfy, or impress, and why does their judgement of your life matter to you?

It can already be challenging enough to answer these kinds of questions, but it's harder by far if you aren't even clear whose standard it is against which you are trying to measure yourself.
posted by Nerd of the North at 11:11 PM on August 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I firmly believe that the way we sort people into categories, like "creative" versus "non-creative," can be extremely toxic and limiting. Not only does it create unnecessary divisions between people, it makes us feel bad about ourselves when we feel like we're not living up to the narrative of the type of person we are. Even when, objectively, we are doing no better or worse for the world around us either way.

You ask why do "we" diss the people we think aren't creative, but then you do it yourself. You're having a crisis because you've sorted people into creative (worth) and non-creative (unworthy) boxes, describe those who are creative with praiseworthy, heroic terms (mavericks, trail-blazers, etc), and then feel bad because you don't feel like you're living up to the box.

You don't owe it to anyone to have a creative job.

You don't need a creative job to be creative. In fact there's a lot to be said for creative people having non-creative jobs, so they save their creative energies for their own projects.

You don't need to be creative all the time. There is no sharp division between people who are or aren't creative.

Creative people are not better than non-creative people.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:23 AM on August 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

My managers have made it clear to me over the years that management is a pain in the ass and not worth the "big pennies," to quote one of them. Being a Leader involves more people and more drama, and I'd much rather be a peon than deal with that shit.

As for creative jobs, in my experience, they are easily expendable and I will never do another one for a living, especially now.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:50 PM on August 8, 2021

Response by poster: I want to thank each and every one of you for your enlightening responses. I feel a lot more at home being ME, and being okay with the fact that there’s nothing to be ashamed about
“just doing a job to pay the rent.” If I haven’t found that “calling” yet after the age of 32 and so much thorough searching and more so soul searching, the likelihood that I’ll just stumble upon it is slim. On the other hand, there are many things that I want to buy and experience that are unrelated to a job… so I may as well do something not so glamorous but which I am good at, and use the pay to live a full outside-the-job life. At the end of the day, I’ll die, likely unknown to history, and whether I worked to pay off my hobbies or I worked under some grandstanding CEO that wanted to “change the world”, I’ll still die largely unknown if you even zoom out a little. And I’m totally fine with that. Why should I care about how (or more likely IF) I go down in history as a maverick or a follower. I’ll be beyond this plane of existence, so it’s not my problem!
posted by ggp88 at 1:57 AM on August 14, 2021 [2 favorites]

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