Ending a type of work that is hurting me mentally and physically
September 21, 2022 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Is it a bad idea to all of a sudden pull the plug on certain jobs because I am finding the process of completing them absolutely unbearable?

I work in a part of the entertainment industry(self employed) that has many different sub categories. I've made my living in certain categories of that field and I've been extraordinarily lucky to have done it full time over the last 2 decades. Over the last two years or so I've taken some what of a detour from my regular bread and butter jobs into another area of my business because I saw it as a growth area as compared to a lot of my work somewhat declining and being over saturated with a lot of competition. At first, I really enjoyed this new area of work. Without going in to too much detail lets just say that the difference between this newer category of work and my other categories...is kind of like comparing a short distance runner to a marathon runner. The new category is all about being able to stay consistent over a long period of time...like a marathon runner. At first I was really stoked about it because it's a much more stable area of the business. Once you establish yourself in this area of work you can be booked for months at a time. Most of my career has been filled with uncertainty and inconsistency. When I started pursuing this new area I was getting really good responses from people in the position to hire me. Now, I've gotten pretty busy with this new category or work. The problem...I've come to realize that the process is so long and grueling both physically and mentally, I've quickly come to absolutely hate the work. So much so that I've had enormous mood swings and lost other work in the other areas of work that I used to work in more often because I no longer have the time and energy for it. That said, I can definitely see myself excelling in this new area. And if I stop now there will be some clients that will be left having to find a replacement for me which isn't a great situation and I would imagine would burn bridges. But it's literally wearing me down physically and mentally and I don't think it's healthy for me to continue pursing it at least right now. Should I give it some more time? Or should I stop cold turkey and tell some clients I'm taking a break for an unknown period of time?
posted by ljs30 to Work & Money (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you're conflicted because you're good at it, and you're thinking this means you therefore "should" do it. But as a former co-worker once said to me: "Just because you're hung like a moose, it doesn't meant you HAVE to work in porn."

"Excelling" at this new position isn't worth your being miserable to get there. If you're still not sure, you could do a sort of "phase out" by putting a stop to accepting new projects, and letting yourself finish up with the current projects with the clients you have. This could take some of the pressure off, let you phase yourself out with some grace, and let you transition back into the other work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:01 PM on September 21 [7 favorites]

I have some experience managing folks who have to do things over a long period of time (creative endeavors). It is very, very hard. I'm not sure if this is even possible for your line of work, but are there ways to bring in additional resources including other people? Different tools? Ways to collaborate?
posted by fillsthepews at 1:04 PM on September 21 [2 favorites]

Is this industry small and closely-knit? If you stop cold turkey will that affect your reputation? Is there anyone in the industry you could offer your clients to pass your current projects to? Are there people you could hire to help? Would it be doable to instead phase out the marathon projects and gradually increase the proportion of sprint work?
posted by trig at 1:16 PM on September 21

Many years ago, I worked as an adjunct instructor at the community college level. It was poorly-paid and stressful work within a system that was not supportive.

I decided that I would quit at the end of the semester.

Then, having made that decision, I simply found I could not carry on.

I ended up quitting in the middle of the semester. I felt terrible about it. But my department chair handled it gracefully, and it ended up doing some good for other people:

1. My classes were reassigned to a very engaged instructor. This bumped his work load up so that for the rest of the semester, he had temporary full-time status and was paid accordingly. He was over the moon and cheerfully worked with me on the handoff.

2. Because he was very engaged and positive, my students, despite the disruption, had the chance to have a much better and more effective teaching experience for the rest of this class they had paid for.

I hear you about leaving people in the lurch. But you can also think about the unexpected benefits that might accrue to other people, especially if there are people in your network you can recommend to replace you, who might be grateful for the opportunity and do a better job, ultimately, for your clients.
posted by Well I never at 3:33 PM on September 21 [3 favorites]

Well, if your area of the entertainment industry is anything like my area of the entertainment industry - event production; providing and operating sound, lighting, staging, and video equipment for concerts and other events - there's never been a better time to pick and choose your gigs as a freelancer.

Because it's utter fucking chaos out there. The pandemic and then the sudden surge of return & new business in the face of people & companies quitting the industry or changing their category focus or being lucky/savvy enough to expand their business means there's too much work to go around no matter what you do, and who can do what when and how well is totally different than it was pre-pandemic.

Part of my job is finding and booking freelancers to work our shows, and unless you ghost me multiple times or pull a no-show or do something else really egregious - yeah, you're still on my call list. I can't afford to burn any bridges as the person hiring. You tell me, "Sorry, not available" on Monday, I'm still calling you on Wednesday to see if anything's changed. (And it might have . . . )

But so yeah - as long as you give your clients ample/appropriate time to find a replacement (and especially if you can suggest someone) and have a proven track record of good work, there's a good chance no bridges will be burned. They may be annoyed or bummed out, but they'll take you for future work, no problem.

Or should I stop cold turkey and tell some clients I'm taking a break for an unknown period of time?

This one's a little hard to advise on without knowing how your work is structured? Does it have to be "cold turkey"? Is there a way to finish the work you're already in the middle of and just take a pass on some of the upcoming work? (And then chase down some of the less draining stuff you used to do.) And is it necessary to give them a whole thing about "taking a break"? (Like, as the guy finding the freelancers, all I care about is if you're available for this project/event/stretch of time - if you're not, I don't care if it's because you're working for someone else, or sleeping all day, or sipping mai tais on the beach in Bora Bora. You don't have to tell me you're taking a break, you just tell me you can't work for the month of October or whatever. Why you can't work then is your business, not mine.)

But it's literally wearing me down physically and mentally and I don't think it's healthy for me to continue pursing it at least right now.

My own experience in the entertainment business suggests that whatever it is about the job that's wearing you down is probably just part of the nature of the job? Meaning 1) yeah, I agree it's unhealthy to continue as you currently are and 2) you've had 2 years to acclimate yourself to the conditions of the job, I don't think more time will really do you much good and 3) it's cost you other work in the other categories you don't find as draining, and thus 4) you should try to find a way to "split the difference"? Like, do less of the draining work and go back to more of the other work you find less draining.

At first I was really stoked about it because it's a much more stable area of the business. Once you establish yourself in this area of work you can be booked for months at a time. Most of my career has been filled with uncertainty and inconsistency

Yeah, I hear you and I've been there. But steady work that you hate to the point of "unbearable" ain't worth it. Maybe we're fools and dreamers, but we didn't join the entertainment industry to work physically painful soul-sucking jobs with no rewards besides a paycheck. If it ain't fun, fuck it.
posted by soundguy99 at 4:50 PM on September 21 [3 favorites]

Should I give it some more time? Or should I stop cold turkey and tell some clients I'm taking a break for an unknown period of time?

Your business has been expanding (congratulations!) - and when businesses grow and expand, they can face periods of having more work than they can handle, like you're experiencing now.
I'd suggest a third option: Outsource, hire, or find collaborators that can take on parts of your workflow or help systematize it for you. If you're doing voiceover or singing, for example, then you might not be able to outsource recording your own voice - but you could get others to do the mixing and mastering (according to your specifications). You could also get someone to handle the admin and/or front-facing side of your business (e.g. communicating with clients, accounting, marketing/maintaining social media, etc).

Write up a standard set of instructions/criteria for mixing and mastering / client communications / accounting and payment processing / etc - these documents can function as your SoP guide for others in your workflow. Find reliable workers you can trust to take on those roles (it will take time, but finding good partners/employees can be worth it). You could start on a per-project basis and then make it an ongoing thing if they prove to do good, timely work (e.g. engage a freelancer for one project; if it goes well, then set up a more extended working arrangement).

Alongside this, strongly consider raising your rates. (Partly because you may need more income to cover delegating/outsourcing, and partly because raising your rates helps to control the quantity of work you have coming in, while also weeding out less-preferred clients (e.g. clients that haggle/lowball) and getting you to a level of higher quality clients that respect your work and will pay what you're worth for the value you're offering. It definitely sounds like your work is worth a higher rate - or else you wouldn't be having so many good responses and client interest!)

If you try all this and still feel overwhelmed, then maybe stopping cold turkey is really the option you want. But where you are at can be very normal and natural for someone who is good at what they do and now faces more client requests and work than they can handle as one person. The key is to transition to the next stage of expanding your business in a way that works for you - that enables you to hone in on what you do best while delegating the not-so-fun parts to others you can trust, all while getting compensated at a rate adjusted to fit the value you clearly offer.
posted by aielen at 5:31 PM on September 21

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