Treat your career like a bad boyfriend.
When Sara came home with Amy Poehler’s Yes Please under her arm, I had rolled my eyes.
I love Amy Poehler. I love Parks and Recreation. But another celebrity spouting hyperbolic tales of their suburban upbringing and their wild Lorne Michaels encounters? No thanks. I prefer my doses of Poehler streamed on Netflix.
Then Sara read me the line - Treat your career like a bad boyfriend - and Poehler’s wisdom melted my conceit.
Sara read on: Here’s the thing. Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you are around. It will forget your birthday and wreck your car. Your career will blow you off if you call it too much. It’s never going to leave its wife. Your career is fucking other people and everyone knows but you.
Poehler’s pithy dharma perfectly encapsulates the ups and downs of my careening career. Since quitting W-2’s to go 1099, I’d been dating a bad boyfriend. Gigs appear, choice jobs to fill out my portfolio and float my bank account to black. Gigs disappear, sending me once more unto the breach. Just as I grow confident in my power to subdue my fly by night lover, he leaves me languishing. Just as I give up hope and erase him from my contacts, he appears at my door, gazing at me like I’m the only rabbi-writer-yogi on earth.
I asked for this. Two years ago, I divorced my dysfunctional marriage to the pulpit to play the field fast and loose. Now, I must figure out how to survive, how to thrive, with this delightful, destabilizing, mercurial, intoxicating lover, this dizzying freelance life.
Ambivalence is key, Poehler instructs. You have to care about your work but not about the result. Your career is a bad boyfriend. It likes it when you don’t depend on it. It will reward you every time you don’t act needy. It will chase you if you act like other things (passion, friendship, family, longevity) are more important to you.
The dharma of Amy Poehler is the dharma of detachment. Jobs appear. Jobs disappear. Tying down the bad boyfriend won't work. He'll slip the chains and leap the fence. “So dump him,” others have countered when I’ve introduced them to the bad boyfriend sutra. Perhaps I could dump him, perhaps I would, if I didn’t still remember the pain of standing before that congregation, chained to work I didn’t love, a stranger in my own skin. My bad boyfriend’s a shit, but he never asks me to be anyone but myself.
So I cultivate ambivalence. I practice detachment. I relish the victories and expect the defeats. I focus, a la Poehler, on friendship, family and longevity. And I create, slowly churning blank pages into prayers, writing whether or not my bad boyfriend graces me with his presence.
Your creativity is not a bad boyfriend, Poehler writes. It is a really warm older Hispanic lady who has a beautiful laugh and loves to hug. If you are even a little bit nice to her she will make you feel great and maybe cook you delicious food.
Writing this post might get me nowhere. My bad boyfriend’s got an artist in every port, so who the hell knows when next he’ll show. Either way, I’ve got my work, my creative calling, my beautiful Hispanic momma feeding me fresh tortillas and burying me with hugs. She shows up every time.