James Victore on Day Jobs, Creative Burnout, "Serious Play," and His Upcoming Symposium
Navigating a career as a so-called creative professional can be a tricky and occasionally demoralizing project. Designers, writers, artists, and their ilk want to do original, meaningful work—but they also need to make a living, and that can necessitate some painful compromises (taking on less-than-ideal commissions to build a portfolio; slinging espresso shots to pay the Wi-Fi bill). If this sounds like a familiar predicament, consider signing up for James Victore’s Take This Job & Love It, a one-day symposium in New York City on September 29. (Registration closes two weeks from today.) During the event, Victore—the outspoken Brooklyn-based designer, author, and YouTube pep-talker extraordinaire—will reveal his “11 Commandments” of creativity (see the image below for a preview) and teach attendees how to find meaning in their work and “reach a higher level of badass-dom.” Here, Victore answers our questions about the symposium, striking a work-life balance, and avoiding crappy day jobs.
Stickers for a few of the “11 Commandments” that Victore will share during his September 29 symposium
What was the impetus for Take This Job & Love It?
This symposium is something that has been building for the last few years. I had been teaching and lecturing around the world for a while. Then my book (Victore or, Who Died and Made You Boss?) came out and changed everything. I found on my book tour that I was no longer talking about or even showing my design work, but I was working with ideas like perfection and bravery and risk. The response has been awesome. I have a new role that I love—part teacher, part ass-kicker. Now I want to reach a bigger audience. Voila, symposium! And because I am certifiably crazy.
One of your goals for the symposium is to help creative professionals “reignite their passion in their business.” Is this because a lot of creative people you meet are suffering from burnout?
This is a tough business, it’s always tough to equate your passions with pay. I don’t want to attract folks whose greatest reward in life is a paycheck; I want people who believe that a paycheck isn’t enough. I want people who want to be received for and paid for what they bring to the party, who want success on their own terms and who understand that failure is necessary for success. I believe that this “risk” is no risk at all—it’s opening yourself up to new opportunities and killing “the usual way of doing things.”
Are there ever times when you hate your job?
Absolutely. It’s a daily challenge. It’s easy to give up or give in in small ways. Over time, a bunch of small compromises can get you way off course. A few very “practical” decisions and you look around and what you used to love now feels like nothing but a whole lot of work. I work hard to keep my job “serious play.” Take This Job & Love It is a collection of ideas about work and life that I use every day to keep me on the proper path. I want to teach these things so that others can find their own way.
What do you think about the “day job” approach—i.e., working a crummy job to pay the bills and doing something creative on the side. Is that ever a good strategy?
In the design business, the crappy day job is slow death. The things you do on the side to make yourself happy are the things you should get paid for. Why leave it in the closet? If you are just working for a paycheck, or just to make a boss or client happy, then you should aim higher. Why put out junk food for the public and hoard the good stuff? We have the opportunity—and I think the mandate— to change people’s lives with our work.
In addition to the symposium, you run a dinner series and do a video Q&A every Tuesday. How do these activities influence or inform your design work? Do they ever take away from the time you can spend on design?
Yes, these things take a chunk of my time—that’s why I designed them! I’m a designer; I’m designing my life. I want to be involved with exciting people who are seeking more out of their lives.
The audience for TTJALI is not just designers but writers, artists, small-business owners, and educators. How do you make sure your message applies to all these different groups?
The main idea behind this symposium is that your work is a gift. Everyone’s work, not just designers’. When you think of your work as a gift, it changes how you approach it; it changes the game. You understand that your work creates ripples past making your client/boss happy, and you witness the ramifications of putting greatness out into the world. I’ve always been a dreamer, always felt that the possibilities we have in this field reach far beyond what we are “allowed” to do (or let ourselves do). I’d like to think I’ve always lived by this code. I have always made the decision to design my life a certain way so that I could have both a creative career and family life that I envisioned.
From the schedule, it looks like you’ll be on stage for a solid six hours. How will you keep up your energy and enthusiasm for this long? Are doing anything to prepare?
“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses—behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.” —Muhammad Ali