Monday night, I couldn't sleep. It is a cliche to say that I tossed and turned; like many cliches it is also a truth. Beside me, my boyfriend lay sleepless as well. Our reasons were different: he had to move house in the morning, which is one of the most stressful things you can do. Me? I had to make a difficult decision about a job.
The problem was, I'd been offered the job in early December and accepted it. It was now the end of January, the job (music directing a high school musical) was supposed to start February 1st... and I was thinking about backing out of it.
But oh, the dread: How could I back out so late? What would my contact for the job say? Would he be angry? Or worse- upset? Would he blame me for sabotaging an ambitious show, for leaving them in the lurch?
But how could I do the job? I was unprepared- I had never received the musical score and rehearsals were now only days away. The job had gone from something a bit out of my comfort zone- working on a classic musical with high schoolers- some of whom I'd have to shape into a live band by opening- to something I was dreading: a show with 15-plus songs, none of which I'd ever seen a lick of music for.
On one hand it was easy to say well, they never got me the music and I've been asking for it for weeks. Now I haven't got the time to prepare. And on the other hand: If you were a really good musical director you would have found a way. You'd be able to sight-read the score. You'd be excited about this show rather than frustrated. You'd make it happen. The real issue was, I didn't want to make it happen. I wanted out.
Back and forth my mind went, through the pros and the cons of saying no. There was the money of course, because in my life there's never enough money and now here I was turning it away. And there was pride: by backing out I was essentially saying I wasn't good enough to take it on. There was convenience though- if I did back out I'd have more time to do the jobs I was really excited about rather than spreading myself too thin.
In the end it took that night and most of the next day before I worked up the courage to email my contact and tell him I was backing out of the job. And then I had to wait for his email. More dread.
|Hey, look! I'm using this dumb stock footage of a woman who looks nothing like me to illustrate my stressed-out state of mind.|
I started realizing that I was not just saying no to the job. I was saying no to the idea that we freelancers have to say yes to any job that comes our way, lest we refuse one and then all the work dries up. I was saying no to being overly busy, which is such an ingrained part of our work culture. How many Facebook statuses and articles have I read where someone is about to start a 12-hour workday, or hasn't had a day off in a month, or is juggling childcare and work and school? Hell, my own boyfriend would never stop working if I wasn't around. I salute you people. I applaud your work ethic and your dedication, but I am not you. And I don't want to be.
I was also admitting some inadequacies in my skillset, which is a tricky one, and something again that freelancers in general have a hard time doing. We've all said yes to gigs that challenged and stretched us. Arrange music for an ensemble you've never worked with before? Gotcha. Teach piano to kids?, Sure, see you Wednesday. Run from the orchestra pit to the stage and back again multiple times in one show, being both the attention-seeking diva and the quiet-but-efficient music director? Yep, just did that for my last play. Hang upside down 30 feet off the ground while singing opera? Sure, I can do that. (Not really. But I'd probably give it a go.)
I have a tendency to downplay my abilities. But there are certain things I am not that great at, and while I am learning to love (and improve at) my job teaching piano to kids, when it comes to piano music I am simply not a great sight-reader. I need practice and lots of it. I would (and could) happily step in at a moment's notice to replace a singer onstage. But a piano player? Never happen. There are times when you have to accept that saying yes won't be a case of challenging yourself. It'll be a case of being the wrong person for the job.
Am I over-justifying? Of course. There will always be a part of me that regrets the missed opportunities. The part of me that wonders what could have been if I just said yes. If I'd made it work. Because hell, almost every time I say yes to new and exciting and scary things, it's led to the best things: great gigs, travel, new friends, new loves.
In my mind, I try to look past the door I just closed, and see the path I could have chosen. But of course I can't; that's the price you pay for closing doors. What I do see is a spring filled with excitement: 3 weeks of full-time rehearsals where I get to be a musician and performer; the continuing joys and challenges of being a music teacher; an album release concert, and who-knows-what other jobs that will pop up along the way?
I blame myself for not being more clear about my needs (getting the score in plenty of time) when I took on the job in the first place. And of course, I blame myself for overbooking myself, which is the constant curse of the freelancer. But having finally taken action and refused the job, I feel nothing but relief.
All the worst-case scenarios I feverishly mulled over never came to pass. My contact for the job accepted my news with disappointment, but with total class. I dreaded reading his replying email to me, and yet when it came, there were no recriminations, no accusations, no guilt trips. We wished each other well, and that was that. As always, my worst enemy had been myself.