orking Between the Worlds Wednesdays is a new series at Canto where I will occasionally (always on a Wednesday) discuss various points that I think are essential for the professional sacred artist to keep in mind if they want to have a successful and sustainable business.
It is easy to get work if you have an online presence of any kind and have written a bit about what exactly it is that you do and why you do it, and have a button somewhere on your site that people can push and that, when pushed, will send money to a bank account that (hopefully) is attached to your name and social security number.
I know that this is unpopular to say but it really is true – getting work is not the trick.
Keeping the work and continuing to work year after year is the real challenge.
This is especially true in the realm of sacred arts and never more true than right now. Businesses open on every virtual corner only to be shuttered 3 months, 6 months, 12 months later.
In some cases this is completely fine because it turns out that the individuals’ who started their businesses did not really ever want to have a sacred arts business – they just thought that was what everyone was doing right now, or they wanted to experiment and decided at the end of the day it wasn’t for them, or they discovered that they wanted to practice only for themselves and their families. All good.
But for the person who genuinely does feel called to work professionally in the sacred arts and cannot seem to get the traction needed to make a real go of it? Not so good.
In the age of the internet it is easy to play the short game: easy to set up a sleek looking site on WordPress or SquareSpace, easy to start blogging, easy to create the social media accounts and take cute instagram photos and write some witty tweets. It takes time, thought, and planning, but none of it is really that hard to do.
The long game is not easy. It requires you to create a business that grows year after year, to develop relationships with your community that are sincere and earnest, to offer services and programs that are not cookie-cutter anything but truly artful, one of a kind, and compelling — just as you are. Those things also take time and energy but they require more…more attention, more excellence, and more love.
Wendell Berry, quoting famous author and teacher of authors Wallace Stegner, in his lecture “It All Turns on Affection” says it this way:
He (Stegner) thought rightly that we Americans, by inclination at least, have been divided into two kinds: “boomers” and “stickers.”
Boomers, he said, are “those who pillage and run,” who want “to make a killing and end up on Easy Street,” whereas stickers are “those who settle, and love the life they have made and the place they have made it in.”2
“Boomer” names a kind of person and a kind of ambition that is the major theme, so far, of the history of the European races in our country. “Sticker” names a kind of person and also a desire that is, so far, a minor theme of that history, but a theme persistent enough to remain significant and to offer, still, a significant hope.
The boomer is motivated by greed, the desire for money, property, and therefore power.
…Stickers on the contrary are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.
This is to say that for the long game of anything – your business, your relationship, your studies, the first motivation must be one of love; a deep, abiding love that sticks when the times are lean and sticks when the times are fat in equal measure.
So for your business and your work in the sacred arts specifically what, practically, does that love look like?
Neil Gaiman has some good advice on the topic that he gave to artists in 2012 and that absolutely applies to the sacred arts.
People keep working, in a freelance world, and more and more of today’s world is freelance, because their work is good, and because they are easy to get along with, and because they deliver the work on time. And you don’t even need all three. Two out of three is fine. People will tolerate how unpleasant you are if your work is good and you deliver it on time. They’ll forgive the lateness of the work if it’s good, and if they like you. And you don’t have to be as good as the others if you’re on time and it’s always a pleasure to hear from you.
So, what is the secret of success for those who want to play the long game? Wendell and Neil gave it to us but let’s recap:
1.) Let your motivation be one of love and care, that way you can stick with it.
2.) Do good work.
3.) Be easy to get along with (another side effect of being motivated by love and affection).
4.) Be timely in your delivery of your good work.
Show up when you say you will. Do what you say you are going to do. Be kind to others and be on time. Care about your people and care about your work. That’s how you stick with it.
That’s how you play the long game.