The Right Way to Make Career Decisions


As Creatives, our careers are made up of a series of projects. Whether you are a musician, a dancer, an actor, a writer, or a visual artist, opportunities are presented to us almost daily in the form of invitations, requests, and our own ideation. 

But we all know what happens if we simply say yes to everything, right? It’s a recipe for burnout and overwhelm. 

It would seem, then, that the ability to make the right decisions regarding these opportunities is one of the most important career skills we can develop. 



I once had a colleague at an arts organization I was doing some work with. He was in an admin/management/ops position and was in charge of making sure everything ran smoothly. 

He was smart, capable, and truly had the organization’s best interest at heart. 

But at every single planning meeting, he would storm off in a puff of frustrated anger shouting “No! No! No! We cannot add more! We can’t do it because of A, because of B, and because of C.” 

And privately, he would bemoan the artistic staff and how clueless they were about the realities of the situation. Understaffed. Every cent in the budget was spoken for. There’s not enough time in the schedule as it is, etc. etc. “Why didn’t they understand?” 

He felt very strongly that he was the only sane person in the room, and that it was his job to stand strong and keep the organization from taking on more than it could handle. 

And he did. He somehow managed to stop every new initiative that was presented.

The organization stalled. It lost momentum. It stopped growing. People grew bored with the status quo. Eventually, he left and moved on to a new position in a new organization. And as much as we all loved him, we were relieved. 



Why was he so wrong? 

Because he wasn’t making decisions in the right way, and as a result, he wasn’t allowing the organization to make the right decisions. 

He had a classic “No, Because” attitude instead of a “Yes, if” attitude. 

Stay with me. 

It’s very easy when we are presented with a new opportunity, to simply see how it fits in with your current situation. 

Whether it’s a gig that comes up last minute, a new teaching position, an audition that you might want to take, or a new project that you’ve always dreamed about doing, It’s usually the case that it WON’T fit into your life as it is. Or that it will, but it’ll have detrimental effects later on. 



Here are a couple of examples: 

Example #1: The contractor from an orchestra 30 miles away that you play with occasionally calls needing a last-minute sub for this weekend’s big concert. You don’t have access to the car, the rehearsal schedule happens to conflict with 3 lessons you are teaching over that weekend, and you were looking forward to finally having a weekend afternoon free. 

Answer #1: No, because my partner needs the car that weekend and I have to teach. 

Answer #2: Yes, if I can carpool with another player, and if my 3 students are willing and able to reschedule their lessons. 


Example #2: There’s an opportunity to show your art at a gallery in town, but the deadline for submissions is SOON, and you are already busy at work and at home taking care of the kids after school. 

Answer #1: No, because it’s not a good time-I’m super busy. 

Answer #2: Yes, If I can get that new intern to help with this project at work, and if I can put the kids into the after-school program for a couple of weeks so that I have a couple of hours to paint each afternoon. 


Example #3: A group of your students comes up to you with this amazing idea to get all of the students from nearby schools together to do a massive fundraising concert for a worthy cause close to their heart. You’re swamped as it is, and don’t really trust these students to make it happen. You know it’s going to fall on your shoulders. 

Answer #1: No, because it’s too much with everything that we have going on. We’re trying to get ready for our own concert, and I’m completely swamped. 

Answer #2: Yes, if you kids can write a proposal, get the other schools/directors on board, and if we use some of the repertoire we are playing in our upcoming concert, some pieces from the fall concert, and just 1 new short piece. 


The thing that they all have in common?

The “No, Because” answers simply took in the status quo to make the decision. This is how it is, and so we cannot do X. 

The “Yes, If” answers, however, got creative, and took into consideration the possibility of growth all-around. Can we improve or change the current circumstances to allow for this new opportunity to thrive?

Now, I should say: declaring “Yes, if” does not lock you into doing anything. It’s simply that. Yes. This is possible IF these parameters are put into place. Those involved in making the decision, then, are the ones to decide whether THAT is possible or desirable. 

Maybe you don’t want to put your kids into afterschool. Maybe you love spending that time with them in the afternoon. 

Maybe you would prefer to have some of your weekend time clear–and even though you could do that gig, you’d prefer to have more time at home, and less time in the car. 



Another Way

Circling back to those painful planning meetings, if our colleague had had more of a “Yes, If” attitude, it might have sounded more like this. 

“I love it–great idea! I think we could make this happen if we can bring in $30,000 more in funding and if we hire 2 temporary workers: 1 to help the marketing dept. with the promotion and 1 to help with general rehearsal set up–our current ops staff will already be busy handling other things. Also, we’ll need to put off this other project we’ve been working on so that we can focus on getting this one off the ground. It also conflicts with my anniversary trip to Hawaii, so everyone will have to be okay with my not being present during the actual shows.” 

See how he would have left it in their court? If they don’t think they can raise that $30K, and they aren’t willing to hire the 2 temps, then they can make the decision that it’s not worth it, or the timing isn’t right. 

And if the project IS worth it? Then they will raise the money and hire the additional staff. Other projects will be put on hold, and the new initiative gets launched. 


So, what about you? 

How many opportunities have you passed up simply because you weren’t seeing past your current circumstance? 

How many new projects have you taken on without thinking about what will truly be needed for it to thrive and to keep you from burning out? 

It’s not just Yes or No. 

Try to start with a “Yes, if….” 

And then decide from there what is best for you.




P.S. Did you find this helpful? Sign up for “The Weekend List”–my weekly newsletter that hits your inbox each Friday with more tips, tricks, and life hacks for creatives, as well as a curated list of things to read, try, ponder, or check out. All geared to help musicians and creatives live their best lives. 

One Comment on “The Right Way to Make Career Decisions

  1. Thanks! As a ‘glass-half-full’ guy, that seemed very insightful and possible. And timely…

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