Creative Careers Demand Reinvention

We are what we do. Until the guillotine drops and we have to become our next best self, an equally terrifying and exhilarating prospect.

I just got off the phone with a former student.

He was calling from the stairwell between floors at the newspaper where he’s worked the for past seven years—pulling long hours, winning regional awards, moving up the pay scale, making a name for himself.

“I got shit-canned,” he said, his voice like a thousand-yard stare.

I pictured him as a college senior, stopping by my office to introduce me to his new puppy. When last we talked, he’d been dealing with the fallout of success. After grad school and a hitch at a small paper, he’d moved on to become one of the go-to guys at a big-city daily—which meant even more hours. He was missing quality time with his toddler; his wife was on the warpath. He was split into fragments of triumph and guilt. How to explain to the others in our lives? The ones we love; the ones we take time away from. Our work is not just work. It’s how we define ourselves. We are what we do.

Until the guillotine drops.


I tell him I’ve never been fired.

And this is why: Technically, I’ve only ever had one full-time job.

The last time I filed a W2 was for 1984. I was 28. That was the year I shed my golden handcuffs to ply the uncertain waters of freelancing. People toId me I was acting young and foolish, and maybe that was true. But I’d made a promise to myself: I wanted to see how far my wits could carry me.

Ever since, I’ve been self-employed, a 1099 sole proprietor with a home office deduction. My wits have carried me through 33 years worth of contracts, many of them annual, most of them one-offs. I still have every piece of paper—folders and folders of signed contracts taking up space in my obsolete lateral file. For some reason I keep them, each one a symbol of a small triumph, the garnering of an assignment, a chance at a payday and maybe even a modicum of glory. Once I had a two-year contract. It seemed incredibly extravagant.

So…I’ve never been fired, but I’ve spent a lifetime doing what you have to do when you get fired—reinventing myself....more