Successful planning

It’s the season for making plans. Making resolutions is easy but to make them a reality, you need a plan. In 2015, I became better at making plans. They say that the one thing you need to succeed is a plan, you have to have a clear idea of what you want. This time last year, I felt like I was not a good planner. I always had a to do list on the go and lots of a vague ideas about what I’d like to do but I didn’t have a step 1, step 2, step 3 kind of plan. I may not believe in God but I do believe that the saying “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans” has a lot of truth in it. Life is full of events that are hard to plan for.

This uneasiness about my planning ability followed me throughout the year. In July it became part of my application to take part in Cultural Freelancer group mentoring sessions. As part of the application process, we were asked to provide a ”burning question” that you have about your work or a specific project. Mine was about planning.

How do you make long term career plans in a precarious industry? How do you make even medium term plans (3-5 years into the future) when there are so many unknowns?

Cultural Freelancers Ireland have been running drop-in sessions for the last couple of years but this pilot programme brought the same small group together for four weeks, to offer support and peer mentorship one our individual questions. Over the four weeks, the CFI participants worked on answering our burning questions.

I found that my burning question was only a jumping off point. Through the discussions with the group, I learnt that it wasn’t my ability to plan that was troubling me. It was hard to make a plan because I didn’t know what I wanted. I needed to figure that out first.

At the end of each session, we set ourselves homework, things we needed to think about or work out before the next session. One of the first pieces I set myself was to write down “What does success mean to me? What does my idea of success look like?”

This was an important and personal exercise and it helped me figure out a lot. Money is not my main motivator but my idea of success still includes getting paid for my work, which is not always easy in the arts. It also includes having a group of people to work with again and again. It includes professional recognition and being able to make choices.

It was an interesting exercise that lead on to another piece of homework – figuring out what success feels like. To do this, I made a list of times in the past that I have felt successful or proud of something I’ve achieved. It’s a great exercise to do if you’re feeling a bit stuck or uninspired. It will remind you of past successes and make you feel much more capable. I wrote down everything I could think of – anything that gave me a feeling of joy or accomplishment, no matter how small.

When I had my list I looked for common themes. I learnt that I don’t really value the achievements that come easily to me – the challenges feel much more like successes. Looking at the past made it clear what I had to do to achieve success in the future. I had something that I could use to make a plan.

The CFI sessions gave me time and space each week to sit down and think about these things and that was really valuable. Having homework to do meant that I had to put time aside to think about what I wanted and write down my thoughts. Spending time thinking about what I want out of life, in this structured, homework-driven way, made me happier. I felt more in control of my life. Planning can be boring. It’s not very sexy but life is better with a plan. It means you get to call the shots and decide what success is. Decision making is easier when you have a clear plan – the thing you’re being asked to do either fits in with the plan or it doesn’t – decision made!

Another thing that I discovered was that a lot of the things on my list of successes involved lots of planning. I realised that I have a good track record of coming up with plans and seeing them through. My view of myself as a bad planner wasn’t true!

If you are still working out your resolutions and plans for 2016, these Guardian articles might help.

Put off procrastination…forever
How to be a moderately successful person

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Christmas Theatre Events

There are a few Christmassy theatre things happening next week that could be described as “networking events”. For better or worse, you get a lot of the work in theatre through who you know so networking is fairly important for a career in theatre. This is not necessarily in a cronyism kind of way, but simply because nobody can hire you if they don’t know you exist or they don’t know what you do.

I am not one of life’s natural networkers and that’s ok – it’s not something I aspire to. In my mind, a good networker is a smooth-talking American business man, bullshitting everyone about how amazing he is and handing out business cards to anyone who looks in his general direction. I’m Irish and I’m a woman – two things that conspire to make me unlikely and unwilling to talk about how great I am. The idea of it makes me cringe.

networking

Through Cultural Freelancers, I found out that I’m not the only who feels like this. I lot of people want to run and hide at the idea of networking. I also discovered that networking doesn’t have to be an ordeal and doesn’t have to involve talking shite about how great you are. It can be about talking to people honestly about what you do and about what they do. I’ve found a new way of thinking about it – instead of “networking”, my aim is to make connections.

Where networking is all about selling yourself, connecting with people is more of a two-way street. Making connections is about finding people you have something in common with, people you get on with and who are interesting to you. It’s just having conversations. You don’t have to talk yourself up but don’t talk yourself down either. Another tip from Cultural Freelancers is to practice your elevator pitch – describing your work in two or three sentences. No bullshit, just who you are and what you do, said in a positive way with no apologising for your own success or down-playing your achievements.

Thinking about it like this makes networking less horrendous. It might help you get work in the future but that’s not it’s sole function. It’s just the social side of business. If we all worked in offices it would be the conversations at break or while you’re waiting for the lift, but because theatre is full of freelancers, we have to go to events to have those chats.

Here are some events to connect at!

TODAY: December 12th – Fringe Elevenses in Fringe Lab at 11am
A general gathering with cake. I’ve been to a few of these and they are well attended, chatty, informal mornings with treats. It lasts about an hour and you can drop in at anytime.

December 15th – Cultural Freelancers – Festive Get Together in Irish Theatre Institute at 11am
This is not a usual CFI meeting with provocations and themes, just food, drink and chats. It’s a nice one to attend as an introduction to Cultural Freelancers or if you just want to talk theatre on Monday morning.

December 15th – Fringe Fuse and Christmas drinks at Fringe Lab, Fringe Fuse starts at 7.30pm and the drinks happen after at 9.30pm
This is a scratch night as well as an opportunity to make connections. It’s also a nice one for those of us who don’t have an office Christmas party to attend. This is the freelancers Christmas party!

December 18th – Theatre Forum’s Tell a Good Story Event at Project Arts Centre, 4pm
I missed last year’s Tell A Good Story so I’m really looking forward to this on Thursday. It’s a really nice way to spend an afternoon because it celebrates the successes in theatre throughout the year, with a wide definition of success. It’s a different crowd as well, usually it’s more companies and less freelancers at Theatre Forum events.

You do have to be a Theatre Forum member to attend but it’s only €25 for a year’s membership as an individual and if you join now, you will be paid up until the end of 2015.

It’s well worth the money. Apart from the annual conference, the other big event is the funding meeting at the beginning of the year which is a great insight into where the Arts Council money is going – it’s a big chunk of information presented in a meaningful way. They also run sessions on tax and being self-employed and it’s another good way to connect with the theatre community.