Sheri Rosenberg on career shifts and that inevitable New York question.

This post was written by our good friend Sheri Rosenberg for her blog here.  I hear from so many people lately about how freelance gigs are getting harder and harder to come by and that reinventing yourself is becoming necessary.  When I read Sheri’s post I wanted to share it because I know it is realtable.  In Sheri’s case she talks about being a writer, but you can really substitute any other passion in its place.

Good morning, Tuesday. I slept in a bit this am and skipped yoga just because. Khan snuggled up next to me is all the down dog I’ll be getting today. Oh well.

So lately I’ve been obsessing about career moves. (What else is new?)

I live in a city where everyone’s first question is inevitably “what do you do?” It’s beyond strange how forward that feels and how in other parts of the country and the world, it’s not necessarily the first thing out of one’s mouth when meeting someone new. But this is New York, and our equity as humans is tied very tightly to how we make a living. Perhaps this has changed a bit with the advent of the gig economy, but still- everyone wants to know just how you can afford to live in this crazy place, and that’s the truth.

For many years as you know, I’ve been a producer. And I’m not being boastful, but I’m good at it. I just am. I know how to solve problems, I’ve been doing it forever, and I respect great ideas and try to give them the integrity they deserve when I come up with a plan to produce or make things. So it was always easy for me to answer the above question- I’m a producer. Of photography primarily, but I can do other things. That was always my default answer.  And I could say this with a great deal of conviction because that’s what I did, and it was easy to explain. But it was the other part of the answer that always tripped me up- those “other things”. Because deep down I knew that “just” producing was not a full picture of what I did, or what I aimed to do. It’s no knock on producing mind you- Lord bless the sorry lot of us who have worked in production for most of our careers- it’s not an easy job in the least and the stress is off the charts.

So cut to now.  To be perfectly honest, the work is not quite as steady as it should be. As a freelance producer, I was busy for years and years and loving it. But lately, it feels like the freelance well is running a bit dry- many in the ad game who do what I do are diversifying- by learning how to produce video, digital, experiential, you name it. I’d be happy to do those things I guess but if you’ve been reading this blog you know my true love is writing. So why do I have such a hard time calling myself a writer? In the age of social media influence, can’t we be whatever we want? So why in such a creatively democratic age is this such a struggle?

I’m sure there’s a number of reasons for it. First, New York City is bursting with writers. It’s kind of writer central. Some of the best writers in the world live here, and have been writing professionally for possibly longer than I’ve been alive- it’s an elitist world in a way and super hard to break into. Second, writers are not my tribe. What I mean by that is I have surrounded myself with ad people, photographers, and those that are in my primary career sphere forever. I find myself uncomfortable around groups of writers, but perhaps that’s my own intimidation. I know I need to start connecting with other writers in order for me to become the best I can be as well as make a living doing it. Case in point- this weekend I did birthday dim sum for a friend’s 40th at one of those crazy dim sum halls in Chinatown. She happens to be an accomplished food writer, and at the party, there were lots of writer types. As we ate endless dumplings, the question of “what do you do” came up, as it always does, but in a bit of a different way. Instead, the question was “How do you know Gabriella? Are you a writer too?” Oy.

My husband looked at me, waiting for my response. I squished my eyes a bit and said, “Well, kinda, not really, I don’t know, can you pass the dumplings”?

There’s confidence for you. Why was I so afraid to say I was indeed a writer? Is it because my primary way to pay rent is through my life as a producer? Or is it because I’m not yet convinced that I am said writer? It was a humbling moment for me, but one that bugged me. I guess I’m afraid of being a phony, a sham. In a city of so much talent, who am I to say this is what I do?

And further, why on Earth do I care what people think? After all, I take to this blog as much as I can and share as much as I can. I mean, I am a writer. I’ve been one since childhood. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do. I took many paths away from it through the years and now here I am, back at it. I also think I’m somewhat traumatized by a lifetime in advertising, where you are put in silos in order to assess whose job it is to do what. There is a writer. There is an art director. There is an account person. A strategist type. A media person. A project manager. And of course, a producer.  It is so rare for people to move within these boxes- as much as agencies say they want people who have multiple skills, it’s very hard to do more than one thing within the agency structure. Sure producers might cross media and work on video, digital, and whatever else, but damn if an account person is going to art direct a photoshoot. Or they better not try. Ha.

Advertising is an industry of specialists, not generalists. I don’t care what agencies tell you. That’s the way it is and I see no sign of it changing. Sure people are tackling more as agencies hire less, but nobody likes it.  Producers produce. They are often asked now to be more client facing, but they’re still producers. Everyone’s being asked to do more, but it’s still within their very narrow job description. The upside? It sure makes it easy to answer the New York question.  (I assume this is also an LA question, by the way. Though there, it somehow seems more normal to have many slashes in what you do- as in waiter/writer/producer).

My point is that all of this categorizing makes it easy to answer the WDYD question, but it does a bit of a number on you as well. I’ve been conditioned to think that writing should be left to the writers, because that’s how the ad business works. They may tell you good ideas can come from anywhere, but they kind of don’t mean it. It’s a very territorial game, advertising. And I suppose I was never one for turf wars.

But now that my life in advertising seems to be slowing down, I’m trying to embrace that I am a writer, that I will be a writer, that I’ve always been a writer. I may not be living on what I make as a writer, but that’s ok. I’m curious about the next time I get asked that dinner party question- how will I answer? It may be a while before I can say “I’m a writer” with any sense of conviction, but I’ll do everything I can to get there. Sure I’ll still produce projects, that’s my left limb. But maybe my right limb wants a new move. Thanks to those who support and encourage me to keep going on this path. It means the world. I have never felt more drawn to reinvention than I do right now. Or in my case, rediscovery for a passion I’ve had my entire life.

Cause that’s what’s up this questionable Tuesday in the 718. Yours, in writing it all down. XO

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