THE DINKY JOB

Not very complicated, right? You still have to do it properly, or you're not likely to get a chance to build something more complicated down the road.

Not very complicated, right? You still have to do it properly, or you're not likely to get a chance to build something more complicated down the road.

It's a dinky little job. You almost turned it down, but because you’re a pro you bit your lip and took the gig.  

Now it’s yours and it’s starting to drive you a little crazy because every time you touch it, it's taking time away from the stuff that really interests you. 

The client doesn't have much of a vision. The contract doesn't have a big payoff. There isn't even much of a challenge. The whole thing bores you, in fact, but you know that since you took the job, you have to do the job.

What you don't know, mired as you are in day to day labors of the thing, is that six months from now, the dinky little job you managed to complete months ago might become the source of your bright ascendency. 

Here's the thing: you never know which job is going to matter. If you care about what you create, every project you undertake has to have a standard of quality on which you can confidently put your name. Some people try to recuse themselves from the dogs; they try to keep their names off projects they wished they didn’t have to take.  But reputations are like water. They squeeze through the cracks of even the smallest spaces, describe you no matter what you do, follow you eternally.  If you cannot bear to have your name on a creative piece of work, you shouldn't take the gig.

The movie industry had a long tradition for directors who took the helm of projects they wanted to disavow. In the credits, they called themselves “Alan Smithee”, a dog whistle to industry insiders. The name is now largely retired, but the thought behind this anti-pseudonym was designed to indicate that the creative team really didn’t like the project, or didn’t feel like they had a personal investment in the work. I understand the need to disavow something that goes sideways, to get out from under an assignment that gets usurped and for which you’ll be judged even if you’re not ultimately responsible. But if a project is genuinely yours to complete, even if it’s a tiny little thing that doesn’t seem like it amounts to much, it’s still yours. Do you want your name affiliated with something slipshod and mediocre?

More to the point, the little jobs that you think aren’t going to count are sometimes knots on a rope that will lead you over a mountain. Rarely is it ever possible to know when something substantial will grow from something inauspicious and small. 

The little gigs matter. At least, they matter if you decide to take them. Not every job matters, to be clear. By all means, you shouldn’t say “yes” to everything that comes your way! But if you decide to take a dinky job, you need to treat it like it’s the most important thing in the world, even if it’s no fun. If it matters to a client enough to hire you to do it, it matters that you do it well. And if you do it well, you never know where it may lead. 

@michaelstarobin

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