Enjoying your work

CanaligatorI've been reflecting on the importance of having a passion for your work. Yes, it's a tall order for some kinds of jobs. But if you're able to do what you love doing, it has plenty of benefits. This reminds me of a band I played in many moons ago, which I wrote up in one of my first blog posts...

Of the dozen musical ensembles I performed with in my twenties—the "artistic period" of my life—the most interesting one was a street-singing band, Uncle Crusty and the Venice Canaligators.

The group was named after the scenic canals of Venice, California and the scenic Uncle Crusty. His real name was Hook McGuire, a lovable, grizzly, one-armed harmonica player (he lost his hook in prison) who sang like Howlin' Wolf.

There were several very notable features of this band.

We had a minimalist, no-frills, down-home approach to performance, preferring to play outdoors on urban sidewalks without electric amplification. (Years later we "went electric" and played indoors.)

We performed songs at twice their normal speed, which enabled us to efficiently complete a dozen songs in twenty minutes.

And we attracted the most colorful street scene in the LA area, including motorcycle gangs, runaway teenage girls, ex-cons, street urchins, and drug peddlers. (The band also attracted a few undesirables, but they were the exception.)

But what was most distinct about the band was how much we simply enjoyed playing. Yes, we made good tips from passing the hat, but it was the love for what we were doing that kept us going.

We lived modestly, with several band members even electing to go homeless, which of course reduced overhead. (This is a Success Habit of Highly Effective People that is often overlooked in business literature.) Two of the fellows were quite content to sleep under the Venice pier. (I'm not making this up.) Exposing my middle-class upbringing, I slept in an actual bed in an actual house on the Venice canals. (I had paid my dues sleeping on park benches in New York's East Village years earlier.)

It was a good life and we never went to sleep hungry. We traveled simply, stuffing band members and instruments into my 1956 Volkswagen bug, which I paid a few hundred dollars for. (I was not the first member of a band whose membership was based on capital assets rather than musical talent.)

To keep us on budget, we seldom put more than a dollar's worth of gas in the tank. When the car ran out of gas—as it did almost every night (the fuel gauge was broken)—we simply pushed it home, on the flat seaside roads. This form of daily exercise may have also reduced our long-term health care costs.

Overall it was satisfying work based on a simple model: income from tips. At the beginning our long-term financial goal was to make enough money to take a day off each week. Our short-term financial goal was to make enough money for lunch. (Eventually we made enough money to save some.)

Not having to work for anyone maximized our freedom and allowed us to work anywhere we chose. If we weren't happy where we were playing we simply packed up our equipment and moved to a different location, or called it a night—and walked the car back to Venice Beach.

Our street-singing charm eventually earned us enough of a reputation to merit two appearances on NBC's famous Midnight Special with Wolfman Jack.

The take-away lesson from this is a simple one: it helps to enjoy what you do. If you can make your job fun and exciting, if your team can be inspired about the work you're doing, you'll more likely achieve what you want.

But here's another thought: what would be the cost-saving benefits of your team working outdoors, without electrical power? Or better yet: what might be the team-building benefits of your team sleeping under the local pier?

(Check out the original comment thread for this post here.)

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  1. Yesterday, listening to our daughter's new obsession Owl City (it's essentially one guy, Adam Young) I was thinking about my own obsession with doing it all myself. Looping in other people seems to lead to delays and frustration as often as resulting in any benefit.

    Simplicity sometimes means reducing personnel to person.

    1. I LOVE Owl City, which (or whom) I should post about. But there is something about working with a team. I seldom work with a consulting client solo.

      1. You take a team for your consulting work? Cool.

        How do I get invited?

        Yes, as half of the greatest team on earth (me and Best Beloved) I know the value. And for a musician performing live, I'm way tired of my solo shows.

        Long time since I was part of a really good business or music team. That may just change once we're down in Aridzonie.

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