Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Advice from a Bench Sitter

I played soccer for more than 15 years. About half that time, I sat on the bench.

Starting with the Ladybugs in 1st grade, I loved playing soccer. I continued through playing Division III soccer in college. All added up, I bet I practiced or played at least 250 hours a year for 15 years. Yes, more than 3,000 hours!

As I grew up, anyone who was pretty good at the game was encouraged to try out for the “select” team, which traveled to other cities and played better teams. The coach was well trained, my peers were more skilled and the pace was fun.

Even in junior high, I usually spent most of my select team game time on the bench. I don’t remember worrying about it much, but always enjoyed getting on the field. When playing for my less competitive public high school team, I excelled and was in the entire game, but still sat on the bench when with the select team.

Honestly, I rarely practiced outside of team obligations. I definitely didn’t get fit or work out in the off season. I never watched other people’s games or learned about soccer strategy like my fully committed teammates. I felt I had too many other things I wanted to do, like keep up my social life and other extracurricular activities.

I was still on the bench in college, which was another level of challenge, with tough opponents, many more hours in team practice, and trips on top of school work. After a few years of the stressful pace, I really began reconsidering. Should I be spending this much time preparing to sit on the bench? Do I even like this game? I decided to finish all four years on the team.

During that deliberation, I resolved that if I continued, I really should devote myself to getting better rather than just cruising along watching. That summer, I ran (wow) to get fit for the season. I paid attention to coaching. I observed my teammates to learn what they did well.

My confidence increased that fall even as my playing time did not. The next year, though, I competed for and won a starting spot on the team, not to mention I had a lot more fun. Through committing myself more fully to the game, I experienced the exhilaration and traditional “winning” success.

My overall soccer experience would have been good regardless of finally ending up a starter. I spent so many years playing soccer because of a pure enjoyment of the game, not to mention I enjoyed being outside, the camaraderie, and the consistency of the practices.

My soccer journey is similar to the decisions visual artists make (consciously or not) about their career paths. I wish I had considered these questions earlier so I could have chosen at what level to play and what made me happy.

Artists can make decisions about:
>How much time will I devote?
Determining willingness to devote not only to the actual craft in the studio, but also to strategies for career opportunities and to the art field in general, can help you avoid unnecessary guilt or expectations for yourself.

>How committed am I to this?
Commitment means risk, at least emotional and professional vulnerability and facilitates new potential career stages and opportunities.

>Who is my team?
I was a star on one team and a bench sitter on the other. It is hard to make decisions about competition levels and colleagues’ commitment without considering how others might judge this choice. I assumed I should want to be on the best team, even if I didn't get to play.

>What makes me really pleased about this endeavor?
Maybe I had more fun being the star, but was more fulfilled in the difficult competition. Either path could be satisfying, but I wouldn’t have expected to play on the star team without more commitment on my part. As an artist, the satisfaction might be in the actual art making, the thrill of its reception or a myriad of other factors. No one can define this fulfillment for you, but I hope you can define it for yourself.

OVAC invites you to the Artist Survival Kit workshop, “Career Paths” on May 22. I promise to avoid sports analogies as Sunni Mercer and I lead the day focused on artistic career stages, assessment, and practical job options.


Bill the Girl said...

In the midst of deciding on whether to give up my job and pursue and MFA or not, this post is quite helpful (even with the sport analogy). Thanks for posting, I have a lot to consider!

Anonymous said...

IT IS A VERY NICE SUGGESTION, THANK YOU LOTS! ........................................