In my last blog post, an interview with Chris Anderson, Editor-in-Chief of Wired Magazine, Chris had a brilliant thought:
“If ever these was a time to be overextended, this is it.”
I agree with him completely. I know what it means to be over-extended all too well. Recently I made a list of all the projects I’m currently working on. The next book. The road trip. The prints. Blogging. Consulting. Drawing cartoons. The list goes on…
All in all, it came down to ten items. Ten. Each one interesting and potentially lucrative enough to be taken on as a full-time job. Ten.
Ouch. Even for me, that seemed like WAY too much.
The other day, a friend of mine was kvetching about having to hold down three jobs. “Three?” I quipped. “Try holding down ten…”
My friend looked at me funny. He was probably right to do so.
Since about 1991, it’s been like that for me. From the moment I woke up till the moment I went to bed, I was working on something. The day job or the cartoons or something else. Sure, I’d have girlfriends come and go, but the girlfriends never lasted too long, and I also ended up inventing, in 1997, an art form that would allow me to carry on working WHEN I was going out to the bars i.e. the “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards”.
I’ve not had a proper vacation in ten years, either. Nor am I planning one.
Call Chris and myself, and probably over 50% of the people who read this blog, members of “The Overextended Class”.
You know who you are. And you know what? In terms of percentage of the population, there were less of us twenty years ago. And there’ll be more of us in two decades.
Our parents and grandparents spent their Cognitive Surplus watching television. That’s a thing of the past… a historical accident of the old factory-worker age meeting the modern mass-media age. Of course it wouldn’t last forever. We humans as a species were designed to compete, not to sit around on our asses.
Welcome to the Overextended Class, People. You may opt out of it if you want, but over time it’s going to get harder and harder to make ends meet, let alone be successful, if you do.
[UPDATE: Just added this to “EVIL PLANS”.]
[Backstory: About Hugh. Twitter. Newsletter. Book.. Interview One. Interview Two. EVIL PLANS. Limited Edition Prints. Private Commissions. Cube Grenades.]
A very prescient post Hugh.
Late nights, early mornings and still so much to do, but before I started overextending myself I wasn’t doing what I love.
With all the connections and resources available, and the possibilities for creativity and learning, there’s no time for slacking.
It’s not the norm, of course, but I think you’re right – the ‘overextended class’ is growing. I only have two jobs/family/other interests etc but they’re leading off into new directions all the time. Technology means that the ‘working’ world doesn’t end at 5pm either (is it ‘work’ anyway?), but it certainly beats sitting around watching television which for me doesn’t happen until very, very late these days if at all. And it’s all good.
Enjoyed this post and read it as I sat in front of three monitors covered in post it notes. I dont have ten projects but seven, each outlined and piled in groups with specs, notes and requirements.
Overextended? Only if I can’t solve for the having to eat and sleep issue that keeps coming up. 🙂
Hmmmm…you had me right up until “it’s going to get harder and harder to make ends meet,” which forced me to take pause; then my overextended, overinflated balloon started to deflate. Must have been great for our grandparents’ generation when one job got you a nice house, a decent car, and a pension. My grandfather is 90 years old and still living in the same house he bought after WWII and off the pension he started receiving 30 years ago when he retired. Then again, I wouldn’t change my overextended life for anything in the world…keeps things fun, interesting and challenging. And one day, maybe I’ll even own a house! Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to work…
Little confused. Is your argument that the ruling (upper) class having managed to find ways to convince us (working class) to keep working more than 40 hrs a week, slavishly producing for their consumption as close to 24/7 as possible, until we feel completely burned out (and it’ll only be getting worse)…and that this is a GOOD thing and we should be proud of it?
I dunno, man, but it just makes me feel that little bit more ‘taken advantage of’ when I feel (as you note) that just working a small handful of jobs is becoming less and less able to ‘make ends meet’.
Interesting. I’m all for filling my day with projects/hobbies, and I do NOT see that as a
competitive edge; more personal fulfillment.
But when I read your post I couldn’t help questioning if this “class” is the same who miss deadlines, cut corners, or back out of deals. Been burned a few times.
Your “ten items” list reminds me of a similar idea/goal I’ve had, which is having multiple irons in the fire. Entrepreneurs tend to work long hours doing one thing and only one thing, or least working toward one single goal. I’d rather take a multiple irons approach. It might, and probably will, take longer to achieve success, but you can work each iron as you please. If you’re not in the mood to work on one, work on a different one. Some might develop into income, others might remain hobbies. You’ll drop some and pick up others. It’s a pretty fluid thing.
Combining this with the focus necessary to achieve success is the trick, and one I think you’ve figured out.
Holy cats, does this ever resonate.
Thank you for writing this: partly, b/c I don’t feel as crazy now, and partly b/c I can now just send the uncomprehending a link to it and GET BACK TO WORK.
Very true. I stopped working for a second to make my own list, it only had 8, but it reminded me of just how “too hard” I’m working.
Wouldn’t have it any other way, though. I do watch TV, but it’s on my time, using a DVR, and I’m usually on my laptop at the same time, haha.
Saying ‘overextended’ makes it sound like strenous effort. More like workaholics. But, I think you’re refering to the joy and fun we have doing so many things at a time.
True, so many of us are working very hard at a variety of jobs. But this isn’t unique to our digital generation. My parents and grandparents definitely weren’t sitting in barcaloungers watching Matchgame. My father quit a comfortable corporate job to start his own business, while trying to also be a writer and artist. My mother raised us kids while holding down a job and volunteering at the Co-op, the church, the school. My grandmother raised 7 kids, all while working, providing, and being a force in her community.
I trace my “overextended” personality directly to my parents and grandparents, who did whatever it took to grow their family and community. If I can work half as hard as them, I’ll be a success.
Don’t take this the wrong way, but I think I love you. Thought I was the only crazed happy lunatic, but it’s good to know there are actually a lot more such people out there.
I gotta get out more, or at least read more blogs.
Brilliant, thanks for putting a name to my feelings right now. Trying to get out of the corporate wheel, I find myself overextended at nights and weekends, doing the “un-work” that I love.
I agree A LOT with the last part (“You may opt out of it if you want, but over time it’s going to get harder and harder to make ends meet, let alone be successful, if you do”), but I can’t help to see everyone around me oblivious to this fact. Question for everyone: how to explain it to friends and relatives in simple terms?
The definition of success you seem to be implying, Hugh, sounds pretty f**ked up to me. It’s like Lily Tomlin said: “The problem with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”
I’m getting exhausted. I want my 4 hour work week!
Huh. Mothers have been doing this for so long I guess we always thought that being overextended was normal. Then as a group, we added working at something generating actual income (usually outside of our homes). Not sure of the word for that, but overextended isn’t even good enough for it.
@ CT Moore, if your definition of doing what you love and being paid for it is “Rat Race”, then I feel sorry for you 😉
@ Xander, people who see their role in life as nothing more than slaving away to make their paymasters rich, don’t have a lot of use in the world I live in.
I guess the question is, if “Doing what you love and getting paid for it” is such an ideal situation, why don’t more people do it? I’ll tell you why- because it’s really, really, really hard. A lot of people prefer the easy life.
Whether I feel “overextended,” rather than “fully mentally occupied,” depends on *which* job I’m doing- the 40-hour job makes me feel the former; artwork makes me feel the latter.
When making art, I could go all night and not even need a break. In fact, the only breaks I must take…are to go to my paying job.
Overextending yourself is a choice. You don’t need to do 10 projects to pay the bills. If you do, then maybe you need to reconsider your lifestyle.
I think focusing on fewer projects will bring better results.
Not sure if you made the weekend (working on a book so I don’t have to fire myself on Monday) easier or harder to face.
Taking on the same kind of passion-driven work I expect of authors during my day job actually makes me better at both my day and night (early morning, weekend) life.
I prefer being over-extended and free to be working on three, ten, 15 projects I choose than to be suffocating in a big corporation and over-burdened with politics, projects and deadlines over which I’d have no control. There’s hard work and torturous work.
Is it possible to do what you love and have a simple life? No ones life is “easy”. But is it possible to just shoot for a simple and happy life, doing what you love and surrounded by people you love?
And maybe I am naive, but Rebecca’s comment really made me think…”Must have been great for our grandparents’ generation when one job got you a nice house, a decent car, and a pension. My grandfather is 90 years old and still living in the same house he bought after WWII and off the pension he started receiving 30 years ago when he retired. Then again, I wouldn’t change my overextended life for anything in the world…keeps things fun, interesting and challenging.”
Is “fun” and “interesting” more important than secure and safe? Me thinks not. What has happened to this world? What did we trade and did we get shafted in the deal?
Hugh – I’m very glad that you’ve created a life for yourself that you find fulfilling and lucrative (though the comment about the girlfriends made me feel a little bad for you).
Still, I’m not sure that working several jobs to make ends meet is really “the easy life” nor do I believe that the way people live is simply a matter of “personal preference.” A lot of where folks end up depends on where they started geographically, economically, genetically, etc.
I admire and applaud the accomplishments of heroic individualism as much as the next guy, but these accomplishments always take place and appear significant within a social context. To dismiss or overlook that fact may be “necessary false consciousness” or it may just be ego mania (I tend to suffer from both).
It’s 5:46AM in Sydney on Saturday morning – feeling happily over extended 🙂
I think this is a good thing if you are doing all this work for yourself or something you believe in. If it’s for someone else…then I guess you get to figure out if its worth it.
Just a thought, I doubt this is as unique as you are making it seem. My guess is that small business owners and single parents would have something to say about being overextended.
Dude, Hugh, please go on a vacation soon!
That is ridiculous.
Your art rocks!
Donovan Freburg said: “Is “fun” and “interesting” more important than secure and safe? Me thinks not. What has happened to this world? What did we trade and did we get shafted in the deal?”
[My opinion only] I don’t believe the concept of “secure and safe” truly exists. There is no amount of money or security I could achieve in my lifetime, that one catastrophe, medical or otherwise, couldn’t wipe out.
Why should I not spend the best, healthiest years of my life striving towards a passionate life, instead of torturing myself, working for a nebulous future retirement scenario; in which my health is too poor to enjoy it?
think you’re over-extended now? wait till you have kids! 😉
Hugh, I think especially for creative people, having many irons in the fire is pretty normal. There are just too many things to be done and not enough time to do them.
However, I wonder if an overextended state is a signal to focus and refine what we are aiming to get done. I know for me it’s very easy to keep adding things to my list, so I’m starting to feel that the solution for me may be to prune and refine those projects down.
Having many things is not necessarily a bad thing, but if you were to reduce those 10 projects to 7, with more focus on each project in the same amount of time, the results may be much better.
Each person has their own limits, so it’s not a hard or fast rule. However, I think at some point being overly-overextended can work more to diminish the work quality you’re producing than being very intentional about choosing fewer, more impactful projects to focus on.
You have a portfolio career! and have had for some time. A portfolio career being working two or more jobs for different employers. The cartoons you contributed to AND WHAT DO YOU DO? 10 STEPS TO CREATING A PORTFOLIO CAREER – are great. esp the ” I want to feel alive more than 3 weeks a year”. Love that one. If people are interested in the book they can preorder at Amazon- publication date is 15th Oct. Overextended? – could be seen as negative. A fulfilling portfolio career which blends all you passions and skills and makes you feel alive? like this more. Its my life anyway :)and I think it’s yours too. speak soon. love Katie
So many people working so hard, whether they love it or not, to get ahead in life. And saying that we all have to be doing that. I just don’t agree. I do not feel in the least bit overextended. I’m a mother of preschoolers, I have a day job as an engineer and a side job as portrait photographer, both because I like them and want to do them not because I need the money. But I highly value non-working time…time sleeping, enjoying good meals, playing with my kids or even *gasp* watching TV. Keeps me refreshed, focused when I am working, balanced and full of positive energy rather than nervous energy which is what I have when I do work too much and rely on too much caffeine 🙂
Just offering an alternative perspective.
Over-extended? Wouldn’t have it any other way…
Hugh, thanks for ‘calling it’.
As a fellow overx10, everyday I struggle up Mt Debtna, pushing my trolley of ideas (the one with the wonky wheel), only to see Mt Neverrest in the far distance.
The company of fellow travellers is reassuring.
I only have eight myself but I call them retainer contracts. I guess I’m a bit of a light weight then.
One of my contracts is for 37 hours a week and when I tell people about it they say “Well that’s full-time” and I say it might be for some but it’s only part-time for me…. I work those hours plus teach photography one day a week at college, work two shifts as photo editor at the local daily, shoot pro sports for Getty Images, sell Fine Art Photographs, run a photo mail order business, shoot weddings and shoot kids sports.
I think I might need a holiday too.
Yes I’m one of those 50% of folks. I always say to my friends that sleep is over-rated and my brain is on fire. I’m a creative. That is my life and I love every darn minute of it. Won’t stop until they put me in the box!
Overextending and priotizing/pruning the tasks. Sorta like the “Sex and Cash” theory?
I wanted to briefly respond to Donavan Freberg’s comment about my post. I don’t think that Donavan is being naive, as much as perhaps idealistic. I think most people want safety and security, but do they even exist anymore? Did they ever exist? Our world has changed so much and continues to change at a rapid pace. It’s up to each individual to keep up in the way he/she feels is most in line with his/her personal convictions. But just because one chooses to live a life that is fun, interesting and challenging doesn’t make safety and security any less important. Frankly, I’m happier living my life on my terms. In the end, it’s really up to the individual person. Whether you choose a life that is “safe and secure” or “overextended,” the important thing is that you are happy with the path you have chosen for yourself.
proud member of the overextended class. about a month ago i started writing down a list of all the projects i have going on. …before i was finished i got scared and stopped writing.
(*raises a huge can of redbull*)
Rebecca, that was beautifully said.
I think the comment about our parents & grandparents spending their cognitive surplus watching TV is a condescending BS and a sweeping generalization. (Do u think TV + web + gaming + texting + FB + Twitter hours now are any less than TV was then? It’s not.)
You are simply describing a life & career choice. Many wear it as a badge of honor (oh the travel, when will I ever get to inbox zero, etc.). That’s all it is. Not better, not worse than other ways ppl organize their lives to get what they want. Just different.
I don’t get it. One bestselling author’s telling us to work our buts off 24×7 while another’s touting the “4 Hour Work Week”? It will be interesting to see over time which lifestyle most of us end up following.
@smeade Just to confuse you a little more: The week before Tim Ferris’ “4 Hour Work Week” came out, he emailed out the blue (I had never heard of him up until that point), telling me that my work had inspired him a great deal in the creation of the book 😉
It’s a great read, for sure…
Cognitive Surplus is such a great phrase its too bad I have none of it. I very much relate. As a stay at home dad of 4 that also has a consulting business and an additional full time job I can completely relate to this. When i explain what I do to people they usually look at me in complete shock and awe or they look at me like I am stupid. Actually that may be the same look I am not sure.
As a single career track mother – I appreciate much of what has been said above.
As for you, Hugh, as a long time reader of this blog I am forever admiring of your individualism, lifestyle/career choices and the incredible energy & focus with which you accomplish all that you do. But I have often been left wondering “at what cost?” I know it’s presumptuous to criticize anyone’s choices in life so I hope I am not doing so. But that is honestly the question that has often lingered in my mind when reading your blog.
But then – we are different people.
@ Anna, I find anything worth doing bears tremendous cost. Any parent would know this, as well, of course…
I’m more relaxed about it now, though. I guess I feel I’ve paid my dues, or at least, the vast majority of them.
I feel the same way BUT a lot of my over extension is spent on the non work hobby side of things which leads to me creating a lot of freevcontent (pictures & video), but I really love doing it and I always feel like I’m on a mini vacation
Ten jobs? Ten?!
I thought two was hard enough!
I’m feeling exhausted enough from trying to plan the launch events for my novel around a fairly demanding job while still leaving time for my other interests.
If I tried adding another project to the mix, I’d probably collapse from sleep deprivation in a month.
Adding to the discussion about safety & security verses fun & interesting: isn’t it more secure to have options? If one project becomes an absolute flop, your plan B is already in operation so you’re never at the point where you’re so desperate for money that you’ll agree to any job.
But why are we overextended? I’ve been trying my hardest for years to fight whatever it is that has me working longer just to stay in the same place. So, why is this so?
One man’s cognitive surplus is another man’s meal ticket, and so keeping people in bondage is too good a business model for it change any time soon.
But at what cost? Sell your soul to the Devil or risk poverty, is how most people still view choice.
It takes a brave heart to walk off into the other direction, but IMHO that’s where the real juice lies 🙂
Yes, Hugh, you have paid your dues – which is what makes your drive & determination all the more fascinating. It clearly has a different source than to merely prove yourself & succeed. You have already done both. I have not. That is my drive & determination. But, for someone such as yourself, who does not have these stimuli anymore – why “pay the cost” of no life apart from work still?
But then – as you say – anything worth doing has its cost – a cost gladly paid by the person who finds the pursuit of something worth the cost.
Perhaps what has kept me reading your blog all this time is that you remind me, in part, of the idealistic theatre artists of my world. Folks who have bought into the “starving for one’s art” notion. But – only in part do you remind me of them because the other part of you is the pragmatic artist who has gotten past the “starving for art” martyrdom & found a way to be successful without sacrificing your sense of self, what makes you unique as an artist.
In other words, you are not a martyr to your cause. We theatre folk tend to thrive on martyrdom like its our badge of honor. I confess to falling into this category at times!! Valuing the worth of our cause at great cost.
Thanks for responding to my comment and getting me to think about all of this.