Conventional wisdom in the arts suggests that we should take any and all projects or gigs that we can get. But there may be times when it would be a better decision to turn something down. Here are just a few signs you should turn down a project or a gig.
The gig or project falls far outside your professional field.
One easy place to cut down your workload a bit is to turn down those projects that have the least to do with the art forms you practice. Getting involved in several art forms is wonderful. It can help us see our work from a different perspective, generate new ideas, and introduce us to new people. Or it can wear us out until we don’t have the energy to do anything but flop over on the couch and binge watch Netflix.
There is nothing wrong with taking on gigs or projects outside your usual field, but if you need to cut down on your workload, the projects to turn down or put on hold might be those the farthest from your heart.
The work would make your schedule overwhelming.
This is not to suggest you should turn down everything that does not provide the perfect balance in your life, or sit around and wait for “ideal” opportunities. Most of us would never do anything if we waited for those times. But it is important to avoid overloading yourself with so many of the same type of project, you cease to do your best work on any of them.
Working on four novels at once, or insisting upon making an album and helping three friends with theirs, or focusing on your comedy routine while giving workshops for other comics may be too much all at once. It’s better to have one or two projects done well than four projects that fail because you wore yourself too thin.
The project is something you do not feel called to do right now.
This does not mean “Give up anything that isn’t fun.” It means turn down a project if you feel called to complete another one now. When faced with several projects you might work on, choose the one you believe to be the most beneficial to those who might see, hear, or read it. Choose the one that focuses on themes that keep weighing on your mind or coming up. Everything else may need to be pushed aside, or at least postponed.
The monetary costs outweigh the benefits.
Most artists don’t do what we do for the money, but there is often a point where something can simply be too expensive to fit into your life right now. Collaborations that require travel you won’t be reimbursed for, steady jobs that mean you will have to purchase a new wardrobe, and parts that require alterations to your appearance you cannot really afford may not be the right projects for you during financially lean times, even if they are something you would love to do.
The person or organization offering the work has a shaky reputation.
It would be naïve to think that what you hear “around town” about somebody is always true. Baseless and unfair rumors do get started, and everybody with an opinion is not knowledgeable about a situation. But if you consistently hear that this club does not pay musicians without a fight, or that art collective has a pattern of cancelling events or exhibits on a whim, and the information is coming from people who have worked with them in the past, it may mean the project isn’t worth your time.
Taking on the project would require deeper involvement in the group than you want or need right now.
No matter how many vlogs, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, and newspaper feature articles are produced to explain that an independent artist is not an employee, we all know that some projects require us to become part of a team. And if you need to be independent right now, or you need to have plenty of energy to focus on other projects, joining a club or collective, agreeing to a collaboration, or taking on a client known for regular gatherings and a “team” or “family” attitude is only going to cause stress and conflict down the road.
You are worn out, run down, or exhausted much of the time.
As much as artists love our work, we all get burned out sometimes. Everyone gets tired. We all need to rest. If you are coping with health issues, including stress and fatigue brought on by the current public health crisis, it is especially important to know when you may need to turn down the offer to collaborate on that album, join that online concert, write that article, or schedule that lecture.
Family and friends who are usually supportive seem hesitant or upset when you bring up the project.
This may be politically incorrect to say, but everybody who doesn’t jump up and down over every gig or project that comes your way is not a “hater,” or trying to discourage you from doing your best. Sometimes, people close to you can see things you may not be able to see, or think of things you may not be thinking of in your excitement over the offer. At the very least, ask the person why they think this is a bad idea before brushing them off.
Turning down a project or gig may feel scary at first. It’s common to wonder if nothing else might ever come along the first time you do it. But learning to focus our time, money, energy, and attention where it needs to go is a skill we all have to practice, in all fields, including the arts.