Freedom Versus Structure

Everyone has a different way they learn, different environments support they learn. With every situation there are good and bads you can take away from it but there’s one big that’s key for anyone that’s going to be successful. That’s self-drive.

No matter what situation you find yourself in it’s always going to be on you to set your goals, keep yourself on track and keep motivated. Even if you find yourself in a work situation you don’t enjoy you can always try and find your way to accomplish things. I know people who say they don’t see the end (promotions or raises) and find that reason enough to not try hard. That will never suffice for me because it sure won’t come true if you aren’t busting butt but, more importantly, how can you live with not doing your best work.

In my radio career the places I have worked are smaller places that come with a lot of freedom. In places like that one of the big benefits is the freedom to really experiment and explore things. It definitely has a lot of perks because you don’t have to be worried about making mistakes and you can do your own thing to find what works. There’s lots of people who would love to have more of that and thrive in that.

Having freedom is a great thing, but it is a lot of trial and error. Again, there’s not a lot of worry about making mistakes but with the lack of structure there isn’t a lot of reassurance and guidance. That’s the downside of the freedom because without the structure there’s not a lot of direction given to you as you try to wander yourself towards success.

With structure, there may be less freedom and a master to answer to, and if you have a problem with authority it may not fit you. However, with a structure in place you can find your way to success and avoid mistakes a lot easier. Good structure can put you on a path and possibly accelerate what you want to achieve.

I do think I’m a bit of a rebel but I’ve never been afraid of criticism. For radio specifically I’ve always tried to have the attitude that anyone may be able to give me something that can help me. The saying is “It’s better to have advice and not need it then need advice and not have it.” That’s something I think more people can benefit from because too many get too full of themselves and think they can’t be taught, especially with someone up and coming. Admittedly, as a younger on air talent I’m on the negative end of that and those people are cheating themselves.

There’s not a set path that works for everyone; some want to be able to use their self-drive and freedom to find their way, and others are good being guided the whole way until they grow away from the structure. Maybe there’s mistakes you want to find out for yourself, or maybe you want to avoid as many pitfalls but that path can be a lot slower.

Being in all these places that where they have freedom have been great for me because mistakes are such a great teacher and in a creative field it challenges me to have to be very creative. The shortcomings in that experience for me is that my ego has gotten a little big at times. Each time I’ve been at a radio place there has been a point where I thought I was hot stuff only to come crashing down when I moved to the next place, but I responded well from it.

However, especially more recently, I’ve craved more structure and guidance to just give me direction. My drive has kept me looking around and trying to learn, but it has felt like a slower climb because I’ve gone down a path that was a dead end and had to go back to the drawing board. I would never work well in an environment where I didn’t have some freedom to operate with, but if you can’t take criticism anything in the public eye isn’t for you.

I think the key in any creative process career, even if you have unlimited freedom, it’s important to find places to learn and I would say identify a mentor. That can give you structure from a far while you can work through your creative process. You have to have someone that can tell you ‘Yeah, that sucked.’ and know it isn’t personal but meant to be honest and make you better. A good mentor, good management is worth their weight in gold. Plenty of people will run in to those above them who only look out for their own self-interests and don’t help you and that’s why finding that mentor is so big.

For myself, and ultimately for a lot of people, the best environment is somewhere in the middle. You need the structure to help you avoid the obvious pitfalls and make sure the ship is pointed in the right place while understanding there are things you are going to work through on your own. With structure there’s also that benefit of having a ladder you can climb, knowing what you have to do to move up. It’s not that it isn’t possible in the freedom pool but it can turn out to be much more of a hodgepodge. You may just have your little space to achieve in and that’s it.

No matter what situation you’re in, success is going to be determined by you. I have radio jobs that I ended up hating and felt like I was being crushed. In a creative job if you feel like you’re being held back it feels like it could be soul crushing. The thing that has gotten me through has been the pride in my work and belief, though some times naive, that if I work hard and exceed expectations I’ll be noticed and rewarded for such. Even if it hasn’t happened I will never ditch that line of thinking because someone should notice if you’re exceeding.