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  • Writer's pictureKeith Jeffrey

The Seven States of a Working Class Professional's Life

State 3: When are you getting a proper job?

In my last article I talked about how a working class cultural professional’s lack of social capital makes the sector a foreign land.

The flip side of this is that your friends and family are also unable to provide you with any social capital as you pursue this crazy, exotic adventure of working in the arts.

What’s more they simply don’t understand.

They have not had your revelatory experience of the arts, so there is nobody who can act as a positive role model, who can symbolise what you might achieve and so they see you struggling away for years, with poor pay, even worse terms and conditions and simply wonder why.

And then they ask “When are you getting a proper job?”

Let me explain.

2 drivers of the working class are social conservatism and money. What that means for you as a working class cultural professional is that when you enter this world, you drift away from friends and family who simply do not get what you are trying to do.

You stand out, you’re different and so, well, people think you’re weird.

You may think theatre or dance or art are the most thrilling things in the world but friends and family think different. They are at best bemused by this enthusiasm and at worst can be downright hostile. This is because you discovered a world they barely know exists and holds little interest for them.

So estrangement begins because friends and family are cut off from this important part of your life. They may love you but they simply don’t understand why you want to pursue this passion. For them it’s bewildering and alien and they can’t even hold a decent conversation about it.

OK, fair enough, nobody’s fault and here we could discuss why art and culture is so little interested in reaching ordinary working class people, however, it’s impacts are real and pervasive and you feel them deeply.

Then there’s the money. Or lack of it.

Pay in the sector is the worse it’s been in my lifetime. The competition for jobs is intense and so poorly rewarded, friends and family wonder why you are breaking your neck like this. The pay is terrible, the conditions awful you work all the hours for what? You can’t even get a mortgage or the weekend off!

Given this, they wonder why on earth do you want to put yourself through this grinder.

I think I was lucky.

My parents and close family were proud of me, yours will be too, because they could see me achieving something special even if they don’t understand what I did. It helped that I appeared to be in prestigious, high profile roles, but for some people that seemed to create a further distance.

Your friends especially, don’t seem to understand why you have to move away and so, after a little while your friendship groups begin to deteriorate.

And, again, look at that pay packet.

Then they ask:

“When are you going to get a proper job?”

Friends of mine heard this so often they even used it to name their company.

As your career progresses, you may have to relocate, you lose contact with friends and family as a new life opens up for you and this can you leave you feeling isolated, alone and wondering where it was worth it.

Trips home at Christmas feel harder and harder and when you do catch up with friends and family, you struggle to get across what it is that you do.

This is important because with no role models, no social support networks it’s hard to keep moving forward.

As a working class cultural professional you simply lack the social capital to draw upon to keep your career developing as you would like. There is nobody who can give you that helping hand or word of encouragement when you need it.

The Cultural sector works on personal networks, reputations, subtle words here and there despite the statements about access and diversity, I can point to all sorts of bad practice in recruitment which leads to you, a working class cultural professional, missing out.

The evidence is all around you.

Just last week I discovered why I won’t be getting work from a particular national organisation any time soon. Nothing I can prove but it’s because I’m working class.

The only way you can counter this is by creating your own personal development plan together and put some serious intent behind fulfilling your huge natural talent.

It will help you navigate this world more effectively and help you identify where and how you can build your social capital.

That plan will depend on you, your circumstances and what you want the fixture to look like.

I can help you put that plan together so you can continue to thrive and not just survive doing the work you love.

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