A career freakout is no bad thing

It is, of course, possible, that the so-called “silly season”, which ends officially this weekend, is in fact rather serious. All but a few politicians – those exhibitionists for whom August represents a career opportunity – have given us a rest from their yakking. There is little on TV. Most people have gone on holiday, reacquainting themselves with their families, seeing new places, reading books.

They might even have stepped back from their lives, and taken stock of where they are heading. Now, when they return to what they had always accepted as the real world, they suddenly see it differently. It is in fact less real – maybe even less grown-up – than the world they had been inhabiting during the month of August. With the end of the holiday season, momentous decisions are made.

The film director Steven Soderbergh may not have been sitting on a beach over the past few weeks, but it is surely no accident that he has finally reached an important decision about his life at this moment in the year. He has decided to become an artist.

Soderbergh has been in the film business, as director and producer for 25 years. Having directed such blockbusters as Ocean’s Eleven, he is now a major player. At the age of 48, though, he has decided to give it all up and paint pictures. Once he has completed the four major projects to which is committed, he will be bidding farewell to Hollywood to don an artist’s smock. According to the actor Matt Damon, he is “exhausted with everything that interested him”.

He will have to be strong to resist the pressure on him to change his mind. When anyone who is established in a particular profession experiences this kind of career freakout in the middle of his life, those close to them tend to get a little rattled. Their own decisions and position are threatened and destabilised. The world somehow seems a scarier, less predictable place.

Soderbergh, like others who are mid-freakout, should ignore the naysayers and follow his instinct. Not only has he the wherewithal, and possibly even the talent, to survive as an artist, but the alternative is truly grim. He will become one of the frustrated millions who grow old believing that they could have had a more substantial and satisfying life if only they had had the nerve to leave the well-trodden path they had been following, and take a risk.

That restlessness is a powerful force. If your inner voice is telling you that, like Soderbergh, you have become exhausted with everything that interested you, that the future will be a matter of doing less well what you have already done, it should probably be heeded.

The advantage of an occasional personal earthquake is that the devastation caused can re-order the inner landscape and allow renewal. The death of a parent or loved one can provide the shake-up, as can redundancy. A divorce can do the job beautifully.

Sometimes, though, the earthquake needs to be self-generated. There may come a moment when the business of collaboration and teamwork becomes tiresome. The thought of yet another year dealing with an over-promoted tosser on the top floor, or a sharp-toothed jackal sitting at the next-door desk, suddenly becomes unbearable.

It is rare that a career freakout is a bad thing. The actors who decide to go on the road as musicians, the publishing editors, advertising copywriters or radio producers who leave corporate life to write books have a different look in their eyes once they have made the decision. The chill wind of freelance life makes them feel more alive.

Others provide themselves with a different kind of earthquake, abandoning the loneliness of working for themselves for the company and relative security of a job teaching, or working in an office or for a charity.

The end of the silly season is when an earthquake is mostly likely to strike. You don’t have to be a Hollywood director to take full advantage of it.

Independent, Friday, 2 September 2011