Several years ago Howard and I were in the midst of last-minute planning for running a booth at a local convention. I don’t remember what the moment of stress was about, but I remember vividly that the words “I hate this” slipped from my mouth. I was shocked to realize that I meant them. It made me scared, because I was feeling such an emotion about the life we’ve so carefully built together. After consideration, I was able to come to the conclusion that it is okay for me to dislike some of the aspects of my job while still loving the work as a whole. No one expects parents to love changing diapers even if they enjoy parenting. There was something about running a booth that I did not like, and that was okay. The knowledge let us rearrange so that the booth running was done by other people more often than by me.
Today I enlisted help and used some of our warehouse space to set up a test booth for what we will set up at FanX. This is a luxury that we’ve never had before, having space to set up the booth and plan how it will look ahead of time. In the process I discovered something astonishing, it is possible that I don’t hate setting up and running a booth. It is possible that what I hate is the stress of showing up at a location and having to make all of the set up decisions on the fly. I particularly hate the part where Howard visualizes things one way and I visualize them differently and then we snap at each other because we don’t have time to think it over. Everything has to be decided right at that moment. FanX is going to be different. We’ll be agreed ahead of time how everything needs to look and all I have to do on the set up day is cart things in and set them up.
I’ve found another way that Howard and I were working at cross purposes around convention booths. For years Howard has requested to know how much we need to make in order for the show to break even. For years I tried to detach Howard from that information, believing that if a convention was not doing well, it would add to Howard’s stress. I thought it was better to just let conventions be what they were and to not measure success with dollars. I still think that the success of a show should not be measured only in dollars, but that was never what Howard wanted to do. He wanted to be able to evaluate the monetary component of a show quickly and easily. He wanted data so that we could decide later whether the convention was worth attending again.
So I sat down with myself and tried to figure out exactly why I was so resistant to making sure that Howard had numbers. The core of it is that some deep part of me believes that my job is to prevent Howard from feeling stress. This is a thing I identified in myself years ago, but apparently I’ve still not rooted out all the tendrils of habit. The belief structure goes like this: I’m the booth captain, therefore if the convention booth does not succeed, it is my fault. Booth failure to make money = my failure at my job. I don’t want to fail Howard. I want him to always be glad that he trusts me with his business. So if the booth is doing well, Yay, but I must still de-emphasize money as a measurement tool because some other time the booth not doing well will cause stress. If the booth is not doing well, I must de-emphasize money as a measurement tool, because then we can be less stressed about the show.
When I pull this thought pattern out into the light I notice some ridiculous things. Hidden in there is a belief that Howard’s good opinion of me is dependent on what I do in my job as business manager and is therefore in jeopardy if I make a mistake. If that is true then, instead of us being able to just suffer together if things go badly or rejoice together if things go well, I have to try to spin all of the information in as positive a light as I possibly can. Fortunately I have iron clad rules about honesty and full disclosure, so this twisty thought path has not led us to a place where I started deceiving to make sure things look good. Instead, Howard had to work far too hard to get some simple monetary metrics that would make his life easier, and I felt extremely anxious about setting up for and attending big conventions with Howard.
This is the year when I will stop doing that. “That” being trying to not stress Howard with the business aspect of the work that we do together. Sometimes the numbers are going to be unhappy and Howard needs to know about it. I need to stop interposing myself to prevent Howard from feeling stress. Howard needs reports, convention reports, book profitability reports, monthly profitability reports. He needs to be able to look at these things so that he can make strategic and tactical decisions about our business. Funny thing is the lack information was constantly stressing him. I was causing stress by trying to prevent stress.
I’m looking forward to FanX, which is not something I would have expected last September when Salt Lake Comic Con was such an emotional drain on us. However we’ve implemented a very different booth plan, we’ve partnered up with some friends, and we’ve got some very different sales strategies. I still expect the show to be exhausting. I really want it to be profitable because we could use the influx of money this month. It could still be a financial failure despite all our efforts. Sometimes experiments to not yield the hoped for results, a good experiment is still worthwhile. Perhaps big comic conventions are not the place we want to spend our effort, but until we give this another try, we can’t know. The experiment begins in two weeks.