You Will Fall Off the Horse: Professionalism vs. Artistic Expression and More

**Some warning for strong language**

It is hard to know what to say on the internet, how to balance honesty, personality and humor with respect, tact and professionalism. It’s challenging enough for most people, but creatives have an additional skill-level to maintain.

Most professionals have a business face and a personal face. They take one off at the end of the work day and put the other one on. Creatives seldom wear just one face. Our personalities are part of our brands, our business is an integral part of our life.

This can be wonderful, as it allows us a freedom and dimension of expression not often found in business or personal lives.

It is also sometimes deadly, when the two are not kept distinct enough.

Because, while we always wear both faces, they cannot be the same thing. We’re artists—from the project manager at the multi-national corporation to the editor/developer/author/artist who just produced a game all by themselves. We’re also business people, and that must come first if we are to succeed personally, and as an industry.

Balancing Art and Business and Life

The toughest part of the entire equation is the initial balance. Where do you draw the line between funny and offensive, between expressing yourself and being an ass? When does it stop being free speech and become bullying? How do you separate friendship and professional obligation? At what point do you stop shrugging off someone’s faults because they are your friend and admit that they are genuinely problematic?

That is something every creative individual will have to figure out for themselves. It isn’t an easy battle plan, it’s definitely going to hurt some feelings, and you’ll make some mistakes doing it, but you’ve got to establish those boundaries and expectations fairly early on.

Perhaps more importantly, you’ll have to let them grow and change along with you and your career. That requires constantly revisiting those standards.

If you’re part of a small company, that balance gets trickier. When it’s just you, there’s some leeway. When other people become involved, the mixture can become explosive. You’re not just looking out for your own welfare anymore, and you’re not just dealing with your own issues.

Suddenly you’re not just balancing a ball on your nose, you’re juggling half a dozen of them. What happens when you start dropping them?

Everyone Can Fail, Everyone Will Fail

There’s an old horseman’s saying: “If you ain’t been throwed, you ain’t rode”. Grammatical color aside, it’s true. Every time I get on a horse, I risk being thrown off, whether from a lack of attention, a mistake in communication, or something outside my control. It’s a calculated risk I take, but I do everything possible to make it a lower probability.

More importantly, I know how to react when I fall. I know to protect my head, to roll, to go boneless, to suspend time and make sure that I’ve got various body parts untangled and am falling away from powerful hooves, to use hands and feet to steer my roll, and so on. I’ve acknowledged the possibility, double-checked all my gear, and planned for the worst.

Failure in other endeavors isn’t much different. You’ll fall. Get used to that idea. Accept it. Plan for it. Admit that you’re human, come up laughing and apologizing for scaring people. Be graceful and dignified so that even a nasty mistake can become a benefit.

But don’t set yourself up for it. Don’t become someone who falls off for the attention, because sooner or later, you’ll break your neck, and no one will be around to see it.

Censoring Is Not What You Might Think It Is and Assholes Are Not Awesome

Some people make a very viable persona out of outrageous behavior and a nasty attitude. I don’t need to name names here, they’re some of the most visible figures in the industry. Some of them are genuinely nice people, others appear nice while they quietly plan how to spin the situation to cast themselves as the victim.

Don’t do that. You’re throwing yourself off the horse now. See the last sentence above for why that’s a bad idea. Some people can get away with it. Those people are usually well-known, quite talented, and already established. But even they miss out sometimes. A newer author who makes the choice to present themselves this way will, most likely, wind up regretting it.

There’s another angle, too: don’t be the victim. Don’t post something offensive, call it a joke when someone gets offended, and then cry ‘censorship!’ when they don’t laugh it off with you.

“It’s a joke” does not absolve all your sins, and trying to hide behind that excuse just makes you a spineless dick.

If you have an opinion you want to state, make sure it’s backed up by knowledge and understanding. If you want to make a joke, make sure it doesn’t exist solely at the expense of or for the belittling of others. And if someone says ‘hey, that’s hurtful’, it’s not censorship. You might have fallen off the horse, and you’d damn well better acknowledge that and get up gracefully.

The internet has a long memory, and the long hours of BarCon are full of stories. Make sure the ones about you are good.

Tune in tomorrow for some tips on how to fall gracefully and manage a crisis.