This past Friday was my last day as the Arts Administration Apprentice at American Stage. I spent the past year learning how a regional theatre company operates and growing my skills in development, marketing and admin. You can read more on the specifics of my apprenticeship on the American Stage Blog.
American Stage is truly an amazing company. They’ve been creating theatre in the Tampa Bay Area for over 40 years. They put on 6 Mainstage shows every season, have a School Tour that reaches over 20,000 children, put on a musical in the park that is a St. Pete tradition, and are home to some of the most creative and bold theatre professionals in the area. When I started out at American Stage, I had very minimal experience in arts administration and had never worked in an office. I hold a performance degree and spent most of my undergrad either performing, directing or dramaturging. The leadership team at American Stage took a chance on me and allowed me to expand my skills and explore my passion for administration. They had overwhelming amounts of patience with me and gave me opportunities to manage my own projects and innovate new ideas for the company, while still having a robust support system. In short, this company helped me become a competent professional, and did so with incredible kindness and grace.
I think many of us have worked for companies we love and admire where we simply couldn’t stay. It’s extremely rare that you start a job in your early 20’s and remain there for an extended period of time. Young professionals are constantly looking for new experiences and better positions. Companies are also not beholden to keeping young professionals around even if they like them, especially in an unstable economy. In other words, young professionals don’t trust companies to keep them on and give them opportunities for advancement and companies don’t trust young professionals not to jump ship as soon as a better offer comes along. Neither side is wrong in thinking this way. So, in a world where we’re more likely to leave a company we love than to stay, are we constantly saying goodbye? Is there really no company loyalty anymore?
The answer should be no. When you love a company, you should never say goodbye. There’s no reason you should. You’re just stepping into different roles. I believe there are three different roles we should all play to support a company we loved working for: the fan, the benefactor, and the friend.
Of the three roles, this is by far the easiest. We know how to be a fan because we do it constantly: for sports teams, for celebrities, and for artists. Being a fan of a company is no different, all you need to do is show up and spread the word. If you’re in the arts, that means you show up for that performance, that gallery opening, that concert, or that gala they invited you to. In other industries, it might mean buying a new product, going to the opening of a new store, or making space to congratulate someone on a new study.
Fans also want to share those experiences with their friends. Social media has made this easier than ever. You should share their virtual performances, Facebook events, and Instagram stories. Invite your friends to their events and actually make them go with you. Being a fan is easy, but can also be very meaningful. It helps companies show that they create a positive work environment, that former employees still want to support.
2. The Benefactor
Being a fan, while great, is not a significant investment. Going to shows and sharing social media posts is easy and usually pretty fun. The benefactor invests back into a company. If a company has invested their time and resources into your professional development, it’s important to give back to them. This is tricky, because the one thing most young professionals have in common is our lack of money. When faced with the idea of investing in a company, most young professionals think they have nothing to offer, but they would be wrong. If you can’t give money, there are two things you can give: time and contacts. Maybe you volunteer a few hours to help the company with an event where you know they’re always understaffed . Maybe you do a Lunch and Learn with their current interns. However, the most impactful thing you can give to a company is your contacts. Maybe you have friends or colleagues who can donate to or invest in the company. Maybe you have an artist friend who is perfect for a collaboration with them. Maybe your grandfather just retired and is able to volunteer for them. Being a benefactor takes more effort, but also shows a greater commitment.
3. The Friend
This role should come naturally, if you really love the company. Friends check-in with each other and have each other’s backs. Being a friend is about cultivating and caring for relationships within the company. Oftentimes, friends are also fans and benefactors. It’s human nature to want to support and help the people that have done the same for you. The difference is, being a friend is no longer about the company; it’s about the reason most of us love or hate the company we work for: the people. If you love the people you work with, you should never say goodbye to them. Why would you? You love them! That means you keep them updated on your projects and passions and show a serious interest in theirs. When you can help: help! When you can support: support! It’s natural and it’s simple.
Some people will probably ask why? Why should you put this level of effort and investment into a company you no longer work for? There are two simple reasons:
1. If you don’t support them, why should they support you?
The most valuable thing a young professional can have is a good reputation. We get that reputation from our former coworkers. You will need things from them (like letters of recommendations) and you will want things from them (like opportunities to collaborate with them or similar companies). It is never a bad thing to be on great terms with former employers and colleagues.
2. You should invest in the things you love.
We live in a society that can be very self centered. When you’re a young professional trying to make a career for yourself, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking, “what am I going to get out of it?” Sometimes the answer will be nothing… at that moment. Investing in things you love, even if you don’t get anything out of it, is a worthwhile practice. It’s healthy to give things away and expect nothing in return. If you loved working with a group of people, it should feel totally natural to want to support them. You don’t need to spend hours on end thinking of ways to help. However, when they ask you to show up for something, or they’re struggling to fill a need, make it a priority to be there for them.
The trick of saying goodbye to jobs that you love, is you never should. Be a fan, be a benefactor, and most importantly, be a friend.