An Interview With Phil La Duke
Don’t hold your ideas of “success” so tightly that you strangle opportunity. Pre-pandemic, my ideas of a thriving career included back-to-back bookings, appearances at new venues, expanding our audience size, and traveling all the time. But when none of those things were possible to achieve during the lockdown, it forced me to realize that I could open myself up to other ideas of success. It’s been tremendously rewarding to learn that success and fulfillment can be found without following the rules of one measuring stick. Stay flexible and creative and allow yourself to re-define success wherever and however you find it, and I bet you’ll find happiness.
With the success of the vaccines, we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel of this difficult period in our history. But before we jump back into the routine of the normal life that we lived in 2019, it would be a shame not to pause to reflect on what we have learned during this time. The social isolation caused by the pandemic really was an opportunity for a collective pause, and a global self-assessment about who we really are, and what we really want in life. As a part of this series called “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic” I had the pleasure to interview Tegan Elliott.
Tegan is a nomadic artist whose joy of learning, collaborating, and connecting with others has led her into a unique lifestyle. She follows the course of her passions into an ever-evolving career with multiple revenue streams including live performance, traditional and digital paintings, and creative writing. She is co-owner of a performance arts company and co-writer of two successful touring musical acts.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers like to get an idea of who you are and where you came from. Can you tell us a bit about your background? Where do you come from? What are the life experiences that most shaped your current self?
Thank you for including me! I grew up in a town just south of Atlanta, Georgia called Union City, a place that is best known for its car dealerships. Looking back, I might credit the town’s lack of entertainment for pushing me to create my own in the form of stories and characters to write and illustrate. My love of fantasy and the outdoors brought me to a job at the local Renaissance Festival. From there, I traveled to different festivals across the country, along the way shifting from hair-braider to performer. I met my current business partner, Sam, at a festival in Wisconsin, and together we’ve written two fantasy stage shows, one based on the mythology of Sirens, and the other based on Viking lore and Celtic stories. We have produced several albums worth of music and toured steadily across the country with these music acts — that is until the modern plague hit.
Are you currently working from home? If so, what has been the biggest adjustment from your previous workplace? Can you please share a story or example?
In 2020, Sam and I were contracted to have our financially best and busiest year on record, with multiple flights to new destinations, new opportunities, and partnerships. Then the pandemic hit, and what should have been my best year professionally turned into a scramble for survival. The whole performance industry was devastated, and many festivals are still closed down. In March of last year, I had to shift focus away from the travel and performance part of my career and into what I could do from home: my art. I went from entertaining thousands of people, getting real-time feedback, seeing instant returns on my efforts, to not having a clue what I was doing or how I was going to pay bills, let alone stay connected with my family, friends, and the audience Sam and I had spent years getting to know. Fortunately, everyone was in the same situation. When I moved online, so did most everyone else, and we’ve been able to stay connected with surprising ease.
What do you miss most about your pre-COVID lifestyle?
There’s this constant feeling of anxious uncertainty that I rarely used to feel but that is now ever-present. Will the next festival reopen? Will anyone attend if it does? Will people judge me for working, or for not working? What I miss most about pre-COVID life (excluding face-to-face interactions with friends and family, which is the number one thing I miss) is the comfort of knowing that things will open, shows will go on, and my life and career will be predictable, to a certain degree.
The pandemic was really a time for collective self-reflection. What social changes would you like to see as a result of the COVID pandemic?
To say nothing of politics (which we’re probably all sick to death of, honestly), if society can maintain the higher standards of cleanliness, wearing a mask to protect others if you think you might be sick, and the six-foot personal bubble — I think the world will be a happier, healthier place.
What if anything, do you think are the unexpected positives of the COVID response? We’d love to hear some stories or examples.
The most positive thing to come from this past year for me was learning how better to stay connected to my friends, business partner, and our audience. I’ve learned how to navigate and take part in many new social media platforms that, in my previous lifestyle, I would never have had time to learn. And in addition to the instant connectivity of the internet, I’ve found real joy in old-fashioned letter-writing. I’ve made meaningful connections with some wonderful people that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise.
How did you deal with the tedium of being locked up indefinitely during the pandemic? Can you share with us a few things you have done to keep your mood up?
I have always enjoyed spending time alone and at home, but it is more difficult to enjoy being alone and schedule-free when it feels like loneliness is forced upon you and your schedule is unexpectedly wiped clean for an entire year. I have a bookshelf full of reading list material that I still haven’t managed to read — not a single one. My mind has been too restless. For me, I’ve been most content when creating new content or being physically active.
Aside from what we said above, what has been the source of your greatest pain, discomfort, or suffering during this time? How did you cope with it?
It’s been difficult to see the suffering and fear the world over, but that itself is unavoidable in a situation like the one we’re in. What hurts the most from my perspective is how divisive it made the nation in a time when we could have banded together to everyone’s benefit. I think the best anyone can do is take care of themselves and their households, and let go of the things that can’t be controlled. Letting go has been crucial to my happiness.
OK wonderful. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Learned From The Social Isolation of the COVID19 Pandemic? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t hold your ideas of “success” so tightly that you strangle opportunity. Pre-pandemic, my ideas of a thriving career included back-to-back bookings, appearances at new venues, expanding our audience size, and traveling all the time. But when none of those things were possible to achieve during the lockdown, it forced me to realize that I could open myself up to other ideas of success. It’s been tremendously rewarding to learn that success and fulfillment can be found without following the rules of one measuring stick. Stay flexible and creative and allow yourself to re-define success wherever and however you find it, and I bet you’ll find happiness.
- If people are interested in you/your product, they will go where you are. If you’ve worked hard to create a quality product, brand, or content, and if you’ve cultivated a good relationship with your audience, chances are, your followers and fans will stick with you wherever you have to go. Yes, the pandemic meant people couldn’t see live shows, but they’ve stayed involved online because Sam and I have made it a point to create opportunities for them to stay connected. Trust the work you’ve already done, trust your product, and most importantly, trust your audience. Give them a chance even if you’re not sure they’ll show up.
- If your brain is fighting you, listen and adapt. The idea that you have to follow through on a project or activity simply because you said you would or you think you “should”, is ridiculous to me. Whether it’s a new business or creative venture, a move to a new location, a blooming relationship, or the stack of reading material you promised yourself you’d get through — there is no point tackling that mountain if it’s wrong. Abandon the idea that isn’t coming together, put down the book when you’ve read the same chapter twice and forgot it both times, if you don’t like that person’s aura, it’s okay to move on. Allow yourself that freedom, and you’ll find it’s an incredible tool. You’re not a failure for recognizing when something is a waste of your time.
- Chase your happiness guilt-free. If I’m upset, I’m never productive. For me, productivity increases when my mood is stable and positive. So if I need to watch silly videos instead of work, I’ll let myself for a while. Then when I face the day’s tasks, I’ll be in a much better place than if I’d rolled out of bed and forced myself to power through a bad morning. Don’t underestimate the power of simple pleasures, and don’t deny yourself when it might mean the difference between a good half-day of productivity or a full day of work with light productivity and zero happiness.
- Rest without remorse. If you can’t take a break without thinking “I really should be getting something else done,” then you aren’t resting. You’re wasting your time and increasing your feelings of tiredness and guilt, and when you try to go back to work later, you’ll be even less ready than before. If you need to unplug, commit to the nap, the comfort movie, the no-social-media day. Don’t let yourself feel guilty. I think it is just as important for your life — and career — to rest as it is to work.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you during the pandemic?
“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” It may be an old and tired trope, but when I look at how many professionals across the performance industry have adapted their skills to make Pandemic life work for them and their careers, I can’t think of a better slogan for the year we just had.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.
One of the simple pleasures I’ve enjoyed during lockdown is watching Dream Home Makeover with Syd and Shea McGee. I love their style and am so impressed with how they’ve grown their company, and they seem like such sweet, positive people, too.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
The best way to find me personally is through Instagram, @tegantheterror, and for the Siren and Valkyrie shows and music, look up wearesirena.com and valkyrik.com.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this. We wish you continued success and good health.
Thank you so much for including me in this article!