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Published on August 3rd, 2011 | by Frenzy Lohan


The Hustle: Derby Rules For The Business World

Hi, Skaterfaces! Welcome to The Hustle, a regularly appearing column about roller derby, business, careers, personal finance, and the ways they relate to each other.

Though sometimes I may write about the way a league handles its own arrangements, I can’t stand to write about roller derby corporate structure and related issues for more than a sentence or two. It’s a can of worms. It’s YOUR can of worms!

My deal, derby wise, is that I skated from 2005-2010 on the Charm City Roller Girls, of Baltimore, MD, in the US. I quit derby for real last winter, when I realized it just wasn’t going to be possible to come back from the leave of absence I went on in order to get a business off the ground. (It’s a collectively run cafe with 9 owners. It’s very derby-like, right down to the over-used and much-abused e-mail group. I’ll tell you all about it one day.)

Derby was the center of my world for so long that I’ve developed as many grudges and pet peeves with it as I would a beloved but crotchety and semi-rational family member. In this column, I’m going to do my best to refrain from being such a mean old lady about my numerous gripes with Derby As It Is, but let me tell you, computer friends, you might consider adopting some of my old gripes as your own.

Here’s one: read one “Roller derby: it exists” article in a local paper, and you’ve read them all. “Babes in fishnets, some have classy jobs, some have sassy jobs, some are old, some are fat, some are neither, and it is so, so wacky! Here’s a list of injuries! Wocka wocka!”

Making fun of local journalism, I know, that barrel of fish has been recklessly over-shot. So, I will stop snarking and get real: my problem with boilerplate derby articles is that they seize on some of the most boring narratives possible in the sport of 1,000 narratives, and they let a big one slip right by. People, many of them women, many of them young and without previous entrepreneurship experience, are starting businesses (in some cases, non-profits, but since that’s YOUR can of worms, I’m going to keep calling them businesses.)

Starting a business can be intimidating, and it can also be a major pain in the ass. A kind of instant “Yes, I have to do this!” compelled us to keep pushing through pain and frustration, rearrange our lives and keep showing up to practice. That “yes” means that a lot of us have shrugged off the hassles and fears associated with starting businesses like they were just another set of bruises: inevitable, sometimes colorful, ultimately no big deal.

That, my friends, is news!

My vision for this column is to talk about some ways that you can channel that same willingness to just bypass or power through common fears and hangups into something that will directly financially benefit you, or make you a bigger name in your field, or get yourself some training that’s going to help you in the future.

Even if you’re not looking to start your own business and tell your boss to screw, there are ways you can apply some excess hustle to your regular job. I enjoy Jen Dziura’s career/lifecoaching columns, and this is a good one: How to run your career like a business. (Warning: this excellent column is hosted on a site with ads that make noise, because it is a MySpace profile in 2003 or something. So, you know, turn your speakers down.)

Read all her stuff! It’s a heady mix of sound advice and jarring weirdness, so you do you and take away what makes sense for your situation. Her column did get me thinking about my life and career a little bit differently, and I find them kind of validating, because I was ALREADY DOING some of the things she advocates. “Have 87 jobs!” OK! “Maybe work life balance means you should work more!”

You already have derby, or you used to or something. (What’s up, my fellow washed up has-beens? How’s that trick knee?) With a very little bit of extra hustlin’, there’s probably a non-smarmy way of using the resources derby has given you to work up some kind of amusing sideline for yourself on top of derby. (Don’t make your sideline be selling diet pills to your teammates and spamming me on facebook. It’s a pyramid scheme, and it is tiresome.)

To get us started, here are 10 things you should have learned from derby by now that can help you with pretty much any job:

  1. Don’t put your hissy fits in writing. Keep your e-mails short. Respond to content, not tone. Beware reply-all.
  2. Show up on time, you monster! Oh my god! I know you’re fucking busy. We’re all fucking busy. Manage your time just as though you were not a toddler and did not need to be dragged whining from engagement to engagement. For heaven’s sake. If you show up late again, you’re running laps, and that’s all there is to it.
  3. It is perfectly acceptable to lie to strangers, especially if they are unreasonable or rude. Drunkalunk in the bar keeps slurring, “You punch bitches in the face, right?” You can say, “Absolutely! Come to the bout on Saturday to find out!” hand over your flier and move on. You don’t owe every jerk on the street a rules talk or a history lesson. You have learned this, right?

    You probably shouldn’t outright lie to your boss or colleagues in a way that may later make you look unreliable, but remember, sometimes you don’t have to be the one to do all the world’s explaining, and sometimes it’s OK not to correct misperceptions. Learning to lie without guilt was such a great takeaway from derby for me.
  4. If you start doing an unpleasant, tedious, or generally hated task with any regularity, it will become your special job, and you can never escape until you just stop doing it. Don’t be a sucker about this.
  5. The one who suffers most isn’t the most deserving. For me, in derby, I had to work out outside of practice kind of a lot in order to get my endurance to the level where I could keep up with high-level practices. I worked so hard! And yet, opposing skaters didn’t seem to recognize this at all, and still skated harder and faster then me, even though this was clearly unfair. This is a metaphor for at least one aspect of your work life. Think about it, man.
  6. If you hate it, you should quit. It’s not the only game in town, even if it feels like it.
  7. Date whomever you please, but know that you will definitely open a window to your personal life to anyone else involved your circle if you date at work or at your skating club or whatever. Also: remember, suitable partners can be found all over the place. You’re not living in a sitcom, and you and your friends don’t have to cycle through the same sucky few partners until you all gross everyone out. Seriously!
  8. You gotta have a gimmick. People react well to shiny objects and bright colors. You know this on the track, but are you putting on your sparkly hotpants in the workplace? (Some of you are like, “Yep, but my shift doesn’t start for an hour.”) I mean, are you making yourself noticeable in a way that you can handle, even though it may secretly terrify you?
  9. Life is terror, discomfort, and crippling self-doubt. If your experience is otherwise, come sit over by me, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong. Luckily, just like you learned that breathing hard and sweating during practice is something you can push through in order to get to do fun things later, you can learn to live your life with your terror as a low kind of background hum, instead of a jet engine roaring in your ear.
  10. If you have something you want to make happen, tell everyone you know and everyone you meet that you want to make it happen. Just like you may discover that somebody’s cousin is an EMT who wants to work at derby bouts for free, you may discover completely insane resources in your own life, just there for the asking.

Thanks for reading. I welcome hustle-related questions, as well as suggestions of hustlin’ derby skaters with successful businesses or sidelines I should interview for future columns. In the meantime, keep your head up, and show up on time.

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Frenzy Lohan

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