The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond

Ep 12. Essential Creative Affirmations for Your Professional Pivot

February 09, 2022 Carmela Season 2 Episode 12
The Millennial PhD: Creative Survival at Work & Beyond
Ep 12. Essential Creative Affirmations for Your Professional Pivot
Show Notes Transcript

Looking for creative inspiration or affirmation as you begin a new creative project or professional pivot? This is the one! In my most personal episode yet I share about my journey into academia & becoming a professional salsa dancer, including lessons learned along the way about building my own creative and economic lifelines outside of academia. PLUS, I share three creative affirmations I've picked up along the way, that will resonate with anyone looking to make a professional pivot or start a new creative project.

This is the official launch of SEASON TWO of The Millennial PhD. In addition to arts and creative industries, this season explores fields like Tech, Consulting, and Entrepreneurship.

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Speaker 1 (00:09):

Welcome to the millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival and beyond. My name is Dr. Carmela Muzio Dormani, and I'm a sociologist, dancer and creative consultant from New York. In these episodes, you'll find inspiration, ideas, and actionable tips for building new pathways forward in work and life. You'll hear from artists, activists, creative entrepreneurs, PhDs, and professional pivoters. We talk about radical humanity and practical steps to follow your dreams, even in the context of challenging social conditions. Before we jump into today's episode, a quick reminder to follow the millennial PhD on Instagram and to please take a minute to rate and a review the millennial PhD on Apple podcasts. Your rating really helps the show reach as many listeners as possible. You can learn more about me and get access to free creative resources on the millennial PhD Instagram page I hope you enjoyed the episode. 

Welcome back to the millennial PhD, a podcast about creative survival in academia and beyond. This is episode 12, and it's also the beginning of season two, the official launch of season two of the show. So welcome. If you're brand new, welcome back. If you've been listening along, again, my name is Carmella, aka me. Um, and I'll do a quick recap of what season one of this show was about and what season two is gonna focus on instead. So in season one of this show, it was mostly comprised of interviews with creatives, artists, people just doing what I viewed as really interesting, exciting work in fields that are typically kind of surrounded in mystery or they're very desirable, but we don't know how to get into them. You wanna be a writer, you wanna be a singer, you wanna be a dancer or a composer, uh, whatever it may be. 

I had some people in my network or who I had seen through social media doing this amazing work. Oftentimes also kind of informed by social justice frameworks and doing really critical political work through their art and creativity. And I decided I wanted to talk to those people. I wanted to have interviews with them, and I figured other people would also be interested in hearing those conversations. So I compiled them into this podcast and put them out into the world. Season two is gonna be similar in the same vein, but some of the focus of this season that's gonna be a little bit of a pivot is I'm also going to be doing some interviews with entrepreneurs, uh, or people who have gone into fields like consulting or tech that similar to the arts and creative fields are or can be shrouded in mystery, can be kind of difficult or seem unattainable to get into. 

And the goal of those conversations, again, is just to hear from people doing a kind of work that may be interesting to you hear about their trajectory a little bit, maybe a little bit of advice about first steps, if it sounds desirable and something that you wanna move into. I'm also gonna be interspersing the interview episodes with episodes that are just me talking about a particular theme or topic. And the goal of that is really to talk about this moment of professional pivot that a lot of people are going through. And specifically, of course, this show is called the Millennial PhD. And so part of the focus is about, um, building an either an exit strategy or a survival strategy for academia specifically. So work in higher ed. Um, if you're in grad school, if you're early in your career as an academic, this might be a great place for you to hear about some options, um, for getting through that experience or for getting out of it if it's not working for you. 

And, and I do think a lot of the conversations are relevant for other industries as well. So stick around and especially if you're a creative, uh, or if you're looking for a new creative or, or artistic path, there is still gonna be that focus and that component here. So again, welcome, welcome back In this episode, which again is the formal launch of season two, I'm gonna be talking about this idea of building a creative and or economic lifeline out of academia, kind of outside of academia. If the field you work in is something else, this also applies, right? And the idea, I keep going at a lifeline because the idea behind that is just that for some people it might be this full scale pivot away from academia. I know a lot of people are talking about that now. I think a lot of people have been talking about it and thinking about it for years now, as the conditions have been really challenging to get a job on the job market. 

Um, or even for those who have a job to kind of survive the various aggressions of academia, um, or the, you know, the relatively low pay, et cetera. And the idea though is that maybe what this moment looks like for you is building out to completely pivot to a new career or a different type of work. But it may not be that it may be starting a side hustle or maybe starting a side project that can just bring in a little bit of ex extra economic resources or bringing the opportunity to do some creative or artistic expression, um, to balance out some of the really dehumanizing stuff that happens in academia. And finally, I do also wanna acknowledge, we talk about in a lot of the previous interviews, and it comes up in this season's interviews as well, the idea that not everything has to be about the work that you're paid for, right? We're more than our productivity. So there's also the opportunity to think about what are some ways to kind of build creative projects that can serve as kind of a different sort of lifeline, right? An emotional lifeline or a mental lifeline for just expressing our full humanity, which is so often kind of cut down in academia in a number of ways. 

Speaker 2 (06:10):

Okay, so let's get into the meat of today's episode. Um, my experience has been that there's quite a bit of mental and emotional work up front when, when considering a professional pivot or a creative pivot or a new creative endeavor of some of some sort. So what I'm gonna be focused on today just for this episode, is sharing a couple of creative affirmations that I've come to in the last couple of years. And the way that I'm gonna do that is I'm gonna share a little bit about my academic and creative journey, which is actually something I haven't gotten a chance to do on this podcast in the past. Typically, I'm doing the interviews, so bits and pieces have come out or, or have come up here and there, but I haven't really had the chance to talk through my trajectory as a, so a budding sociologist, uh, as a professional dancer and as a creative. 

So I'm gonna share a little bit of my experience, kind of the cliff notes, I guess, of my story. And I'm gonna intersperse some creative affirmations again that I've kind of come to over time as I've split my time between academia and the, uh, creative and entertainment world. And I hope that they make you feel seen and I hope that they reinforce how you're feeling about making your next moves or making you, you know, hope, hope that they give you some kind of feeling of confidence and excitement going forward. Full disclosure, this is the second time I'm recording this episode. So you may have heard a little bit of a shift in the audio cuz I'm recording in a different location. Um, and that's just because the, the first run through, I realized that there were some missing pieces. I wanted to come back and make sure that I was doing this, this episode justice and doing this story justice. 

Plus it is a little bit more intimidating than I had anticipated to just be in the hot seat sharing my story by myself. So if anything in this episode does resonate with you, please reach out to me. Send me an email at the millennial PhD I would love to hear from you and hear what you thought about it. So let's start talking a little bit about my story and my trajectory. Um, I am recording at the beginning of 2022, by the way. Um, and I, I started grad school a little bit over 10 years ago now. I had been a community organizer for a while. I was doing tenant organizing in New York, uh, where I lived. And I had, that was coming off some years as an activist, as a student activist. And quite a few years being active in political work. I was working full-time then as a community organizer, and I decided I wanted to gr give grad school a shot with the hope of working toward larger social change, maybe social policy. 

I was really excited to kind of delve in and go a little bit deeper and a little bit bigger. Like many people I think that jump into a PhD program in the social sciences and, and the humanities. So I, I did my applications to grad school, I sent them in and I sort of, I did sort of tumble my way in into grad school in a way and just in the sense that I applied for master's programs that I was accepted to, but they were unfunded like most, most master's programs are. And so that was completely out of reach. And then I applied to the PhD program and was accepted with some funding. And at the time, that seemed like just the most incredible thing I had ever heard of. It was absolutely unbelievable to me that I could go to grad school and not have to pay tuition and receive a pretty small stipend, yearly stipend. 

But it, it was incredible to receive that funding. At the time I was living in Brooklyn in my mom's apartment in Brooklyn, and we were coming off quite a few years of pretty serious economic hardship. We were still in the midst of that. And again, the opportunity to go to graduate school without having to pay tuition was unbelievably, you know, it was just unbelievable to me. Um, and so I jumped into the program head first. I was still pretty young and pretty recently graduated from undergrad and almost right away. Um, it was, it was a challenge for sure, like I'm sure it is for many people, it was not exactly what I had been expecting. And I did notice among other things there, there's some bigger problems than this. But I didn't notice among other things that there was not a lot of joy around <laugh> to be observed in the graduate program. 

And I was very unsure if it was a path that would lead somewhere for me right away. We were hearing about the publisher parish narrative and right away we were hearing about the how rocky the job market was. This was 10 years ago. And so within a couple of months I've decided that I would take a leave of absence. So after my first year, I took a leave of absence from the graduate program and I moved to Los Angeles for a year to dance and to work in the gig economy. And I think at that time I probably didn't even have the, I didn't have the scope or the imagination to even see myself as a potential contender in the entertainment industry or as a professional dancer, but I just wanted to see what I could do. Um, and I wanted to do straightforward work. 

I was also kind of working while I was out there and just getting a regular paycheck for her, which was refreshing. And I wanted to see how I could flex myself creatively. And it was an interesting experience. It was a growth experience for sure. And at the end of that year, um, in LA I did come home, I came home to New York. I came back to be with my family to come back to my program and the funding offered by my program. But when I came back, I decided that I was gonna still pursue dance in New York. Um, and I, I kind of dove headfirst into, into that, into lessons. And I pursued, that's kind of pretty vigorously right then with the goal of working as a dancer, right? Getting some professional paid work as a dancer. And over time that did build up for me. 

I did get the opportunity to do some pretty significant work as a dancer, getting paid for some shows, getting, uh, the opportunity to teach, to teach dance classes, to teach private lessons. And it wound up being kind of a lifeline for me. Um, a creative lifeline that really countered, it allowed me to be physical and it really countered some of the work and the environment that I was encountering in the grad program. It also actually wound up being an economic lifeline in a lot of ways because it was not perfect, I don't wanna say with it, with rose colored classes because dance is very ch the dance industry is very challenging. The entertainment industry is very challenging for sure. But it did feel at a certain point, like dance was at least giving me back opportunities in proportion to the effort that I was putting in, which did not feel like it was being mirrored or replicated in academia. 

So there were times where it felt like I could pay my rent with money that I was making from dance, especially during those gaps that we all know happen when you're adjuncting for like 6, 7, 8 years. Um, so it wound up being this kind of creative and economic lifeline for me. And on top of that, I was, I found myself pretty inspired and energized and motivated by the human experiences and human connections that I was, that I found and was making in the dance community. Um, just, I, you know, I'm a sociologist and I am a little bit cynical and usually in terms of academic work focused on larger systems and institutions, but I found myself very much enjoying these human connections I was able to make as a dancer. So I enjoyed the physical output and I enjoyed the fact that people were inspired and excited and felt that this was, so, this practice that they were engaging in for a lot of people was so much more than just, just like a recreational activity and was more than something that was just physical or even just social for a lot of people. 

They encounter the ups and downs of life and use dance as a tool to survive and thrive within those circumstances. Um, so not to, you know, be super corny with it, but it was, it, it, I I was able to have some really inspirational and beautiful experiences with that. And I wound up writing my dissertation on the salsa dance scene in New York. So I was able to ultimately tie that, those experiences in that community together with the academic work that I was doing. Um, there was some resistance to that, you know, per, uh, about the idea that whether or not it was a sociological topic, but I did manage to kind of push that through and, and use that as my research topic. And it just drew my attention again to the fact that it felt like the opportunities for those human connections for the, the, the kind of liberated joy, the exercise of creativity and even particularly the exercise of physical bodily movement and joy was really thin on the ground in academia. 

Um, and so I wanna pause here, uh, to kind of mention the first creative affirmation that I wanted to share. Um, and that is that our creative practices are valuable, human and critical for the political work that a lot of us want to do because dance really sustained me. And the connections that I made with people were, were strong and they were ripe for, for organizing, right? I know a lot of us are interested in pushing for social and political change. Um, and I think those opportunities are definitely in there and we can, we can be tapped into our full humanity and into our bodies. Sometimes in academia, those things are very stigmatized as not being fully intellectual or the part of the life of the mind, or they're taking away your energy from getting a peer reviewed journal article out. Um, and that, that, you know, that makes me question like, what are we doing here, <laugh>? Um, so I just wanted to, to share here that our bodies have so much knowledge and so much to tell us about how to move through the world. And again, that our creative practices are so valuable and expressing our full humanity, our mo the most radical version of our humanity is a powerful liberatory experience in and of itself. 

So I'll pick back up, jump back into where this story left off about my trajectory, which was around the time that I was writing a dissertation that has to do with dance. I was able to pull these two things together. I was going through a time period in dance where, uh, we were having some pretty significant success in the company that I danced with, which was really Hering, really confidence building. I started to see alternatives become available to me in the scope of academia. I had struggled probably partly because I was giving a lot of time to dance, Uh, sure <laugh> <laugh>. But I had struggled with really finding mentorship. I think it seemed for a while that it was totally unrealistic that I would make it onto the academic job market. At a certain point, I think I would've been able to finish the program potentially, but I was just really gonna tumble across the finish line. 

And then in my final, it was actually my second to last year, I wound up getting this unbelievably wonderful fellowship that was supposed to be a dissertation writing fellowship, but it was really about professionalization and most importantly provided a couple of designated mentors to me, which was totally life altering for me in the sense that I had people helping me and coaching me with how to get through the steps of getting an academic article out. I didn't have an article out or start to think about the academic job market. And so that fellowship provided this, this amazing experience for me. Um, and I would wish that any, that everybody, that it would be available to everybody, which of course it's not. Um, but that, that provided me with resources I had not had before. And that really changed my trajectory a little bit, um, in the sense that I now was able to, over the course of my final two years, become, started to prepare myself to go on the academic job market in a serious way, which I then did <laugh>. 

Um, and I will, will, we'll pause here. Well not really pause, but I'll, I'll move forward to talk a little bit about my academic job market story. And if you are an academic at any stage listening to this, and if you've done the job market, I'm sure that you have an academic job market story. There were so many random things that I could bring up and talk about. But here's the gist of it. My whole kind of shtick is this. I went on the academic job market really hard. I think the first year I tried it, I, I just applied to a few things. But the second year I was getting ready to graduate my PhD program and I hit the academic job market really hard because the fear and desperation of leaving this program without a job prospect was really pretty terrifying. Um, and the idea that, you know, I come from working class community, um, and, and working class grinding and the idea that I would have all this education that family members and community members would, you know, gently and lovingly poke fun of me for, and the idea that I would have all this training and all this education and walk away and not be able to provide for myself or my family or my community was wild to me. 

And so that fear kind of propelled me into this spiral in which I applied to a hundred jobs in the 2019 and 2020 academic job market cycle. And for anybody listening who's not, has not been on the academic job market, um, the, these are not usually like a quick cover letter and a resume, a lot of times they involve some sort of portfolio of a research statement, a teaching statement, maybe a diversity and equity statement, sometimes syllabi, class planning, multiple rounds of interviews. And I just went bananas and applied to everything. I worked my, I worked my ass off <laugh> and I applied to all these jobs. Um, you know, again, mostly from a place of, of fear and anxiety. And I went through a number of first round interviews, a couple of second round campus interviews. This was, things were just, I did a few in person and a few virtual cuz we were just heading into the pandemic at that time. 

And at the end of that cycle, I did get a job offer. Um, and it's the job that, that I accepted and that I work at now. And it is a full-time but non-tenure track position where I work. And I was lucky enough to get an offer and a position in my home city, um, which was tremendous. And I'm speaking from such a place of, of privilege and luck and gratitude for the fact that I've had that position and at the same for, for the last two years now. And at the same time, I share that story not to say, Oh, fantastic, look at me at the end. I walked away with this job. But I share that story because I think about it almost maybe like every day I think about this all the time. The fact that the difference between that story ending very differently with, with me having gone through a hundred job applications without a job offer at the end is just about that one offer. 

And as we all know, the, the factors that go into these hiring processes can be so arbitrary depending on the institution that we're talking about that can be incredibly problematic. Um, they can be influenced by, you know, racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, all of the systems of, of exploitation. Um, but you know, even at the best of times they are, they're very arbitrary. And so the difference between walking away from this intensely soul crushing experience with or without a job offer, it was, it really came down to that one, one offer that I happened to get. And I'm super, super lucky to have that. But it still speaks to the precarity of that experience and the intensity of that experience. And as I thought about that, it also drew my attention to the fact that we have positioned ourselves in such a way in academia that we can spend 6, 8, 10 years training in a discipline and still feel like we're not really, we don't really know what we're talking about or, or we don't really count until somebody, some group of gatekeepers says you're in. 

You can have the tenure track job or the, the, the lectureship or the instructorship. And that intense kind of compelling need for someone to choose you is literally at the heart of the academic job market, obviously, uh, not just as like an emotional thing, but as an economic reality as well. And of course, we know that there's such a tiny proportion, there's such a tiny portion of jobs actually available to graduating PhDs. So I'll pause here to, to say that as I went through this process and exited that job market experience, my overwhelming feeling is that I never wanna be in that experience again. I never wanna be in that situation again where regard, where, where it feels like your whole life is in the hands of a nameless and faceless hiring committee. Um, and for those who are listening that aren't in academia and, and maybe are not super sure, like why it's such a big deal, there's also the fact that the academic job market typically happens once a year. 

Um, like it, it happens on one rotation a year with some variation, but if you don't get the job on that cycle, you're basically asked out until the next year. Um, there, of course, there's other part-time work that you can do in between, but perversely that can be seen as a negative. And, you know, we're we're told that it's a gap in the resume and it's, it's a disaster situation. I don't believe that that's true, especially now that things have worsened with the pandemic. Um, so if that's where you're at right now, keep going. You got this. But I nev, despite all of our training and all of our experiences, um, it still feels like we're not allowed to claim our skills and our expertise until we get chose. Um, and that, that, you know, was a problem for me as I'm, as I continued to move through the next couple years of life trying to recover from the trauma of the academic job market. 

So I say that to bring us to the second creative affirmation that I wanted to share today, which is that whatever you are, you already are and you can claim it. Okay? So this, maybe this is especially might resonate for you if you're still a grad student or still just thinking about a professional pivot or, uh, of some sort, or if you're starting a new skill, um, that you're uncomfortable with. But academia definitely brain washes us into thinking that we need, uh, you know, massive decade long external validation. I think a lot of corporate environments do this as well to a certain extent. And I think both academia and some corporate environments intentionally perpetuate this kind of infantalizing narrative that you need to get somebody to sign off on you to be considered legitimate. So I'm not saying you should claim to be an expert at something that you're not an expert at, because we all know that that is not going well politically at, at, at the moment in our society. 

But I am saying sit in your process, like it's okay if you are, if you're a sociologist and you're six or seven years into, uh, a PhD program and you're a sociologist, like you still count even if somebody hasn't given you the stamp of approval at some random job market. I mean, at some random hiring committee, same thing with dance. And this was a big thing that I learned from dance and brought over to academia, which is like, we can get stuck in a cycle forever waiting to be validated and waiting to, for someone to say you're good enough. Um, but you know, it, you dance, you're a dancer, you write, you're a writer, like write some stuff and you're a writer, <laugh>, you know, you're, you're, you're starting to learn new, new skills and venture out into a new business or whatever it may be. That's fine. Like you can claim that reality and you can claim your skills and your expertise. 

And I also d wanna add on that the idea that it has to be perfect before you can claim it, we can break that down as well, right? Because that, that idea of the perfectionism is rooted in white supremacy culture and it's rooted in hyper capitalism. And we're trying to break that right now. We're trying to break that down and build something new. And you can be a part of leading or, or maybe not leading, but whatever you can be a part of the alternative and what do we build in its place? What, what kind of ways of being are we gonna now engage in that can be different and can be less harmful? 

So that's two outta three and I will jump in. Now, picking up where this story left off, I think I left us with the trauma of the job market, um, and the economic terror that it would not work. Um, and so I, I alluded to this idea that the intensity with which I hit the academic job market that year was really driven by the fear that for all the effort and difficulty that we put into academia, we would walk away and basically be stuck and, and, and, and feel like there was no recourse or there's no path forward. Um, and specifically I would wanna address the fact that even within academia, even in the pretty good job opportunities that are out there, okay, jobs, maybe not the great ones, but the pay is not particularly good off him. And for so, so, so, so many faculty, such a high proportion of faculty at most schools at this point are not tenure track. 

They're contingent faculty in one way or another. So they're on a year or a three year contract, or they're adjuncting or they're on a one year visiting professorship, visiting assistant, professorship a that whatever it may be. And that precarity can kind of rein, not kind of reinforces the sense economic precarity, Oh shit, I just said the same thing twice. That precarity reinforces the sense that your economic wellbeing is up in the air, of course, right? So the third affirmation that I wanted to put out there is that you can make money outside of what you're doing right now. You can make money outside of academia, You can make money outside of whatever job if you're, if you're in a cycle. And if you're in a job that's really soul sucking for you, you can make money elsewhere. And sometimes we get really uncomfortable talking about money or thinking about money. 

Um, well, I don't know if we get uncomfortable thinking about it or not, but I know sometimes it can be, it can feel, um, it can be uncomfortable to talk about money. Um, but it's important that we have our basic needs, needs met and that we're able to feel like we have some chance in this lifetime of freeing ourselves from debt and from week to week scarcity. And it feels really, really good to not have all your eggs in one basket, especially if that basket is these random hiring committees at higher ed institutions. Um, so to be able to build something for yourself that might give you a skill that makes you hireable somewhere else, even if you're doing something as a side hustle or something, as just even a hobby at this point, if you're working on writing in a format that can be read by more than 15 people, right? 

If you're, if you're a, a transitioning, recovering academic, we need to be able to have our basic needs, needs met to also do again, the types of social and political work that I know a lot of folks wanna do. I remember when I moved to LA I had a meeting, like a coffee or meeting or something with a dancer out there who was already like much more established than I would ever come to be, um, who said I was expecting, I don't know, artistic advice or something, um, advice about getting settled. And I remember to this day, what he said to me was, Okay, well the first thing you need to do is make sure your economic needs are covered right now because you're not gonna be able to produce art if you are in fear one day to the next about being able to cover your basic financial needs. 

And I think the same thing holds true or similar holds true, not a hundred percent, but it is difficult to have the energy to do the political work that we need to do, to do the organizing that we need to do when we're focused on survival from one day to the next. So if you need to do, if you need to make more money <laugh> like to take care of yourself or your family or your community or to, to, to feel like your position is not precarious and you're gonna be able to survive, you can, you can leverage, you can utilize your education or your skills or your life experiences, whatever you have at your fingertips right now that you can utilize that to get other paid work. And this may seem like a really obvious idea, but I think in academia and in some corporate environments or, or some other private environments, the narrative has really spun that like, this is it for you, <laugh>. 

This is the path that you chose. So you're either going to be successful here or you're going to be a quote unquote failure. And it can take some mental and emotional work to break that mentality and that brainwashing that we've gotten. Is it easy? Not necessarily, um, you know, it, but I do believe that many people listening to this have really tangible, beautiful skills and perspective that we need out in the regular workforce, right? And as a community organizer, I remember I had a community organizing instructor that was working with me my first year as an organizer who said, We need organizers everywhere. We need organizers not just working as community organizers. We need organizers who have the mentality of building leadership outside of themselves and building community power that transcends the individual everywhere in all types of jobs and positions. 

So that is it in terms of our kind of focus for the episode for today, just to repeat those creative affirmations. The first one was that our creative practices are valuable, human and critical. The second one was that whatever you are, you already are and you can claim it. And the third is that you can make money outside of what you are doing right now. So I hope some of what I shared here spoke to you a little bit. Like I said at the beginning of the episode, please send me an email if anything resonated with you. The email address is the millennial I would also love to hear from you if you're interested in coming on the show. And you can check us out on the millennial PhD page on Instagram. I have a couple of free resources that'll be coming out over the next couple of weeks that you can find over there and you can connect with me on Instagram as well. 

Um, and, and the link for that will be in the episode notes next week. The, the next episode is gonna be about kind of concrete starting steps if you're thinking about, uh, uh, creative professional pivot right now. So that'll be a little bit more in, in the weeds, a little bit more nitty gritty about actual action steps. Um, and we are just about done for today. Thank you so much for tuning in. Welcome back. Welcome to season two of the millennial PhD. I really look forward to hearing from you, engaging with you, and continuing to record episodes for this new season. And that's all. It's been real. That's it for this week's episode of the Millennial PhD. You can find more content, resources and information on Instagram at the millennial PhD in this collective moment of reevaluating our relationships with work and exploitation. I look forward to connecting with you and building stronger bonds of community and collaboration. I would love to hear from you via email at the millennial with any feedback, comments, questions, or concerns, or if you're interested in coming on the show as a guest. That's all for now. It's been real. See you next time.