I was sixteen when I sat down with my high school’s guidance counselor as she asked me the dreaded question: “So, what do you want to go to school for?”
I think I told her twenty different options. Maybe for writing, singing, theater, or maybe even for english literature (since I love to read). Come to think of it, I also told her I enjoyed history, psychology, planning events, swimming with dolphins (maybe I could work with marine life?), and that I’m quite fond of working with children so maybe a teacher.
She then scheduled me to take College Algebra for the third time (yes, the third time), informed me that I was no longer required to take any English classes since I always made As, and scolded me for not wanting to take a dual-enrolled Chemistry class since it would prepare me… for the majors in college I had no interest in.
Oh, high school. I do not miss thee.
It’s not the guidance counselor’s fault. It’s honestly just how the world works. People want you to be useful above creative.
I’ve complained about this a lot. About how our school systems seem to try and churn out exact copies of humans with the sole goal to make them useful. My entire school career I felt picked on and on the outside because I always had to choose between drama, band, choir, and art class for my electives when I wanted to do all of them. My English and Reading classes were taken away, because I was already good at both, while College Algebra loomed over me like the Dementors from Harry Potter. (Yes, I mean quite literally that College Algebra sucked all the happiness from my world.)
However, I’ve now grown up, gotten married, had two children I’m responsible to care for and have lived in this funny world. I understand now why everyone around me during my childhood was so dead set on making me useful instead of leaving me to my creative leanings. I realize now that, no matter how talented, dedicated, and otherwise amazing I am (or am not), my creativity may never actually pay the bills the way I would like it to. And I needed to stop blaming the world for spitting on my dreams and telling me that it doesn’t owe me anything because well… it doesn’t owe me anything.
This revelation, of course, goes against everything I stand for as a human being such as: dreaming without limits, taking risks, supporting others in their creativity, jumping on crazy opportunities, living life the way you want to, etc. But I’ve come to the conclusion that the world simply does not care about whether or not you or I make it as a creative. The society around us cares about whether or not we can feed and clothe ourselves. And if we can’t do those things, then there better be a good reason (like having no arms and legs or face or brain or…) and one of those “good reasons” isn’t forsaking all of our responsibilities for the sake of our “art”.
So, I decided early on that being a starving artist wasn’t for me. I got a job. I write every day (I’m working on a novel right now). I try out for plays when my schedule as a mother, work responsibilities, and school allow for it (it’s not often, I’ll admit). I sing and play piano for people because I enjoy it. I send my writing out to publishers and get rejected… and then send them out again.
Getting a job, a job that you rock at, doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams to “make it” full time as a creative. It just means you’re a responsible human being who doesn’t make it the burden of everyone else around you to support your creative pursuits. Creatives have been struggling since the beginning of time to do what they love while also surviving in this dog-eat-dog world. (Why can’t the world just let us sing? Darn it!) There has forever been a struggle for a creative to “just be” creative. I’ll even go so far as to say that most people never “make it” when it comes to only doing their art and nothing else.
And… that has to be okay with us. Because here’s the thing… we’re not creative for the money, anyway. We’re creative because it’s who we are at our core. We live and breathe it. And if we live and breathe it, that means we’re willing to do what it takes to support that creative spirit within us… like getting really, really good at a marketable trade outside of our creative pursuits. Those marketable trades can often have many, many creative elements in them! (I’m lucky in that respect with what I do as a social media manager and copywriter.)
Look, we’re amongst great company. J.K. Rowling worked as a researcher and bilingual secretary before she hit it big with Harry Potter. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, worked as a farmhand to support her dream of being an author. She even continued to do other work when she finally published her first book because she wanted to feel secure financially just in case it didn’t work out.
It doesn’t make you less passionate about your creative pursuits to do it responsibly. Don’t get it confused. The starving artist isn’t passionate, they’re just starving.
Essentially, there are three rules to making it as a creative:
- Create. Create. Create.
- Put your work out there.
- Never, ever, ever give up.
Will you eventually “make it”? I hope so. I truly do. But is that what we’re actually in this for? Because if the validity of our work is based on the validation of others… I think we picked the wrong gig, people. We’re supposed to be rebels for goodness sake! Not rebels who secretly hope everyone likes us. That’s just lame.
I really wish we all could just sing, dance, make people laugh, and entertain others. But if we’re painfully honest with ourselves, these aren’t the things that actually make the world go round; and the world doesn’t care how that makes us feel. Creativity, in my view, is what makes life worth living but that’s very different from what actually physically sustains human life.
Yet, we create anyway. We make people laugh anyway. We entertain anyway. We make people think and feel good anyway. And, most importantly, we create for our own satisfaction and good pleasure. Somewhere, within our creative souls, we have to learn how to let that be enough and stop putting so much pressure on ourselves to “make it”. Because if it isn’t enough now, while you’re working to support your creative goals, it will never be enough at all.
P.S. Watch out for another blog about how you can take your creativity and channel it into a trade that supports you financially. Figured you didn’t want to read an entire book on your lunch break. 😉