Derek Sivers

How to do what you love and make good money

The problem:

People with a well-paying job ask my advice because they want to quit to become full-time artists.

But full-time artists ask my advice because they’re finding it impossible to make money.

(Let’s define “art” as anything you do for expression, even just blogging or whatever.)

The solution:

For both of them, I prescribe the lifestyle of the happiest people I know:

  1. Have a well-paying job
  2. Seriously pursue your art for love, not money

The ingredients:

Balance:

You’ve heard about balancing heart and mind, or right-brain left-brain, or whatever you want to call it.

We all have a need for stability and adventure, certainty and uncertainty, money and expression.

Too much stability, and you get bored. Not enough, and you’re devastated. So keep the balance.

Do something for love, and something for money. Don’t try to make one thing satisfy your entire life.

In practice, then, each half of your life becomes a remedy for the other.

You get paid and get stability for part of your day, but then need creative time for expression.

So you push yourself creatively, expose your vulnerable darlings to the public, feel the frustration of rejection and apathy, and then long for some stability again.

Each half a remedy for the other.

Job:

Be smart, and choose something that pays well with a solid future.

Look for statistics in your area about what pays the best, when factoring in training required.

You’ll probably need to study for a few years to build up the rare skills that are well-rewarded.

Read the book “So Good They Can’t Ignore You” for more great thoughts on this.

This is a head choice, not heart choice, since you’re not trying to make your job your entire life.

Art:

Pursue it seriously. Take lessons. Make weekly progress. Keep improving, even if you’ve been doing it for decades.

If you don’t progress and challenge yourself creatively, it won’t satisfy the balance.

Release and sell your work, like a pro. Find some fans. Let them pay you. Make a band and do some gigs for fun.

But the attitude is different than someone who needs the money.

You don’t need to worry if it doesn’t sell. You don’t need to please the marketplace. No need to compromise your art, or value it based on others’ opinions.

You’re just doing this for yourself — art for its own sake.

And you’re releasing it because that’s one of the most rewarding parts, is important for self-identity, and gives you good feedback on how to improve.

Self-control:

Your main obstacle to this amazing life will be self-control.

Mind management, to leave your job at the office, and not bring it home with you.

Time management, to stop addictions like social media and video-watching, and make your art your main relaxing activity.

Read the book “Daily Rituals” for great examples of this.

Final thoughts:

How nice to not expect your job to fulfill all your emotional needs.

How nice to not taint something you love with the need to make money from it.

Most full-time artists I know only spend an hour or two a day actually doing their art. The rest is spent on mundane crap that comes with trying to make it a full-time career. So skip the art career and just do the art.

I’m fully expecting you to disagree with this advice. But I’ve met about a hundred people a week for the last 18 years, many of them full-time musicians, many of them not, but the happiest people I know are the ones that have this balance. So there’s my blunt template advice, given only because people keep asking.

Don’t try to make your job your whole life.

Don’t try to make your art your sole income.

Let each be what it is, and put in the extra effort to balance the two, for a rewarding life.

See-Saw by Osch aka Otto Schade. Photo by Maureen Barlin.