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.)
For both of them, I prescribe the lifestyle of the happiest people I know:
- Have a well-paying job.
- Seriously pursue your art for love, not money.
Let’s look at the ingredients of this plan. First: 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.
If you have too much stability, you get bored. If you don’t have enough stability, you panic. So keep the balance.
Do something for love and something for money. Don’t try to make one thing satisfy your entire life.
Each half of your life becomes a remedy for the other. You get paid stability for part of your day, but then need creative time for expression. So you push yourself creatively, expose your vulnerable art to the public, feel the frustration of rejection and apathy, and then long for some stability again. Each half is a remedy for the other.
About the 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 the required training. You’ll probably need to study for a few years to build up the rare skills that are well-rewarded. This is a head choice, not a heart choice, since you’re not trying to make your job your entire life.
About your 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 professional. Find some fans. Let them pay you. But your 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. You don’t 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 — important for self-identity — and gives you good feedback on how to improve.
Your main obstacle to this amazing life will be self-control. You’ll need good time management to stop addictions like social media and video-watching, and make your art your main relaxing activity. You’ll need good mind management to not think of your job after you leave the office.
Most full-time artists I know only spend an hour or two a day actually doing their art. The rest is spent on the boring work that comes with trying to make it a full-time career. So skip the art career and just do the art.
And that’s my advice for a rewarding life. I’ve met thousands of people over the last twenty years — many of them full-time musicians, many of them not — but the happiest people I know are the ones that have this balance.
Don’t expect your job to fulfill all your emotional needs. Don’t taint something you love with the need to make money from it. 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 great life.