For a recent talk, while compiling slides, I found myself coming up with quick phrases that I would then elaborate upon. Many of these could be considered the title of the specific tangent, much like the title of a blog post – a quick title for a quick idea.
I was delighted to have come up with several titles that had a certain “ring” to them, and would probably lend themselves to a worthwhile future blog post. I fully intend on developing many of them into articles, as I realized that my talk is a collection of ideas that I have and will express via this blog.
One of my favorite phrases was:
Fight to stay excited.
The world wants to bum you out.
Plain and simple.
I find myself gravitating towards authors and personalities that realize this fact. Books, podcasts, and websites can all draw my attention if we have this commonality established. We prioritize excitement, and realize that there is a fight to keep it this way.
Art and design is a field that many outsiders do not understand. Some of us are first faced with this reality when we tell our parents that we want to pursue art as a career, and they have no clue how in the world one would be able to generate income with art as an occupation. This is fine. Even most artists have no clue how to generate income with art as an occupation.
In regard to the parents; Many assume the only way to make a living is to simply work a nine-to-five job, doing whatever they tell you to do. Our country is built upon the basic idea that you get any job that will take you, work for eight hours, and you get to leave it at 5:00 every day. However, there was never any promise or guarantee of happiness. I see this as an enormous problem.
The American work force would like us to believe that “happiness” is merely having your bills paid. Now, go to sleep so that you can get up for work tomorrow, and do it all over again. Be happy that you even have a job.
From a certain perspective, all of the above is true. I can step into anyone’s shoes and look at a situation as ideal. A homeless person would kill to have one of those 9-to-5 I-hate-my-life jobs. An entry level employee would kill to be a manager. Et cetera, et cetera.
But personally, I’m out of that realm entirely. From my shoes, the majority, quite often, leaves me scratching my head.
I mean, wasn’t anyone serious when they proclaimed, “When I grow up, I want to be a ______ !” Did everyone assume that the excitement they had for life, for riding their bikes, and having fun as a kid, would eventually die off, as adulthood encroached upon us?
I imagined myself happy and excited — throughout my entire life. When I told my Mom that “I wanted to be an artist when i grew up!” I was completely serious.
So this isn’t a soapbox to point fingers at the nine-to-fivers. It’s also not an assumption that all nine-to-fivers are unhappy. Some of these nine-to-fivers are doing exactly what they wanted to do with their lives, and I commend them for it.
The point I’m trying to make is for creatives like myself. In a world with everyone wanting to eventually baptize you into the corporate machine, you must dedicate yourself to your own path. You must fight to stay excited. The world wants to bum you out.
Many of us begin as crazy, off-the-wall artists. We then realize that fine art is lovely, but graphic design is a clearer way of having actual, paying work. We later find ourselves doing what can technically be called “graphic design” but in a very boring fashion. We began splattering paint all over the walls, and before we know it, we are laying out images and text in a trading post. So much so, that we don’t really know if we are an artist anymore at all.
The world has a way of putting a suit and tie on us. They don’t know any better, it’s how they were taught to operate. The world has a way of putting the bouncing creativity into a cubicle. Companies assume containment is order, and order is better business practice.
American business is like a little baby that doesn’t know any better – so it’s often pointless to attempt discipline. So I’m not. The corporate world is what is it, and I’ve just chosen to have no part of it.
They don’t rip your soul away all at once. They just chip at it, little by little, so that you don’t notice the change. There’s just a little piece of you dying every day. It’s chipping away at youthful excitement, and it’s chipping away at the guts needed to travel your own path. With every day, you become more fearful of actually being who you promised yourself you would become. With every day, you’re fooled into believing more excuses at why you couldn’t possibly make it on your own.
All this to explain that the alternative is a very undefined path. Being a creative for a living, and in my case, freelance, is a path that has turned down convention time and time again. College degree? I don’t need it, and don’t want the debt. Health insurance? Eh, I can just get my own. Suit and tie? No thanks, it feels like I’m being strangled. Your very own cubicle? Nope, I sing too loud while I work.
The conventional route of occupation has simply never made sense to me, and I’ve always been pretty insistent upon maintain my own soul.
What has made sense to me is this passion that I’ve maintained for making art. It makes sense to me that I can get lost designing graphics, and completely lose track of time. I love that I don’t even know what a time card looks like. I love that ‘working hours’ is a concept that I’ve never had to understand. I love accepting work because it excites me, not because someone told me that I have to do it. I like that my clients feel more like teammates than burdens. I’m excited to be in a field full of creative people, excited about what’s next. I love looking at the portfolio I’ve accumulated over the years, and knowing that it was me who created it all, and that it’s all a result of the my hard work. I love what I do, and the way that I do it.
Now, I could rewrite the previous paragraph with all of the nuts and bolts of how this all actually happens. I could negatively describe ‘working hours’ as the feeling of my eyes burning at 4:30 am, when all I want to do is go to sleep. I could envy punching a time card because it means that I could leave my work on the desk, and walk away. But, the real truth is that the “cons” have never really felt like “cons.”
This whole freelance operation is like a monkey on my back, except the monkey is really awesome, and is like my best friend. I feel way more comfortable and myself when the monkey is there.
See, my work is my life. Most people would view that as a negative statement. But, people’s surnames used to describe their job. Joseph Shoemaker, Bob Miller, etc. Their work was so much a part of them, that is was their name. They took pride in it.
So the truth is that working on your own and following your passion IS the hard way to do it. You don’t get the luxury of turning it off. You don’t leave it. If you follow all the rules, you get your degree, and your job, but you don’t get promised happiness. So following your passion promises nothing, except that you like what you’re doing. Making it financially stable and steady, that depends on whether you love it enough to grind it out for a while, until it begins to work. It depends if you have the energy to always find better ways of making your operation run, and to be dedicated to pursuing what makes you happiest.
Happiness and excitement, those should be the goal. I have a cosmic belief that your love and passion can overcome the basic logistical stresses that many face when trying to get an operation up and running. While a base income is necessary, it cannot be the reason. The goal must be the work, maintaining the excitement behind the work, and evolving naturally. Expecting a specific monetary figure, and deeming yourself a failure if you don’t reach it, is the first step of the decline, and the first cue that you are off on the wrong foot. If you can look back, and be happy with the work, you have to have some higher belief that everything else will fall into place. Good work gets noticed, and if you dedicate yourself to producing quality art, and work harder than anyone else you know at it, then I have to believe that it all leads to bigger and better things.
Sounds quite idealistic to a person who has relied on the system their whole lives. For the other portion of us, who have had little acquaintance with said system, it makes perfect sense. That “adult” brain will always keep us from taking these risks, while our former wide-eyed “child” brain is left increasingly disappointed with the “practical” choices of it’s adult self.
The further we get from the kid who “wants to be an artist when they grow up,” the further we’re going to get from a deeply happy existence.
Get out while you can.