When I was at university, I got a lot of very demeaning comments about my choice of career. To some of my friends, all I did was "doodle." To them, my career path was just scribbling and making pretty things that offered nothing to society. I have pretty thick skin, but this hurt. I hated hearing that what I loved to do was of no service to my community. "I wish my degree was as easy as yours", "You get graded on subjective opinion, not merit", "Good luck finding a job when you graduate." Ouch. The question I got asked most frequently, that will always stick with me though is this one:
"Why do you want to be poor the rest of your life?"
In my head I thought, "what do you mean... poor?” It never occurred to me that I could ever be poor, because I’ve never attributed my own success to how much money I make. This is where the whole of society gets things mixed up. We are so focused on making sure our kids are good at math and science so they can go and get nice, well paying, important jobs. That is a load of crap. We rob the young artists in our society of any hope of being successful, because we tell them that money = success, and success = happiness (it doesn’t).
For all you young artists out there, and even for you veterans that need an encouraging word, here’s some thoughts.
Never let anyone else tell you who you are, or how much you’re worth. Your work has worth, because it’s yours. Not because someone else says so. Work because you love to work, not because you love the payoff.
Success takes time. I read a comment online the other day from a photographer who just moved to my city. She was concerned because she’s been living here for a year and her business hasn’t quite taken off yet. I can’t say this enough: These things take time. Your individual story is going to play out much differently than the rest of ours. Some people blow up overnight. Meanwhile, some of the greats die before they get noticed. So be patient and find satisfaction in the process.
Money can’t buy happiness, but it CAN buy you tacos. Listen, money isn’t everything, but it’s nice to have. You should take care of yourself, and make sure you’re able to provide for you and your family. But don’t stress over being rich. You’ll find wealth in your work, and in creating.
Love yourself and your work. This is probably the hardest thing for us to do. We’re kind of naturally dispositioned to hate ourselves and hate what we create. It’s a weird struggle to take compliments and actually like the things we make for more than 45 minutes. But you have to. After all, it’s yours.
Hate yourself and hate your work. Ok ok, hear me out now. While you should love your work, you should all at once hate it just enough to want to get better. You have to be objective about yourself. You’ll never be perfect, but you should always be trying to reach that goal. When you receive positive critique, ask for negative criticism. No one ever grew from hearing good things about themselves all day.
Pay it forward. Being a creative sucks sometimes. It can be a cycle of self-defeat and self-doubt. Knowing this about yourself, understand that the rest of us are struggling just as much as you are. So be an encouragement to your fellow artists. Be a vessel for collaboration, not solidarity.