I didn’t want to write this article.
I wanted to write something like “how to throw caution to the wind and make art that scares you”. The problem is I’ve already written that. Many times. There is an equally valid perspective about how great art gets made, and it’s not sexy. It starts with two words.
Comfort and Security
Do you remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Take a look at the top of the pyramid.
According to Maslow, creativity and inner talent require all the needs below to be fulfilled.
For the starving artist, that’s not good news. In fact, it means if you don’t have your basic needs met, you won’t be able to reach your creative potential. It seems as though we undervalue the importance of stability for a creative life.
On the contrary, even though most of us have worries about security, we probably aren’t getting chased by saber-tooth tigers or wondering where our next meal is coming from. If you look one level up at belonging and love, one could argue that some of the most beautiful art has come from love lost, so this isn’t an exact science, but it points to something we often overlook.
Day Jobs Are Sexy
Day jobs can provide the foundation upon which a creative life is built. If you’re trying to make art while simultaneously needing to make money, you might find yourself stuck. More about that in an article called On Art and Making Money.
Jobs are not the only way to find security. You could have a spouse who’s income can cover expenses, or you could have money saved. Whatever you need to do to feel more at ease around money will help you be more creative. In the last five years since being self-employed my income hasn’t been consistent, so I often get large chunks of money followed by nothing for a few months. What I do for the sake of my creative sanity, is keep a large chunk of money in reserve, even if I have to neglect paying down my credit card. When I’m not desperate for money, I do my best work, get my best ideas. Having a nest becomes really important.
Don’t Kill Your Creative Baby
One of the fastest ways to kill your creativity is to rely on it for income. I’m not saying you shouldn’t become a full time artist, but know that it will take extra attention and discipline.
Why do this if you don’t have to?
Too often we quit our jobs and throw caution to the wind when we don’t have to. I was a Navy Officer for five years while I built up my music career and having money to hire great teachers and a manager was something many of my other musician friends couldn’t afford. It was all made possible by my day job.
I think we also quit our jobs too early.
We quit too early because we tell ourselves the story that the job is stopping us from pursuing our passion. In 2006 I saw how I was doing this in a big way.
The Day My Day Job Stopped Stopping Me
I was relatively fresh out of the Naval Academy and stationed in San Diego, working on a ship full time and playing music on the side. I was at Lestat’s, a popular music venue in San Diego, and it was open mic night. I played a few songs and afterwards a girl approached me with a smile.
“You were great! So… what’s your story?”
I had seen her play that night too and she was a great singer. I replied like I had always done, “oh… you know… I love playing music but I’m in the Navy, so I just do music on the side”.
She looked disappointed. “I see.” She said, then the conversation died and she walked away.
I was surprised at her response. I was used to people being impressed that I did both, but this evening that wasn’t the case. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I loved playing music and I had always assumed that a career in music would have to wait until I left the Navy, but was that true?
I thought about what would happen if the Navy let me go tomorrow. Was I ready for a career in music? What steps would I have to take to be ready? Is the Navy really stopping me from taking those steps?
I spent the whole night thinking about this, and I realized the Navy wasn’t stopping me. The Navy would stop me from playing music at some point, but it wasn’t happening yet. I had four years left in the Navy, so that night I made a commitment to work hard enough in my off time that I’d be ready to go a year before I got out. I wanted to find out where the line actually was, where I couldn’t go any further without quitting my job.
When I left the Navy in May of 2010 I had played gigs in 20 different states, met and connected with hundreds of musicians across the country, and got signed to an artist development deal with a management company. I was playing an average of 10 gigs per month, sometimes as many as 15, all while still working full time with the Navy.
Turned out I was able to do a lot more than I had originally thought.
Sometimes it’s best to quit your job and throw caution to the wind, but sometimes we use that as a way to stop ourselves from doing what we love. We romanticize the reckless entrepreneur and miss the wisdom of the person who realizes that sometimes you can follow your passion and have financial security as well.
It ain’t sexy, but it works.