Should I continue to prioritize my art in my life over my financial security as I get older?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (11 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
When I was in high school, I made up my mind to throw myself body and soul into a creative, competitive field and ignore everyone who told me how hard it would be to succeed in it. It was a calling, a destiny, a cathexis, and I've never wavered from it even though I haven't yet "made it" and may never. My strategy was to take "day jobs" that I wasn't emotionally invested in and that didn't take time or energy away from my art. I got by on very little money for about six years after college, where I majored in a soft social science field that I thought could enrich my art and give me a broad base for jobs. (It's the kind of major that you need a master's in to do anything with, though). After six years of day jobs, I went to grad school (in the creative field) which gave me time, money (student loans), and focus. I stayed in grad school for five years and then segued into an occupation closely related to my creative field, which proved to be draining to my creativity after another five years. This occupation involved self-employment as well as working for a couple of companies as a W-2 employee.
The almost-creative work I was doing became a casualty of the recession and is unlikely to return, and I'm also burned out on it and want to use my creativity for my own projects. Since I left that occupation, I've had one grant-driven nonprofit position in which I helped others (which I loved), and another job shortly after that which I still have, which is clerical and also involves recruiting, and will end in about six months. I just turned 43.
Along the road I've described, I've had a number of encouraging successes in my creative field, but nothing lucrative. I was also held back by my own lack of confidence stemming from childhood verbal abuse, and it has taken me this long to do the difficult twofold work of overcoming the legacy of that abuse, and maturing as an artist. It's been a long apprenticeship to the muse. Now I have the confidence I've always needed to put my work out there. I've worked very hard to become excellent at my craft and emotionally stable enough to know that I am.
I am also, however, realistic about the fact that even the most talented creatives don't generally make a living as full-time original artists in any genre, and concerned about long-term financial security. I have no children and I still live very frugally, and I have a partner who's also an artist working day jobs and has a very similar outlook on life to mine, so I don't have family responsibilities and don't really have to worry about anyone's financial security but my own, but I'd like a few more luxuries and a nest egg, and to pay off those student loans someday. I have not given up my hope that I'll one day earn a living doing what I love, but in the meantime I still have to eat. The reality of this is much more tangible now than when I was younger. I don't want to be an impoverished senior citizen, or have my life cut short due to inability to get proper medical care (though I'm in great health at the moment).
As I see it now, I have a few choices:
1. Try to get a sales job (it would have to be a product I believe in) without experience, focus on the job and the money, and deprioritize my lifelong dream and a major part of my identity due to the massive time commitment I think is involved in selling.
2. Return to school for a particular career I think I would enjoy, that involves helping others and pays $60K+ yearly. Risk spending more money on another degree and not finding a job (though according to bls.gov the occupational outlook for that career is excellent). Deprioritize my art because this career path is not just a job; it's a commitment. This particular career is one I've carefully researched after narrowing it down from a list of about a dozen based on several career interest and aptitude tests.
3. Start my own nonprofit or small business which would combine helping others with creativity. Again use my creativity in ways other than my own projects, except this time it would be more on my own terms. However, it still might drain me for any of my own projects. While I'm working on getting funding, continue working whatever day job I can get.
4. Carry on as I have been, prioritizing my art for the rest of my life and working whatever day job I can find that doesn't tax my energy, even if it's got nothing to do with helping others and seems pointless and boring (as my current job often does). Work even harder at getting a breakthrough in my chosen field. Accept the fact that I may always be poor because I could work for a lifetime at my art and not be financially successful at it. Go through periods of unemployment between bouts of underemployment. Be unable to save money for the future or for emergencies. Live this way til I die slumped over my last creative project, maybe stressed and bitter at the end.
FWIW, I score high on the Highly Sensitive Person test by Dr. Elaine Aron and my Myers-Briggs type is INFP. If I could sum up what I want to be remembered for, it would be that I changed people's lives through my art -- inspired or comforted them or helped them find their own artistic voice. I also take a deeply sensual pleasure in the creative process itself and have arranged my life so I can get as much of this as possible. I prefer to work one-on-one with others in a peaceful environment, so teaching is not an option, except for tutoring. Even a job along those lines, though, would come second in my heart to my art. It would just be more bearable because it would be fulfilling, and I'd be making a contribution. Then again, many helping jobs don't pay any more than what I made freelancing.
So how can I balance my needs for self-expression, helping others, and being financially secure, as well as have the appropriate level of commitment to any career path I might choose? If any particular jobs come to mind I'll happily take suggestions.