Thriving as a creative: Skill, passion & uncountable hours are not enough
I know how to freelance. My last regular paycheck was in 1982. I still miss those like I miss the palm trees of California. It’s a fruitless yearning that needs occasional snapping out of.
How? Maturity has rewritten my priority list to be realistic, and I learned to be okay with that.
The other morning I was on the front porch of my home in a northeastern forest chatting with the 19-year old who rents a room from my neighbor. Zoe is an aspiring musician who works in a vintage music shop and trades cleaning my airBnB room for rides. I asked her, “So Zoe, what steps are you taking toward your goal?”
With a sad expression and slumping shoulders Zoe mumbled about her latest effort being poorly received or rejected or something. I snapped at her like I was chiding my own young self. I saw her as me in 1983 moaning on about delusional dreams of instant fame & acclaim being dashed for all time.
“Hey Zoe. Sit up straight. Shoulders back. Chin up, tits out. You submitted something. That’s great. You just got one of the hundred rejections it will take to get you another step up a tall ladder out of a crowd of a million young people. People just like you who all want to make a living doing something creative. They can be really talented, but almost every one of them will let those rejections stop them, because it’s easier to have a “real” job. (Yes, I use finger quotes with “real”.)
I suck as a mentor. Why? All I can offer is a glimpse at my reality.
My priority list when I was Zoe’s age:
- Do what I want (Be an Artist!)
- People throw money & kudos at me because they see my potential
- Have fun
My priority list 45 years later:
- Keep enjoying my independence
- Learn something new with every painting
- Cover my expenses and occasionally exceed them
- Come up with a fresh marketing scheme every day
- Teach others how
- Get over yourself Mernie
I am not what Zoe aspires to and I get it. I’m not what I aspired to. Fortunately, where I ended up is a pretty great place, and all those ‘unfortunately…’ letters were a necessary part of the journey. I have been rejected by some very important (and so very many short-sighted) people. But every one of them got a look at my name and my work before writing Sorry, not this time. But not all of them said that, so I get to have a rewarding vocation doing a lot of what I love, and willingly slog through the funky parts.
I go on dog walks with another neighbor who has been a professional musician since the 80s. Dennis is a drummer, composer and college professor. He once asked me, “How do you get gigs?”
I gave him my best and truest answer, “Luck, magic and word-of-mouth.”
Dennis sighed, “Yeah, that’s about it.”
And then we talked about what great lives our dogs have while we enjoyed a long walk through the beautiful, sunny woods in the middle of a work day.