Building a creative career is rewarding, but it’s damned hard, and far from certain. It takes years to learn your craft, develop good habits, and find the right markets for your work.
Along the way, you have to make a decision: do you want to simultaneously pursue a full-time career and your creative work, or attempt to support yourself financially while you build a creative career?
Neither approach is easy.
Full-time work might give you a steady income and benefits, but the time, energy, and focus required by the job limit the amount of creative work you can do. As a result, your creative career will probably progress at a slower pace.
You may or may not find your job rewarding. You could be laid off, but the skills and experience gained at this job can (hopefully) translate into a new job. There may be promotions, bonuses, raises, etc., but as we’ve seen since the great recession began, this path is far from certain.
Devoting most of your time and energy to your creative career offers no income guarantees, health insurance (if you’re an American), or water cooler camaraderie. You’ll have more time to create, but you’re probably going to be cash-strapped, and you’ll have no idea what the future holds.
You’re responsible for your own success or failure. This is terrifying…and exciting.
Outside work is chosen based on whether or not you think it’ll give you time to build your creative career. For some people, full-time jobs meet this criterion.
Supported by his wife, director Ang Lee went all in. He spent the ages of 30 to 36 trying – and failing – to get his film career off the ground. He considered giving up and studying computer science. In his post The Uncertainty of Success, Jeff Lin provides his take on this period of Lee’s life:
Put yourself in his shoes. Imagine starting something now, this year, that you felt you were pretty good at, having won some student awards, devoting yourself to it full time…and then getting rejected over and over until 2019. That’s the middle of the term of the next President of the United States. Can you imagine working that long, not knowing if anything would come of it?
For Lee, soldiering through uncertainty paid off. For others, this time might end up being nothing but years of lost income and dashed hopes. He also had complete financial support from his wife,
I’m not saying one approach is superior to the other, or that these approaches are mutually exclusive. Plenty of people have dual professional & creative careers. Additionally, some part-time work can be rewarding and may feel like a career, even when the hours (and pay) suggest otherwise.
Personally, I’ve tried both and have decided on the latter path (I work part-time as a substitute teacher). I’m fortunate, though; the wife works as a full-time teacher, which provides us health insurance.
Sure, we live in one of the poorest parts of the country, but this keeps our expenses low. With both our incomes, we even manage to put some money away each month.
I have no idea what to expect, but I’d rather deal with the pain of uncertainty than the pain of not pursuing my creative career.
What about you?
Are you a creator with a career, a career creative, or somewhere in between? Please let us know in the comments.