Ask TCI: What if your passion doesn't pay the bills?
FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)
Q: What if your passion doesn’t pay the bills?
A: And what if you decide that you don’t want to have the pressure of having something that you are passionate about being turned into a bill payer? In my case, as a photographer, I would probably end up having to photograph things that are not in my field of interest or find other things related to photography that I could do to make money—teaching, working in a lab, etc. Instead, I found a totally different area where I could work for a living. I believe that I’m the photographer I want to be because I decided to maintain my day job.
I’m also aware that by not having to do whatever comes my way in order to make money from my photography, I might end up not challenging myself as much as I should by doing things that I’m not comfortable with. I’ve found that those uncomfortable areas are generally also things that I just don’t care about, that don’t excite me, and that would in the end simply transform my passion into a job that I won’t wake up eager to do.
In the end, I’d rather not have my freedom taken away from me. I’d rather stop when my mind tells me to. I’d rather point my camera (even for no money at all) at the things that mean something to me, even if the next morning I’m doing a different job. I’ve learned that I can live two different lives and time management is just something you learn very well how to do. Also, sleeping is overrated and often very interesting things come from the fact that you’re not always surrounded by the same types of people. In my case that means artists, musicians, and photographers versus rooms full of engineers.
There’s this romantic feeling that being a full-time artist is the goal, but that doesn’t have to be the goal, or shouldn’t be necessarily. There are so many artists that are super successful that also diversify the sorts of projects they work on. It’s not shameful to be a working artist or to have other interests that you’re also pursuing.
I teach English 101 and English 102 at a Community College. I’ve done it for over a decade now. It’s allowed me to stay here. I don’t make as much as a normal college instructor would but I can live my life here, which has been important for me. I get into a writing routine when I’m working on a book. On weekends I work hard, in the evenings I work for an hour, too. But teaching is so important for the megalomania of the artist.
I discovered for a time that actually having a bi-weekly paycheck helped me be mentally in a place where my creativity was in a better flow. Even though I didn’t have that much time.
It’s certainly easier to push off my own creative projects than it is to push off the day job, especially when my day job is in a creative field. So it’s not like I’m just working a generic office job, I am working with other people’s art all day. So it’s harder to slough off that responsibility. It’s difficult.
I have to set time aside a year in advance, and hold it sacred. That’s advice that people give a lot of folks when they’re saying, “Oh, how do you make time for a creative process when you’ve got kids, or a day job or a million, laundry, a raccoon infestation in your basement?” Whatever it is, you need to carve out time, and descend it.
A wise person told me that it’s foolish to think that you can’t write a novel if you have a full-time job. That was reassuring, because I do have other jobs. It makes it much more difficult, certainly…I find now that it is a little bit harder to keep that rate up of productivity. I think that’s why people shift to the morning hours when they have jobs, or other obligations, because at least you’re fresh in the morning. I can’t write at night at all anymore.
I’m really glad that I found a day job in arts administration when I was younger because I was working alongside artists and learning a lot about how things succeed and how they fail. I was working on grant stuff and that enabled me to pay the bills.
Discipline is freedom. You have to be accountable to something. It’s not all freeform, do what you want. You’ve got to go out there, put some thought behind the thing, and figure out what it is that you’re going after, in all respects.
I think about what it would be like not to need a job sometimes. It’s that classic winning the lottery question—people who say, “Even if I won the lottery, I’d still keep my job.” I’d probably keep a teaching gig, even if I didn’t need to.
I moved to San Francisco and pretty quickly I got a job teaching outside the city, which was crazy. I was offered a job right away. The day I was supposed to start I was just like, “Man, I cannot get on this track.” There’s this other thing I want to do. If I don’t stop everything now and do it, it’s just not going to happen. I’m going to be a professor, it’s going to be too hard—or too risky—to try and do anything else after that happens.”
I worked at a restaurant, and I’ve done many other side jobs. You just, at some point, have to come to the realization that all industries are fucked, because we live under capitalism. For me, personally, pursuing musicianship or artistry as a job just makes sense in a practical way, because I spend all my time doing this, so it would be nice to just get paid for it, rather than saying, “I don’t want to have to think about money with this. I want to make my money from something else.” I don’t have enough hours in the day to do that.
One of the best known music photographers in Portugal, Vera Marmelo has organically built a career from simply being a fixture in Lisbon’s thriving music scene. “Taking photos was a way of looking at the people that surrounded me and feeling their energy,” she explains. “I wanted to be part of something and the camera helped me do that. It was my entry point into the world.” In addition to being a photographer, Marmelo leads a double life working days as a civil engineer helping to control and regulate the water supply in Lisbon: “If people in Lisbon have good water pressure when they take a shower, they can thank me.”
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