The Self-Inflicted Curse of Creativity
I sat there in my advisor’s office, a freshman still wearing the heavy burden of “undecided” after one full year in college.
Summer was coming and I still unsure about which major would better prepare me for the “real world.”
Thanks to a childhood filled with endless comic books and countless hours of doodling, I had narrowed my choices down to:
- A BFA in Visual Communications (a fancy way of saying graphic design)
- A BFA in Studio Art with an emphasis on painting
After weighing the pros and cons, my advisor decided to cut the shit and ask me a few questions:
“How important is creative freedom?”
Umm, I’m never really thought about it. I mean, I’d rather help people solve their problems then have complete control.
“Do you like working with people?”
Of course! I’m an extrovert who loves being around others. Why wouldn’t I want to work with other people?
“Do you care about making money?”
Uhh, it’s not the most important thing, but if I do have a family, I want to be able to put food on the table. I’m not the starving-artist-alone-in-the-corner type.
After three “simple” questions, my advisor declared with complete certainty:
“Well, alright then. Vis Com it is!”
And there you have it. The moment that changed my life forever.
Fast forward four years, a business minor, and way too many Red Bull-fueled late nights later, and I found myself as a proud…college graduate who was living at home with my parents — sound familiar?
Thanks to my decision to pursue a “creative” career, most people would assume I was living at home because I couldn’t find a job.
The thing is, I wasn’t actively looking for one.
Instead, I was trying my damnedest to create my own job in the form of a full-time freelance career.
Needless to say, I learned more in that following year than my four and half years at college (Don’t judge — I picked up that business minor a little late).
What followed was a decade of what I like to call “productive fumbling.”
Throughout this time, I made a living from illustrating posters, building brands, designing websites, laying out apps, writing articles, teaching kids to sing, and pretty much anything else you can think off. I even get paid to make weird sounds with my mouth while five others guys sing. True story.
Believe me. My goal here isn’t to brag. It’s simply to share that I know what it takes to create a career out of creativity (say that 10 times fast).
Throughout this time, I can say one thing with 100% confidence:
This type of life is fun.
Now, let’s make one thing clear.
Fun doesn’t always equal easy. In fact, I would venture to say that this is the road less traveled for a reason.
There have been ups and downs, financial instability, and more existential crises than I can count.
For me, these things are much more tolerable than the alternative.
In a traditional setting, I can’t imagine:
- Having no control over my own time
- Not seeing the impact of my work on others.
- Censoring my personality
I’ll take creative struggle over these any day.
In fact, creative struggle isn’t all that bad.
If you just read that and cringed, I bet it’s because you think I’m doing it wrong.
Let me guess: instead of enjoying it, I should be sacrificing myself for the cause. I should be opening a vein every time sit down to create.
If you ask me, I think we all need to calm down a little and stop being so goddamn overdramatic.
After all, every single one of us who creates chooses this life.
Some of you may claim, “I had no choice! It’s my calling!”
I hate to shatter your frail ego, but I don’t buy it.
Unlike the romanticized idea of marriage, when it comes to the perfect calling, there is no such thing as “the one.”
Creativity isn’t that neat and tidy — it comes with a lot of gray area.
In order to embrace this, we need to also embrace a shift in mindset.
There is nothing shameful about enjoying what you do. In fact, I would argue that this is the nobler, less-traveled path when it comes to creative endeavors.
If after countless tries you’re still unable to enjoy yourself, then maybe it’s time to take a good, hard look in the mirror.
If you don’t enjoy something, why the hell would you continue to do it?
If this is the case, there is absolutely nothing wrong with throwing in the towel and trying something else.
Once again, it takes much more courage to admit this than it does to continue the struggle.
If I could go back in time to that moment in my advisor’s office, I would…change nothing. This past decade has taught me more about myself than I ever imagined possible.
After all of this time productively fumbling, I have no regrets.