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Creative Pros: Love What You Do And Do What You Love

Jonny Elwyn

How do you keep your creative passion alive when getting paid to do it can seem like a chore?

Video Editing Workstation
Image credit: Flickr

Working in a creative career, the danger can be that your passionate hobby turns into a career that loses its vitality and causes you to question whether you even want to do what you used to love. I found this post on Reddit/Editors a little while ago, from an editor called TiredoftheTimeline, who wrote a few short paragraphs but powerfully summed up the problem:

I take no joy in something I used to pour hundreds of hours of my own time into doing and that is the saddest thing of all. I managed to turn what was a highly enjoyable hobby into a career and now it’s the thing I detest…

My biggest fear is that I’ll look back in twenty years and have nothing of real substance to show for it, nothing that contributes to the advancement of us as a species…I’ve always been the rock, providing the foundation for the structure that is my family… yet I feel like I’m being crushed and I don’t know how to stop it. I can’t fail them.

If you find yourself in a similar situation or you’re about to embark on a career change that could take your beloved passion/hobby and turn it into your livelihood, here are a few thoughts I hope will be of help.

A 50lb Rock on a 5lb Shelf

I think that one of the most important things to get to grips with in any career, especially a creative one, is that you are not your work. You are not your previous award winning project. You are not your increasing salary. You are not your big name clients. Your career can’t be what you’re living for because it wasn’t made to sustain that pressure.

It’s like putting a 50lb rock on a shelf that can only hold 5lb. At first it might hold up, but soon it won’t take the weight and it will splinter and crash. Freeing yourself from the shackles of making work your master will help you to get the perspective to simply enjoy it for what it is.

Writer David Foster Wallace famously wrote:

“If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough. It’s the truth. Worship your own body and beauty and sexual allure and you will always feel ugly, and when time and age start showing, you will die a million deaths before they finally plant you.

On one level, we all know this stuff already — it’s been codified as myths, proverbs, clichés, bromides, epigrams, parables: the skeleton of every great story. The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness. Worship power — you will feel weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to keep the fear at bay. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart — you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. And so on.”

The Art vs Money Debate

“The fact of the matter is I want everything we do, that I do personally, that our office does to be beautiful. I don’t give a damn whether the client understands that its worth anything, or whether the client think its worth anything, or whether it is worth anything. It’s worth it to me. It’s the way I want to live my life. I want to make beautiful things, even if nobody cares.” -Saul Bass, Designer

They say if you can get paid to do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. I know many artists who feel that way and make amazing things…but when I suggest to some of them that they sell their art for good money they sometimes say “No, no, that would ruin it and then I’d be doing it for all the wrong reasons.” But conversely, if they sold their art, they’d have the resources to keep doing what they want.

In this quote from a Kindle serial about creative and business mastermind Jim Henson, author Elizabeth Hyde Stevens makes an astute point:

The dance involves art and money, but not at the same time. In the first stage, it is paramount that the artist “reserves a protected gift-sphere in which the art is created.” He keeps money out of it. But in the next two phases, they can dance. The way I see it, (Lewis) Hyde’s dance steps go a little something like this:

  1. Make art.
  2. Make art make money.
  3. Make money make art.

It is the last step that turns this dance into a waltz — something cyclical so that the money is not the real end. Truly, for Jim Henson, money was a fuel that fed art.

If you’re going into your creative career with the desire to create world-changing art, then feeling like you’re just doing it for the money will of course ruin it. However, making money from your creative passion won’t necessarily negate why you do what you do.

Motive changes everything. Now its very possible that if you’re hating what you do, you should quit. Life is too short. But if other more valuable things are made possible by your work (like supporting a family) then see your work as a means to a valuable end. Hopefully you can have both value and meaning. Try to see your work in the context of your whole life; what really matters most to you?

At The Cross Roads

how to enjoy your creative career
Image Credit: Flickr

So what can you do when you get to a place like Tiredofthetimeline, stuck in a creative profession that feels uninspired and at a crossroads of what to do next? Here are a few practical suggestions…

1. Rest

Get away from your life for a day or a week if you can. Get into a different environment that opens up your mind to life outside yourself. If you can borrow a cabin in the woods or a beach side retreat do it…but maybe it doesn’t even have to be that extreme. Just get out of your normal environment and into a place where you feel relaxed and open to possibilities. Leave behind all digital distractions, but take a pen and paper to scribble down your thoughts.

2. Redefine

Think long and hard about your life. How you came to be where you are and if its what you feel you were made for. Are you where you are because of happy accidents or poor choices?

The good is the enemy of the best. There are plenty of things you ‘could’ do but they might get in the way of the one thing you really want to do. I’m not talking about change for the sake of change – giving in and giving up when it gets tough or takes longer than we thought. I’m talking about reflecting: What did I used to love about this work? What things make it most painful now? Is this what I want to do with my life? If not, then it’s time to change.

3. Resolve

Resolve to do something practical about it. Where do you want to get to? Work backwards from what steps it might take to get there? What is one simple step that you could take to thrust your life into a new direction? Like selling your TV and studying a night course? Exploring some new areas of focus by volunteering your time? Talk it over with a significant other or friend and get their perspective.

How do you stay enthusiastic and fresh in your creative career?
Share your thoughts and advice in the comments below!