So you’ve moved to the big city and you wanna be a famous singer/songwriter, sculptor, designer, filmmaker. But have you got what it takes to make it? Here’s three ways to find out.
- Can you embrace poverty?
Let me just give you this one tip right off the bat: that loose change jar on your kitchen countertop is now a legitimate source of income for you.
Most likely you’ve already figured out that trying to forge a career as a creative means you’re going to have to put in a tremendous amount of hours upfront and that these hours are going to be unpaid. Sane people would balk at working their tits off for (literally) no money, but you see it as a means to an end (your own TV show, seeing your creations on a Paris catwalk, a Man Booker nomination, insert dream here).
You’re willing to put in the hard yards but the problem is there are still only so many hours in a day. Unless you’ve figured out a way to make thousands of dollars in just a few hours (hey, I wish I had the guts/daddy issues to be a high-end call girl), chances are you’re going to have to dedicate a portion of your productive hours to a money-making gig and the rest will go on this elaborate hobby/ticket to fame and fortune.
What this spells for you: poverty. Possibly not poverty of the living-under-a-bridge-with-a-rat-as-your-only-friend kind, but certainly the breed of poverty that means you can’t afford to go to the dentist, vacations are the stuff of dreams and (yes, I’ve been there) choosing between spending your last thirty bucks on groceries or your meds.
Being clear about your priorities helps: if it’s more important that you get two weeks a year in Cabo and can afford to shop at Whole Foods, that’s just fine, but you might find it hard to squeeze in writing a sitcom pilot/juggling auditions around a job that’s going to pay for those things.
Know what matters to you. If it’s making it as a fashion blogger, rapper, poet or YouTube sensation, then suck it up and learn to love being poor. You’d be surprised what you can do without (although if you need to see a dentist, you might want to reconsider high-end escorting).
- Are you cool with the fact that free time is a luxury for which you no longer have a budget?
Yes, schedule a weekly date with your inamorato. Yes, visit your mother on her birthday. Yes, spend a half hour building a train set with your child. But no, do not expect to drink stoop beers with your buddies every evening or spend Saturday afternoons shopping with your girl squad.
The pursuant of a creative career is, in the early days at least, much like a Class A drug addict: every day they must drag their sorry ass out of bed and make enough money to feed their costly habit. Like normal adults, they must keep themselves and their dependents fed, but the wannabe-whatever must also buy themselves time: to write, to paint, to draft patterns, to dance, to engage with their burgeoning audience on Twitter. And listen, ain’t no one gonna pay you for that shit early on (or possibly ever).
You’re your own boss now and you need to ensure you have enough time and energy to create. Juggling money jobs and passion projects and visiting your mother on her birthday does not usually leave much time for pedicures, skateboarding, country walks or Keeping Up with the Kardashians (but it’s okay because you can schedule time for TV when you’re rich and you can sleep when you’re dead).
There will never be enough time for the burgeoning creative: there will always be deadlines looming, work engagements to attend, housework that needs doing. At any given point, your child could fall sick and blow your meticulously planned schedule to pieces. I don’t know the solution to that, but I do know that others have managed it before us. Despite busy lives and heaving calendars, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amy Schumer, Ava DuVernay, Grimes and many, many others have all made it. So maybe you can too. I bet they sometimes even have time to relax and watch Keeping Up with the Kardashians.
- Can you keep your sense of entitlement in check?
Everyone knows that failure and rejection are endemic in this game. And we all know that rejection sucks—that it might get easier but it never actually becomes easy. What is easy is becoming bitter, enraged, hopeless. As you watch others eke their way up the success ladder, you think “I read her book and it sucked,” or “I can do better than that. Why has no one realized my genius yet?” It’s rough out here, man, especially when you’re a shy, insecure, egomaniac narcissist (let’s face it, most creatives are).
You gotta remember this: nobody owes you anything. Also: there are no guarantees. And: yes it’s hard but it’s not as hard as being an oncologist or special needs assistant or addictions counsellor garbage collector.
No one asked you to be the next Lena Dunham and if you don’t like it, get a job that covers your costs and find meaning elsewhere. Success is, as far as I can see (I’m still a starving artist so what do I know?), based on talent, luck, buckets of hard work and, most importantly: showing up and sticking around.
Keep at it, your time will come.