Do things differently, but limit your risks.
If you have aspirations to one day quit your day job and be a creator full-time, you might be wondering if it’s even possible to make a living off your creative work and when will the money start rolling in. It’s different for everyone, but despite the stories out there of people claiming they couldn’t find success with their creative work until they abandoned their real job and dove into their dreams–that’s not the wisest choice.
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This last week, I took a trip to Minnesota, and on the plane ride from California, I started reading “Originals” by Adam Grant. I had every intention of reading the entire flight, but I only made it past the first chapter before I was inspired to write this blog post.
I don’t want to talk about the actual book or the concept of “Originals” (though, it’s a good read so far!), but I do want to talk about something Grant said, and how doing something that doesn’t conform with the world around you involves taking risks–but not as many risks as you’d think.
Limit Your Risks
When chasing creative success, again a lot of people have the idea that they need to go big or go home. Commit to the dream or inevitably fail. Grant wrote about notable cases of success over the years that involved original thinkers/non-comformists succeeding while still minimizing risks.
He wrote about well-known originals like Bill Gates, Steve Wozniak, and the founders of Warby Parker who didn’t abandon their “safe” jobs and life plans to pursue their new concepts until momentum was already building.
Instead of quitting everything and jumping headfirst into their projects, they balanced both safety and risk until the risk became more stable. You don’t have to be a huge risk-taker to be an original. In fact, those who minimize risks can find more success in their fields.
The Ultimate Creative Risk
So let’s talk about the biggest risk a creative person may deal with: Quitting your day job and depending on your creativity to pay the bills.
The desired outcome is to actually have enough money to pay the bills, the risk is having the math not work in your favor. I’ve had a lot of people tell me this is their goal. It’s a great goal to have–but does your day job need to be abandoned at the beginning of your journey? Or can you wait until you make enough progress with your dreams so that you can transition slowly from a stable paycheck to dependable entrepreneurship?
Can you make the numbers work?
I love spreadsheets. To me, nothing is more comforting than seeing my life laid out in concrete numbers. I am risk averse. I do what’s safe and I calculate the pros and cons of just about every situation I enter. From career changes to driving in a snowstorm. I don’t blindly jump into a situation I know nothing about.
If you are considering quitting your day job to chase your creative dreams I want you to look at your life right now. What are your expenses? Do you have a family to take care of? Do you have a mortgage to pay for? Do you need healthcare? All of these things should be addressed before you even consider abandoning that stable paycheck to chase your dreams. It can all feel very overwhelming at first, but look at your expenses. Start calculating what areas you can cut down. Trim away anything that you don’t NEED. Compare your total expenses with your current income and savings.
Can you make the numbers work? Can you minimize the risks in your life?
You Don’t Have to Do What Everyone Else Does: Make your own plan
I encourage you to make a plan. One of the scariest parts about abandoning your job is figuring out where your next payday will come from, but having a plan decreases risk.
How far along in your creative career are you? Do you have any sources of income that can grow? Include this in your spreadsheet. How many art shows can you do on the weekends? Do you have savings built up that you can pull from as you progress? Do you have a partner or roommate that you can make a deal with?
Think of all of the possibilities of replacing your day job income and put it on your spreadsheet. How do the numbers look now? Probably still a little scary. This is why I say: You don’t have to quit your day job.
You don’t have to go big or go home. You don’t have to focus all of your energy on your creativity. You can succeed creatively while still maintaining a sense of safety in your life.
Consider these 4 things before quitting your day job:
1. Balance your energy between creativity and income.
When aspiring actors move to LA, they become waiters, or bartenders, or fill other service positions. It’s not because they suck at acting or don’t have any other skills, it’s because they are balancing their energy/time output and their need to pay the bills.
If you want to pursue a creative career, how can you find a sense of safety while working on your dreams and still have enough energy to do creative work?
Maybe your current 9-5 job is too exhausting and leaves you with no energy to even think about your dreams when you get home. You don’t have to keep that job. Find something that gives you a paycheck and doesn’t sap your energy. There is no shame in working a service position or part-time gig. The only thing that matters is giving yourself a balance of time, energy, and money to pay the bills.
2. Don’t ask too much from your creativity.
I have to point to another book here: “Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert. I don’t remember where in the book, and I don’t remember the exact quotes, but Gilbert writes about how unfair it can be to put expectations on your creativity to make money. How asking so much of it can actually push it away. I can confirm in my own life that the moments where I need to produce something in order to make money are the least enjoyable creative exercises for me. The moments when my creativity wanes and the pressure to produce waxes can feel soul-crushing.
Do you thrive under pressure?
Some people thrive under pressure, but many people like me crumble. In order to nurture your creativity, sometimes it’s best to take away the burden to make money. Take the financial pressure to create away.
If you quit your day job, how much pressure will that add to your creative process? How will that pressure change you and how much you enjoy what you do?
Maybe you will be the person who always has a day job. Maybe your creativity is there just for you. Or maybe down the road it will take off and suddenly become your main source of income. There is no wrong way to be a creative person, but if you find that pressure to create makes you miserable and unproductive, then don’t quit your day job. Remove that burden from your creativity.
3. Life informs your creativity.
Another reason why you don’t need to quit your day job is that creativity needs fuel and life is like gasoline.
If you are a writer, you may have noticed that you need to experience life to really flesh out what you write. Workplaces expose us to different people, situations, characters, and problems to solve. Sometimes a day job is exactly what we need to inspire and inform our creativity.
Instead of quitting your day job, look at how it can actually fuel you. This is the same for anyone considering quitting school to chase a dream. I may have quit the art program in college, but I shifted my focus to other areas that would still feed my creativity. How can you do the same?
4. Do you just need to rest?
You may be wondering why I’m encouraging you not to quit your day job to pursue a creative career when I did that exact thing. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but when I quit my last full-time job it wasn’t because I so desperately wanted to just focus on my art. It was because I was deeply and dysfunctionally depressed. I started to have panic attacks at my work desk and I couldn’t focus on simple tasks. I was stressed and unhappy and I simply couldn’t be a productive employee much longer.
Art was an excuse to quit my job, but I knew I needed to just stay still for a moment–a week, a month, maybe even a year. I would tell people I was going to focus on art, and in a sense I did, but I didn’t have any real plan to make it a business. I just needed to make myself feel productive while I healed my mind, so I painted and shared it with the world.
If you have dreams of quitting your job and working on art all day–is it because you are so fired up about your craft and you have a plan to make it into a business? Or, do you just need to rest (or maybe even find a new job)?
Take care of yourself.
Mental health is talked about a lot these days, but not enough. There are so many of us that struggle with daily life. It’s perfectly fine to dream about an escape and to think about doing art all day. It might be exactly what you need. Just do yourself a favor and remove the pressure to make money from it. I can speak from experience that the pressure to make money while healing can just perpetuate the negative health state you’re already in.
If you need a rest, then take one. Truly. Use art as therapy until you feel whole again, and consider finding a new job that isn’t as mentally taxing if you aren’t financially able to take time off.
You don’t have to quit your day job in order to succeed as a creative person. Take a look inside of yourself and see what YOU need in order to take care of yourself and your creativity and carve your own path. Day job, side hustle, part-time gig, or whatever–just do what’s right for you and take care of your responsibilities.
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