Creating the work you dreamed of

Growing up, I was taught that being an artist could never be a real career path. It was explained to me that artists don’t make money, and therefore you’re better off as a worker in a soup factory than as an artist. Artists don’t eat three meals a day and live in houses, I was told.

So, I stopped pursuing a career in art and instead shifty slightly to the path of a graphic designer.

No matter what anyone tells you: designers are exactly like artists. Being a designer means you’ll go hungry a lot, and you’ll not be able to afford rent most of the time, and you will only fit into this small sliver of society where artists and hippies resign.

After living the life of a designer – that of a “digital” artist – for a short while, I set out to pursue a real career with a real job… in marketing. I didn’t know what I was doing and the work was strange to me at first, but in a lot of ways marketing became my new art. In marketing there’s a very certain way you have to word an advertisement to make it ring true to your audience. Marketing can be, in a lot of ways, a lot like creating a painting or drawing a portrait, it takes a lot of precision and a lot of experience to get it just right.

But it still wasn’t the art I had dreamed of making.

A close friend of mine works as a photographer, which she loves doing and is fortunately good at. But this friend is a journalistic photographer and she continuously mentions to me how she wishes she could have been a wildlife photographer. The money in wildlife photography isn’t good, it’s hard to make a living shooting animals in the wilderness for a year with only a pocket of spare change. There simply isn’t enough of a need for wildlife photographers. The ratio to animals that need to be photographed and photographers who are willing to do the work is awkwardly skewed. Photo journalists, on the other hand, are capable of doing a job that needs to be done, for money.

So my friend became a photo journalist, and I become a strange blend of marketer slash digital artist slash writer. And we go about our days doing great work, work that is needed and will provide us with a paycheck and a place to live, but there’s continuously this nagging in the middle of our chests.

You, too, may have this longing for a more creative life. Or maybe not even a more creative life, maybe just a life that is utterly different than what you are doing now.

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So what do you do? What do we do when the job we have chosen for ourselves, or the job we have to do, isn’t what we used to dream of doing? What happens when an artist becomes a factory worker or when a writer gets stuck behind the cash register at a local supermarket?

As hard as it is, we have to follow our passion however we can. We have to be true to our dreams, otherwise we’ll never know what could have been. We’ll end up on our deathbed asking questions rather than feeling ok with the way things are.

You go to work at a job that you either hate or love, then you go home and see your family or friends or watch TV or finalize projects for work, and you’re likely tired.

But what you may be overlooking is that 10 minutes you have every single day between turning off the TV or finishing dinner or waving goodbye to your friends and then going to bed. It’s in those 10 minutes that you owe it to yourself – your dreaming, childish self – to be that artist you always wanted to be. And you don’t have to go all out to do it either, you’re not really an artist after all.

You owe it to yourself, though, to buy some cheap, crummy, $5 paints and $1 brushes and a $5 ream of paper and paint.

If you wanted to be a writer growing up you have to find those five or more minutes every day to sit down and just write, it doesn’t even matter about what. If you wanted to be a wildlife photographer you need to go outside wherever you are and shoot animals in their natural habitat, even if it’s just New Yorkers waddling across the busy street. If you never knew what you wanted to be growing up then you need to all of these things at least once or twice or a hundred times.

The best thing about all of this is: you really don’t have to try hard to pursue your passion. If you can take five minutes a day to sit on a toilet, you can definitely find five minutes to write or paint or draw or film or shoot photography.

With those five minutes every single day, you start to learn that your dream wasn’t really what you wanted to be doing, or you get better at it. Eventually you’ll get good enough where you may be able to sell those shitty $5 paintings at a local farmers market. Or maybe you’ll have enough words written that you can publish a book. Or maybe you’ll start a company or find a way to do your creative work every day.

Whatever it is you dreamed of doing in your life, no matter how creative or big or weird, you can start today. Start today not only because you owe it to yourself to do so, but because you don’t know what could happen if you do. And yes, it’s scary not knowing now knowing what will happen if we take five minutes to follow our dreams, but, to quote Helen Keller: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Live the life you wanted, do the work you dreamed of doing, and start today. Start right now, even. It only takes five minutes.

Great illustrations by Hugh MacLeod.