Advice From the Trenches

Passion!: One reader is advised on whether to keep a career or pursue her art

Dear C and Dr. B;

I’ve been teaching at inner city middle schools for a while now, but what I really want to do is art and music. The songs I write are my passion, and my art is inspired by people, by the real life social, economic and racial issues that are a part of life in my city. I really feel like I am doing something vital with it, like it is something that matters. Unfortunately, my creative work won’t pay the bills. I teach full time and have less energy all the time to keep my creative work alive. I feel like I’m running out of time. I am nearly 40 now – if I can’t make something happen now, I never will. I’m finishing a master’s in education on top of everything else. It’s starting to feel like too much, but I can’t drop any of it if I want to get anywhere. Perspective? Help?

Lucy In The Sky

Dr. B says:  You sound like my daughter who dropped teaching to pursue her art. It didn’t go so well.  Life is not black and white; you don’t have to make a choice between art career or teaching career. Find a middle ground. Consider changing from an inner city public school to a private school. They do pay somewhat less because they are non-union, but it’s a more desirable situation. It is still steady work, but it would free up some time for you to invest in your art because they don’t have as many non-teaching-related compliance tasks as the public schools, and there’s less bureaucracy BS and paperwork.

I know there’s a saying: sink or swim. It’s a common belief that one has to devote oneself fully to one’s passion for it to be successful – but since 98% sink and never make it, I disagree with this approach. Making your passion your career often kills the passion. The key to life is balance. May you find yours.

C says: It sounds like you have a tremendous creative drive. But when you try to do too many things at the same time, you can’t give your best to any of them. It’s time to take an honest look at your priorities; only one can really get top billing. Many artists are multi-talented, but they all choose a primary base to launch from. You’re going to have to choose yours.

Making a career in music or in art is very different from the pure creative passion you feel. It is not a part-time job; it takes a tremendous amount of energy and persistence. It can also become less about the art and more about promotion and audience. Artists who work for deep personal expression usually have other work on the side so they aren’t dependent on their art for income. That’s what gives them the freedom to express what they believe rather than try to give some client what they need for their ad campaign or product. Some artists get lucky and have spouses who lend support. I also know a writer who got the freedom to finish his first novel, leading to a publishing contract and more books, after his mother died and left him money. He couldn’t support himself otherwise. Few people can.

I’d finish your master’s degree, Lucy, priority one. It’s your key to a better career path in education. After that, you can get a better job…or you can decide to give the creative work your best shot while you’re still young enough to do it. To be honest, that is probably the only way it ever will happen. I disagree with Dr. B on the sink or swim – the fact that 98% sink is no reason not to try. The fact is, if you don’t give it your all, you don’t stand a chance of making it happen. The degree will still be there. Having something to return to may help give you the courage it takes to jump.

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