Pursuing your passion doesn’t make you a starving artist; Your approach does

If you decide to pursue a career of passion, does that automatically translate to living off instant noodles and struggling to make ends meet for the foreseeable future? Mainstream media and conventional society certainly tend to portray following one’s passion as a rocky path towards a starving artist’s lifestyle.

While it’s true that a career of passion can be far more challenging and financially unpredictable compared to hunkering down in a typical 9-to-5 office job, how successful we are boils down to how we approach the challenge, and how determined we are to make it work.

Yes, there are many failed businesses out there, as well as creative folks who struggle to make a living. But there are also plenty of successful entrepreneurs and artistic individuals who use their talents to provide value and who’ve figured out how to build financially sustainable alternative careers.

So what’s the right approach to embrace?

1. Mindset

Go into this knowing it will be as challenging as it will be rewarding. It will be challenging because you’ll be the one calling the shots. Whether you’re looking for a career that offers you creative autonomy, a sense of purpose, greater work/life balance or something else, it’s important to stay grounded and sensible.

If your dream is to be a recording artist but you’ve never performed in public before, brace yourself for rejections (that’s part of the process!), but explore all avenues to secure paying gigs (digital and conventional). If you don’t try, you won’t know.

That said, it’s possible that what we’re passionate about might not be something we’re good at. If that’s the case, it’s important to accept that it’s not meant to be and walk away. Six months to a year is a reasonable timeframe to test the viability of making a career out of your passion. Setting a time limit allows you to plan and budget your resources accordingly. Taking risks is how we achieve breakthroughs, but they should be calculated risks to optimise our chances of success. 

2. Priorities & Goals

Know your priorities before you take the leap. How does success look like to you? What can’t you live without? What financial commitments do you have? Having clarity of your priorities and goals will allow you to come up with an action plan focused on achieving those results, while helping you manage your expectations during the transitional period.

Knowing what you can and can’t live without will also help you decide whether this is the right time to pursue your passion, or whether you should make changes to your lifestyle before embarking on this big career change. It would be counterproductive to follow your dreams only to end up burdened by debts as a result. Take risks, but be smart about it.

3. Research

Do it right. Research, research, research. Identify a few successful individuals who are doing what you want to do and find out how they did it. If possible, write to them and ask for advice. Get as much information as you possibly can about the best way to approach your dream career and come up with a plan to make it happen. You can’t have a fool proof plan, alas, but you can emulate those who’ve succeeded before you and learn from their mistakes.

4. Focus

It’s easy to get disheartened during the first few months (and the first year) of trying to establish yourself in a new professional space. Being out of one’s comfort zone is often scary and daunting, but therein lies the motivation to progress. Focus on the big picture. Remind yourself why you’re doing what you’re doing and keep your eyes on the prize.

The uncertainty and financial instability during the initial phase might be unpleasant, but that’s the price of challenging the status quo, and is an integral part of the journey. It’s why it’s imperative to have clear priorities and goals from the outset. Being able to satisfy your minimum living requirements will ease your transition during those early stages.

5. Gratitude

We need money to live, that’s a fact. But how much money do we need in order to be happy? Do we really need new clothes every other month? The latest iPhone? A snazzy sports car to impress colleagues and neighbours? It’s easy to get carried away by our materialistic desires, but it’s a simple matter of making smart choices.

If we were to practise more gratitude in our lives and remember that there are millions deprived of basic needs such as clean water and food, it might change our relationship with money and material possessions. Wouldn’t you rather be a thriving freelance graphic designer with autonomy over the kind of projects you take on and only buy new clothes when you really need them, than slave away at a corporate job you hate with a thousand pairs of shoes to fill the void in your life?

You might not be able to control how your audience responds to your work, or predict what obstacles will spring up in your way, but you do have control over how you manage your finances and your definition of success. Managing your expectations will help you adapt and perhaps even give you newfound appreciation for the simple pleasures in life.

Perhaps it’s not that following our passion doesn’t pay, but rather, our expectations of how much it should pay that needs to be adjusted? Something to mull over, definitely.

Source: Unsplash (image)