So you’ve decided to create your own business from your creative passions. Great — one decision down!
What do you do, though, when you’re a passion pluralite, with more than one creative skill that could be a source of income? How do you choose?
And what if, after you’ve set your course, you find yourself veering off in pursuit another one of your many creative interests? Does that make you a flake?
These questions are at the heart of this note from Jessica, which landed in my box the other day:
I have to tell you how much I enjoy all the light you bring to the blogs you guest post on, and the wonderful advice here on Living A Creative Life.
Here’s my question to you: How did you decide which creative career path to commit to as a multi-creative person?
I love your term, “passion pluralite” because it’s the only way I can describe myself. You see, I started my own freelance writing business with the idea that I’d do some informational copywriting for businesses. Well, between holding down a crazy day job, a rambunctious toddler and husband, my life has become one big ball of stress. If you stir in the fact that I can’t narrow down a writing niche, it’s now a delicious recipe for burn-out.
In times like this, I make art. Now, I’m sneaking off and having an affair with painting—work that feels right to my soul right now. What am I getting for all of this infidelity? I’m working on a series of pieces and was asked to do a commission for an office near my home. How is that even possible? I’m supposed to be working on my writing career! I value good old fashioned “stick-to-it-ness” and this constant flux leaves me feeling more like a flake, not an empowered creative spirit.
In episode 14 of the Creative Insurgents podcast, Claudine Hellmuth says, “Don’t be afraid to pivot in your career.” Do you think this advice could be applied to a creative who’s finding her way?
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I’d be eternally grateful to hear your thoughts.
The short answer to your first question, how did I decide which career path to commit to, is that I did exactly what you did: I snuck off and had an affair with making art.
The other short answer to your first question is that I’m still figuring it out!
Which leads to the short answer to your second question, do I think “Don’t be afraid to pivot in your career” is good advice for a creative who’s finding her way: yes, absolutely!
Now for the longer answers.
How I decided which career path to commit to as a multi-creative person
To be perfectly honest, back in the mid-90s when I set out to create my own business, I didn’t yet realize I was a multi-creative person. All I knew was that I wanted a purpose. Like you, my stated goal at the time was to be a writer, but writing felt hard. Too hard.
My gremlins convinced me that everything I wrote was crap, that I sucked as a writer, and I started doing arts and crafts purely as a procrastination strategy! Like you, I had an affair with the work that felt right to my soul right then.
(And in fact, for fifteen years I quit writing entirely, which, with the benefit of hindsight, I now see was simply a bad case of perfectionist paralysis led to its logical extreme. But that’s another story.)
Like you, that affair led to some commissions, and before long I was off and running with a little hobby business as a calligraphic artist, which grew (slowly, over several years) into a full-time business as a ketubah artist. All of this while I was “supposed” to be building a career as a writer.
And that is Part One of how I decided which creative career path to commit to: I followed my heart. But there is a Part Two — read on.
If I had kept following my heart, my sad and sordid history would be different (perhaps no less sad and sordid, but sad and sordid in a different way). Alas, what happened instead was that, out of fear, ignorance, self-doubt, and desperation, I stopped following my heart.
I followed the money instead.
Now, let me be quick to clarify that if you want to grow a business, of course you must follow the money! My error wasn’t that I followed the money, but that I completely ignored my heart in the process.
I succeeded in building up my business to a sustainable level, but completely cut the cord on my love affair in the process and stopped making art for me, to feed my own soul. (Who had the time? That was my excuse, anyway, which I now know was just that: an excuse.)
It was, in your words, “a delicious recipe for burn-out,” and indeed I burned myself to a right little crisp.
And then the economy tanked, and my business tanked along with it. My income took a big dive, and I panicked. I spent two full years “throwing money at the problem,” trying desperately to find the silver bullet that would bring my business back up to where it had been.
Like you, I value sticktoitiveness. And besides, I’d put so much time, energy and money into my business. It was all I’d done for over a dozen years — what else could I possibly do?
So I kept trying — even though I was burned out — and threw more money at marketing and promotion, until I found myself bowed under the weight of an Enormous Mountain of Debt (which I am still paying off, btw).
Burnout + money stress = Not Good.
The importance of being willing to pivot
To cut to the chase, a series of personal crises finally led to a breakdown, in February of 2010, and it was then that I realized I’d been wearing blinders for the past decade.
The beautiful thing about breakdowns is that they have the potential to lead to breakthroughs. (Click to tweet!)
When we’re really stuck in a rut, a breakdown might, in fact, be the only thing that will shake us out of our complacency. That’s what happened with me: my breakdown helped me to see that of course there were infinite possibilities open to me! I didn’t have to be just a ketubah artist for the rest of my life! There were all sorts of things I could do!
My breakdown helped me start following my heart again. I still have the ketubah business, and meanwhile I’ve developed other income streams that feed my soul while also feeding my belly. And I make time for creative passions that don’t bring in a penny, but pay me in spades in energy and joy.
Had I been able to take off my blinders a few years earlier, I might have saved myself a lot of stress, misery, and debt. Making time to feed my creative hungers could have helped cool my burnout, and I might have identified an alternate income source sooner, too.
The upshot? Not only do I agree with Claudine Hellmuth’s statement, “Don’t be afraid to pivot in your career,” but I’d go one further: for a creative who’s finding her way (and aren’t we all, ultimately?), pivoting is our imperative!
So is following your heart, at the same time as you follow the money.
There are countless ways to make this work, mostly some variation on one of the following:
- You could grow a business from your passions, ideally finding the intersection between what you love and adore doing, what you’re really good at, and what people will happily pay for.
- You could find employment doing something you’re good at (and ideally also enjoy — perhaps even something that feeds your passions in some way, or gives you knowledge or expertise that will help you on your path), and keep your non-working hours for your creative pursuits.
Whatever option you choose, an ability to pivot will keep you more empowered over the long haul than a dogged sticktoitiveness that chains you to a sinking ship. The most successful creative business owners I know have achieved their success because they were willing and able to change course, in order to better align the joint goals of following their heart and following the money.
Ultimately, if I could go back in time to mentor my younger self, I’d advise her to find that blessed intersection between what makes her light up with joy, and what people are excited to pay her money for (which is, in fact, what I did at the start).
That’s only part of the formula, though. The other, equally important part, is to keep checking that you haven’t veered from that intersection! (That’s the part I skipped, to my detriment.)
Is what you’re offering still profitable? And just as important, are you still passionate about it?
Remember that the path will probably be a curvy one, so be prepared to pivot! And always, always, always pay attention to what feels right to your soul.
In other words, though I’m a big believer in fidelity in human relationships, when it comes to your creative passions, keep having those affairs, Jessica!
PS — Pssst! Know someone who might benefit from seeing this today? Pass it on!