Busting the myth of security, one man follows his soul despite the challenges of being a self-employed artist.
I didn’t expect to end up as a writer.
As a child, writing and music was what I most loved and wanted to do. My dear mom, despite wanting to be generally supportive of her sensitive boy, managed to get the message firmly into my head that “artists don’t make any money.” While on the one hand she encouraged my creativity, on the other hand she was quietly dissuading me from taking my passions too seriously — and certainly I couldn’t earn a living from it.
In my early adulthood, after a couple of unexpected and significant twists in life (like losing my mom at a young age), I chose a career path other than writing. I’ve spent the years since then working for myself in the healing arts (and quietly writing stories on the side.)
As I struggled to build a viable clientele, I learned firsthand the trade-off of not having a regular 9-5 job or a reliable paycheck. Yes, I had a certain freedom as my own boss and being able to set my own hours (more or less), but it also came with a stress-inducing anxiety, will I make the rent and bills this month?
Some months were a feast, others a famine. I could say the same for various years, I guess. Yet somehow along the journey with its ups and downs, I realized that I’m not really cut out for any sort of “regular” job. Working for someone else feels like wearing a shirt or shoes two-sizes too small — far too constricting — something that I’ve long since outgrown.
I’m too damn independent to work for “The Man” or a corporation; I don’t have the patience or willingness to deal with a supervisor who knows less than I do (or lacks good interpersonal skills); and my verbal filter seems to have worn pretty thin, so I’m less able (read: unwilling) to hold back from saying what I really think. Similarly, my tolerance for bullsh*t seems to be almost nil.
So much for working for someone else.
Digging down a bit deeper, it’s not really about being independent so much as it’s about soul: that innate, ineffable quality of being that I consider our most creative, authentic essence. There are any number of things and jobs in life that I could pursue and be reasonably adept at, even earn a living from (the factors mentioned above notwithstanding). Yet almost none of them would feed my soul — which has become the rudder with which I steer through the currents of life.
It seems to be human nature that we want the easier way, but the reality is that there is no easier way. Whether working for The Man or toiling independently, each path has its own challenges. An artist’s life is one with little security in the traditional sense (translation: paycheck) — and security is something our society teaches us to value highly (like my mom urging me away from being a writer), even if it’s largely a falsehood.
There is no security.
My marriage could unexpectedly crumble. We could be fired at work, or become disabled and unable to perform our job. Even with a fat wad of money in my pocket or the bank, despite my current good health and sharp mind, I could die tomorrow in an accident.
Uncertainty isn’t easy to live with. Most of us cling pretty tightly to our illusions of security. Understanding that life is short and there are no guarantees of anything, shouldn’t we be living as fully as possible — including the work we do in the world?
In a certain way, given that we are each creative and unique, we are all artists in life. Yet not all of us are cut out to be “artists” — those individuals compelled to create or express ourselves in a certain manner, even when it means tough choices and uncertainty.
I’ve frequently half-joked that no one in their right mind becomes an artist — but it’s not a choice that comes from mind, it is a summons from the soul.
My own progression from bodywork and coaching into soul-based writing was unexpected; I was simply following a golden thread, irrespective of where it might lead, any difficulty, or making sense.
It’s much more challenging to make a living at writing than with bodywork (or pretty much anything else, for that matter). Most writers’ pay is essentially zero, yet countless of us are compelled to do it regardless, choosing words over something less satisfying and seemingly more secure. Often we cobble together other small jobs that pay so we can continue to write, write, write.
Following the soul is anything but a luxury. It’s never the path of least resistance, but rather the path of most resistance. It requires incredibly difficult choices and an ongoing willingness to live with uncertainty — a commitment to find your own way through the darkly tangled forest.
Yet for some of us, there is simply no other way. It isn’t glamorous. It isn’t easy. Some days I want to chuck it all into the nearest ravine and just walk away into the woods and find a pleasant place to sit for awhile. Yet most of the time, even when I struggle (which is dismayingly often), I’m far more content doing work for myself and climbing the long hill than I would be anywhere else. I just keep climbing, hoping I’ll sell a few more books this month — or simply that someone will find something I wrote to be beautiful and relevant.
As men, we often wrestle with the stereotype that casts us as the breadwinners — especially if we have a family — and that can make it even more challenging to strike out on our own or heed the deep, mysterious summons.
I am not the primary money earner in our household, and I’m okay with that. I contribute to our wellbeing in other ways beyond the checkbook; I’m the cook, the gardener, and pretty much the housekeeper, too. (My sweet mate knows that if I tried to do something else that didn’t resonate with my soul, I’d simply implode.)
Frankly, my value as a man isn’t tied to what I earn or some external measure. My worth stems from striving to make a positive difference, growing and evolving, appreciating beauty (nature, in particular) and following my soul. Despite its challenges, I’m content with the authentic, creative path I’m walking.
And though sometimes I think my mom was right, that artists don’t make any money, I know there’s no real security. We can play it safe, but no one fully embodies their soul and its calling without risk — and courage.
I know too that life is short and precious, and that to live an authentic existence, there is only one option: grow.
Also by L.R. Heartsong
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Photo: Elvert Barnes