Updated: Sep 19, 2021
Should I follow my dream or do something "practical"? This is such a common question among those who long to be artists. Unfortunately, the answer isn't straight-forward as it isn't a simple yes or no question. But there are steps you can take to find out if being an artist would be a good choice for you. Let's explore them!
Hobby vs. Profession
The first step to determine which path to follow lies in what you would rather do with your art: keep it as a hobby or turn it into a profession. I think this is a really important aspect to examine, because it can be difficult for some people to work as professional artists. For some, they like to keep art as a hobby just for the pure enjoyment of it. For these artists, adding a monetary aspect takes away from the fun.
On the other hand, there are some who enjoy the idea of turning their craft into a business. These types of artists thrive off of creating work to meet the desires of clients and current trends. If the idea of dealing with the non-art aspects of being an artist repulses you, then that could indicate this path might not work for you.
As I've mentioned before, being a hobbyist doesn't mean you're a bad artist - all it means is that you didn't want to turn your favorite activity into a business. Either way, just be sure to examine this very thoroughly before making long-term commitments. Social media makes it seem like the only way to be an artist is to be working full-time and living a six-figure lifestyle from selling your work. But that's far from the truth. I know many exceptional artists who keep their work to themselves just because they like to paint. And I know just as many who are pursuing art as either a part-time or full-time job. If you want more information on this topic, be sure to read my previous post about amateurs vs. professionals.
After deciding between hobbyist and professional, you should examine what type of lifestyle you need or want to lead a happy life. There's absolutely nothing wrong with identifying what salary or work requirements will best help you live a happy, safe, and fulfilling life.
To start, ask yourself if you would be okay living in a situation where your salary is not predetermined and doesn't come on a set schedule. If this scares you, you might be better suited to a more predictable job. If this prospect seems freeing, however, then you might be suited for a more freelance, self-employed lifestyle. And just to be clear, there is no right or wrong answer here. Everyone has different needs to feel safe and happy.
Next, you can ask if you have any special requirements that need to be met. For example, do you need employer assistance with health insurance due to health issues. (This mainly applies to those in the US.) Or would you do better setting your own schedule? Would you rather be in charge of setting up all of your business systems or would you prefer to channel all of your creativity into an activity outside of your job? These are all things to consider when deciding what career to pursue.
One industry that sort of straddles both columns is the studio industry. This includes animation, gaming, design, and so on. By leaning into your creativity and working for an existing studio, you get the benefits of doing work you like while also receiving a more secure form of employment.
Whatever you choose, these questions are important to consider. It's better to choose a path based on your needs and desires than choosing whatever and hoping for the best.
Know Your Strengths
The next thing to examine is your strengths, because certain strengths lend themselves more easily to self-employment than others do. If you're naturally organized, effortlessly create structure in your life, or are a self-starter, it will be pretty easy for you to start and maintain your own business. On the other hand, if you prefer to go with the flow, tend to procrastinate, or have trouble with self-discipline, freelance might not be the best option for you.
Again, neither one of these scenarios is better or worse than another. This is simply an exercise that allows us to introspectively examine what type of work environment we're best suited for.
Take some time to list out your strengths and weaknesses. Then determine what field or work environment you could apply those strengths to. By doing this, you can eliminate careers that wouldn't suit you.
Making a Choice
Now, here comes the tough part: you have to make a decision. But I have good news - nothing is permanent. So even if you choose one path over the other, you're always free to change your mind later. But going into this decision after examining everything above, you're likely to arrive at a decision that will best fit you in this current moment.
I think the key to this step is to not beat yourself up over what you choose. It's easy to compare ourselves to the perfect people we see online, but none of that is reality. Reality lies in your power and ability to choose a path that will make you happy, not a path that you hope will make you happy or appears to make someone else happy.
So take your time with this choice, especially if you're thinking about college and potential careers. It's easy to get caught up in impressing others with our choices, but there's nothing impressive about living a life that isn't true to you.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits all to this question. Some people will thrive out on their own while others will be just as happy working a traditional job and doing art on the side. It's important to know that no choice is better than another in an objective sense; the choice that best fits you will be entirely subjective. So turn inward and think about it, because you're the one that will have to live with it.
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Thanks for reading and happy creating!