Sticking it out.
When I graduated from art school in 2013—seven years after I had started—Douglas Coupland spoke at my convocation ceremony. While most speeches for this type of event are encouraging and inspirational, Coupland’s words took a delightfully different trajectory. Instead of celebrating us for completing prestigious art and design degrees, he told us that we’ve been living inside a bubble. One that was about to burst.
If art school was the promised land then the world we were about to be thrust into was hell. The next ten-ish years were going to be the hardest of our creative lives. Not because we would be producing our best work but because we would be wrestling with ourselves and fighting an uphill battle to keep making our art. If we made it past that ten year mark and were still artists and designers and creators, then Coupland said, we were probably doing something right.
While I don’t think I fully appreciated the truth in Douglas Coupland’s words at the time, there was a part of me that understood in that moment that being a creative is a long-game. A few weeks later, art school spat me out and thus began my initiation into a creative way of living that had no rules, no maps, and no clear way forward. I would spend the next five years pushing every limit I could in an attempt to figure out what I was meant to be doing creatively.
Almost seven years after that fateful speech, I am returning to what Coupland said. I am reminding myself of the importance of committing to a creative life as an ongoing practice. While I have long ago abandoned the possibility of functioning as anything but a creative, I still have moments where I am deeply unsure of how all of this is going to turn out. If it’s going to turn out. At the same time, I accept that nothing worth making is armed with any guarantees.
I don’t think I’m alone in these feelings, doubts, and hopes either. Most of the creatives I talk to are grappling with a combination of these parts of themselves. Each of us in our own way is trying to figure out how to make being a creative something that we can do in a way that’s sustainable, financially viable, and enjoyable. Just like every other professional, we are looking for—or trying to create—the opportunities that will allow us to do our best work.
One of the most useful things that has helped me stick out my creative vision for the work I want to create and the life I want to live, is to source as much support as possible. From exercising on a regular basis to working with coaches to creating financial stability to joining a writer’s room, whatever support I can afford and get my hands on I’m using. Because as much as I want to make the work I want to make, I know that I can’t make it to the other side of hell on my own.
So, what support do you need to stick out your creative vision?