It’s no secret that working in any discipline in the arts is not an instant money spinner. There are the lucky few, the super talented, right-place, right-timers who become overnight successes but for most of us who are at the earliest stage of our careers, doing what we love most full time is sadly not a viable financial option.
When I graduated the first time, I wasn’t 100% sure where I wanted my life to go, I just knew “creative” was the general direction. I knew that I loved theatre, I loved writing and reading, art and music, but that’s a pretty broad spread and I was still working out the specifics of exactly how I wanted to include all these passions in my life. I think I still am; just because theatre is ultimately what had the strongest pull on me doesn’t mean I’ve put everything else on hold.
We are the generation of slashers, after all. We are the singer/barista/childminders. We are the freelance director/admin assistant/dance instructors. We are the artist/tutor/shop assistants. We crave flexibility, not because we’re lazy or less productive, but because we know pursuing our passions won’t necessarily (immediately) help us pay our way. Fewer and fewer of us are settling on Jobs For Life – whether that’s through choice or because of the diminishing long-term opportunities for young people. We know about the reduced real-life value of having a degree – or, rather, we know that there is a high probability that we won’t directly use our degrees as a way to get a foot on the career ladder. We don’t want to get on a traditional career ladder, anyway – we want to be able to move sideways, forward, as well as up. More of a career those-moving-walkways-you-get-at-airports than just a ladder. So we make our money and pay our rent through entry level jobs, or part-time and freelance work, with very little thought about whether or not we’re “over qualified”. It’s a security of sorts, and it gives us the (relative) freedom to do the things we really love.
Well, that’s the idea anyway.
In reality, it can be pretty shitty, actually, but we can’t seen to be complaining. After all, we knew that’s how it was going to be when we decided to work in The Arts, so we should shut up and put up. We made our bed and now we have to lie in it. Usually until 12pm after finishing work at 3am that same day, before slouching about for the next few hours in a general sleep-deprived malaise, desperately trying to motivate yourself to open that book, or go for that walk, read that script, finish that piece. We beat ourselves up for being unproductive, but sometimes the last thing I want to do is write an email or brainstorm a scene, even though deep down I know that doing just that would make me feel instantly better about life. Instead, I grouch over a cup of coffee and last night’s Strictly It Takes Two (just me?) and then it’s time to go to work again.
Impatience is the biggest problem. We all have friends and peers who chose to go into a profession related to their degree, or skipped uni altogether and went straight into the world of work. They have stability and sure, I couldn’t be a doctor or a teacher, but it’s hard not to feel that suddenly, somehow, you’re stuck a step behind. Why do they seem to be “getting on” and I’m not? And it’s not that we don’t want to put the work in (The Work is what we want to do!), but our full time part-time jobs make it difficult to focus on what we really want to work on. We’re just longing for the day when the zero-hour contract bar and shop jobs become a less and less vital part of simply living our lives.
All the way through writing this (on my phone on the train to Glasgow on a rare day off during the Christmas period whaaaaaaat), I’ve been debating whether or not I should actually publish it, or if I should just save it in my notes, adding to the collection of Thoughts On XYZ I’ve got stored on my phone. Am I just whinging? Should I be grateful I have a job with fairly regular hours? Should I stop worrying about feeling that I’m stagnating, still living at home aged 24 with very little money saved for The Future? Am I just not organising myself properly? Do I need to remember that is not All About Money? Should I listen to those people say I need to “get a proper job”? Or does it serve me right for making the choices that I have?
This wasn’t the post I was originally going to write. I’ve got another one primed and nearly ready to go, but I needed to get this one out first. I’ve not really answered any of my questions, or put forward much of a case for why it’s not right that this seems like the only option available to creatives at this stage in our careers because That’s Just The Way It Is. Some of you might even be reading this and thinking oh, hashtag first world problems. The thing is, I don’t mind not earning a six figure sum – I’m barely on four figures tbh – that’s not my motivation. But sometimes I wonder if there’s a big secret I’m yet to figure out, like Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Somehow I doubt it. Maybe we’ve just got to keep the faith, have patience and continue to work hard because bloody hell, it must be worth it in the end, right?
So cheers to us, the young creatives, Generation Slash, those darn millenials: we might not own our own homes or earn a salary, but some of us can make you a great flat white. And if that’s not a valuable life skill then I just don’t know what is.