Learning to say "No" as an artist and steering your career back in the right direction
I think there comes a time in every artist’s career where they need to re-evaluate some strategies that have been put in place and see what’s working and what isn’t. I believe a career as an artist can be quite fragile, because creativity on its own is just that - fragile.
As a young, eager artist, it can be easy to say yes to everything that comes your way and though it’s all fun and exciting at first, if you’re not saying yes to things that shape the life you want to live and turning down the things you know won’t serve you, it can be really easy to fall into burn out over and over again.
There are many critics who would say things like “money is money, it doesn’t matter where it comes from” “why are you complaining about earning X amount”, but to the core, if you’re not happy doing a job or project, you’re not going to do your best at it. This has an awful ripple effect because the more you say yes to a certain type of project, not only will you get more projects or jobs like that, but you’ll also start to become known for that specific thing, and if it’s something that you don’t like doing, you’ll fall into the trap.
For most of us artists, we don’t become artists to make a lot of money or to become celebrities, or anything like that. We become artists because we breathe art and it’s what gives us joy of living. The feeling of creating is second nature, and you can’t imagine doing anything else with your time here on earth. Being an artist is challenging, it forces you to deal with emotions, to go through the waves of life, to see life a little differently, to feel like an outcast, to be criticized, to be doubted and much more. I think any artist reading this will relate to at least one of those things.
So when it comes to creating a career as an artist, of course you need to earn enough to live. I was fortunate to jump into being a full time artist just a few months after graduating university, but looking back, I really wasn’t ready for it and I switched on a bit of a panic mode to say yes to anything that came my way. This is how the cycle got started.
The more I said yes to things out of fear, the more I felt completely disassociated from my career as an artist. The more I said yes to jobs that I didn’t feel passionate about, the more it took away from what I truly loved to do. Since moving out of my fancy apartment in downtown Toronto, I have had so much time and space to breathe and reflect on everything that got me here today. The panic mode didn’t turn off for awhile, but slowly started to fade away. Sometimes it comes back when I say yes to things that I’m unsure of, but then I tell myself things like “oh I’m young, I’m suppose to say yes to everything, I’m suppose to hustle day and night, etc”. Those killer voices in our heads can be such a drag, right?
The more I can zoom out of my life and see the overall image of where I am and where I’m going, the more confidence I have to turn down the things that don’t bring me joy. I’ve learned very quickly that money and comfy-ness will not bring me happiness. And I learned very quickly that asking everyone for their opinions on everything will not help me stay focused on what I truly want my life and my career to look like.
I think a lot millennial artists have a hard time understanding how to create a career as a creative and we shape and change our work to try to fit a certain mould which we think will generate more income for us. I think millennials have such a unique perspective of life, I think we understand that time is limited and that we should try to earn a living from doing something that brings us joy. Compared to our parents and the older generations who did not have the luxuries that we do today, who see income and income and it doesn’t mater where it comes from. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, it’s just a different way of seeing life. We each have our own lenses and we each have our own opinions of what joy means to us.
I would like to remind all you artists out there, as well as myself if I’m being quite honest, that your gift is your power, and you can choose to do what you want with it. When I take on projects now, I know that I’ll be delivering something that is genuine and that I know I can bring my clients’ visions to life. The more joy you feel throughout your career, the better your work will be and in turn, the more money you have the potential to make. Trust the process along the way, though. Don’t fall into a get rich quick scheme, because even if you do “get rich quick”, I doubt you’ll feel happy about it. Allow yourself the time to explore and create just for fun, allow your inner child to come out and play with paints and markers and feel the texture of the paper on your brush, see how magical it is that you can project images in your head onto paper or canvas.
But most of all, learn to say no. Learn that “no” is not a mean word, nor is it a missed opportunity. It is a step back in the right direction, and it is an empowering feeling to know that one project turned down means there’s a better one on the way.
I leave you with this quote:
“What you don’t do determines what you can do.”