How To Survive Being A Creative

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I’ve been absolutely desperate to get back to my blog for almost a fortnight now. My original plan was to blog at least once a week, but Life always has other plans for you doesn’t it? Which is actually what has inspired today’s post…

Here’s a little more about me (I don’t actually love talking about myself, despite how it may seem, but I like to tell stories of my fallibility in the hope they will encourage others!); I currently have 5 (yes FIVE) jobs. Why? Well, firstly, because I am completely bonkers. Secondly, because I am inherently a workaholic and love to be kept busy. And thirdly, because, well quite frankly it’s the only way I financially survive being a Creative. It has taken 8 years for me to learn how to take responsibility for my finances and even now I would be on the streets if it weren’t for my extraordinary husband (seriously, God bless him).

Whilst I was updating my CV recently, it struck me how haphazard I must seem to any employer. I experienced a mixture of pride and embarrassment over the various jobs I have had. I have been working since I was 14 years old, when my first job was as a Cafe Assistant at Costco wholesale store. I had to wear a white overall and blue hair net. But I did get free pizza. I have temped as a Receptionist, Editorial Assistant, PA and Data Entry bod at an international Christian charity in London for 3 years.. I was a Session Musician for a popular indie-pop band in 2007 and toured around the UK, one time with 12 boys in a tour bus. Following that I was a Barmaid (for 2 years), in which bar the formerly mentioned bands music played constantly and I was mocked by my peers for being a ‘has-been’. I’ve been a Recruitment Consultant, Waitress, Restaurant Host, toured with a rock band in Los Angeles, temped in an Accounts department (which made me near suicidal. Dark times), Actress (unsuccessfully), Drama Teacher for very small people, Nanny… And now? I am still, for all intents and purposes, a Singer-Pianist, Singing and Voice Tutor, PA for a Chartered Surveyors and Administrator for a Stately Home. I have a contracted position with a Drama School where I teach budding Actors (18+) 2 days a week, I teach singing privately from home, I sing and play the piano at various restaurants on average twice a week, I administrate at a stately home twice a week and any other free days I am helping out at a busy Chartered Surveyors.

Just writing it makes me re-realise how mad I am. Also that I actually love my busy life. I do it because it took me a long time to realise how intensely difficult (near impossible) it is to be artistic full-time and also earn enough to secure a living. My husband and I are not frivolous, we do not have great ambitions or designs on our lifestyle. I like to think we are quite ordinary, modest people. But we do like to feel assured our bills on our modest 1 bedroom terrace cottage are going to be paid on time, with enough to spare for food and petrol and the occasional pint in the pub. This is important to me. Marriage changed me in that respect. I realised I would rather do 5 jobs, pay my bills and live happily with my love, than take a poorly paid acting job, be away from home and be unable to contribute to our wellbeing. I realised I’m not concerned with status and salary and feel a bit bored by people who are. But that’s just me.

I also do the jobs I do in order to be able to be a Creative. Again, sadly I can’t rely on gigs to secure my income. Don’t get me wrong, being a Musician can be very lucrative and exceptionally well paid… If you’re good enough, work hard enough, are driven enough, willing to make sacrifices, travel and schmooze with all the right people until the cows come home. For me, I just want to sing and play, have people appreciate it, then go home. I can’t do this full time, so I do all the other bits in order to allow me to do the few gigs I can do and be happy. Don’t get me wrong, I have some months where I earn more as a Musician than any of my other 4 jobs and it feels great, but also utterly exhausting. People don’t get that being a Musician is actually really hard work! (I’m not complaining, but I do get tired of the assumption that I just pop myself behind a piano, play a little ditty, curtsey at the end then happily accept peanuts for my efforts).

Today I want to write about not just the hardships of being a Creative, but also the dangers and the joys.

I opened this blog with a quote I stumbled across by Ernest Hemingway: The best people possess a feeling for beauty, the courage to take risks, the discipline to tell the truth, the capacity for sacrifice. Ironically, their virtues make them vulnerable; they are often wounded, sometimes destroyed.”  Now, understandably, some amongst you might find this a little dark and depressing. It is really. But others it will resonate with more deeply than they can explain. Or even care to explain.

In conversation with my lovely Mum recently (chattering away intently as usual) I realised one of my burdens as a creative being is my sensitivity to people. I am exceptionally aware of people’s reactions, how they behave, how they communicate and how they make others feel. I have a real intolerance for superficiality. I used to think this trait was just human, to look at someone and think “you’re completely manipulating people and it’s wrong and I must do/say something to stop it”. I’ve realised this isn’t normal. Most human beings either just don’t pick up on these things or don’t care. And I envy them.

If I had a penny for every time someone has told me to just “let it go” or “don’t let it bother you” I would be seriously wealthy. But the fact is its just not in my design to not notice and not care. And it is really unsettling and sometimes really depressing. But before this post plunges into dark depths let me tell you that although this characteristic is a burden, it is also one of my greatest joys. I also realised recently that this is what makes me (I think. I hope) a great teacher. I see my students, I notice their strengths, I notice their struggles and I so desperately want to build them up and help give them to tools to survive being a Creative.

I teach Actors in training, therefore by default they are for the most part all intensely creative and sensitive beings. They have a feeling for beauty unlike others. Their goal as Actors is to tell the truth about the world. It is demanded of them to take risks and make sacrifices in order to succeed in their chosen industry. They are required to be very vulnerable and as a result are often wounded. But I will be damned if I see them be destroyed. Their creativity takes the most extraordinary bout of courage, which I am constantly overwhelmed and awed by.

Why does the world need Creatives though? Because we are world changers, rule breakers, core shakers, protesters rallying for a more beautiful world. But the world also needs practical minds. Planners, thinkers rather than feelers, logic rather than chaos. I need my Husband in order to thrive in who I am. He still feels things deeply but he can bring logic to his feelings far more easily than I can. He is practical and sensible in order to better enjoy life. He knows the right sacrifices to make and he knows how to protect me better than I know how to protect myself. I survive being a Creative in part because of him. But I have learnt some things all by myself…

How To Survive Being a Creative:

  1. Figure out your core values and do not compromise on them. For me, I will not pretend to be someone I am not and nothing is worth doing that. As soon as I do that, I begin to die. For others it will be different but figuring out what is fundamentally important to you is vital.
  2. Constantly seek beauty and light. As artistic beings we are drawn to the dark as much as we are the light and although it’s important to tell the truth about the mess in the world we have to protect and prevent ourselves from getting caged in the darkness. I loath it when people say to me “look at the positives”. It’s not that simple! But what I can do is actively pursue things that bring light, like choosing carefully which music I listen to (nothing in a minor key when you’re feeling down!), touching base with a life-affirming friend (I have a couple of these who I am indebted to), driving through the Cheshire countryside and marvelling at how scrummy it is, baking for my colleagues at work (yes I’ve actually done that because I know it will make them smile and that makes me smile), etc etc…
  3. Accept that you need people. And we especially need logically minded people. I am rubbish at asking for help. I like to do it all myself (see my blog on The Great Clempner Wedding!). I am a proud woman and don’t like to feel a failure. But receiving help doesn’t mean we have failed but actually that we are strong enough to face and accept our weaknesses. And were the shoe on the other foot we would be the first to help those we love, without a thought, without complaint and without ever feeling put upon. If we don’t accept help, we not only hurt ourselves but those we care about most too.
  4. Embrace some structure. ‘Structure’ – urgh! Again, characteristically creatives aren’t the best at order. We are more sensibility than sense. But I have learnt that accepting some structure and putting in place healthy boundaries helps me to thrive in who I am really am. For example, just taking that one little Admin job has freed my mind to be more of who I am, because I can feel assured I will have a little bit of money every two weeks, I have two days a week where I can distract my mind with practical things and not feel the weight of constantly thinking and feeling, and being in a less creative environment makes me all the more eager to get back into my zone! When I don’t have this I feel bludgeoned by constant anxiety about where my next pay check is coming from, all the endless things I have to achieve and be, and feeling like I just can’t cope being a creative person any longer.
  5. Forgive yourself for being just that little bit ‘different’. I don’t mean to sound as though I think creative people are ‘special’ or ‘better’. But it helps to understand that we’re wired quite differently to some people. Again, it took me a long time to figure this out and I made some losses a long the way. Some losses I deeply regret and some people I deeply miss. But it’s actually quite freeing understanding that I am not good for some people and they are not good for me and that’s ok. I can’t change who I am and I have to stop making apologies for it. All I can do is to love as best I can, seek to be kind to both others and myself and strive to be courageous in my creativity.

To my fellow Creatives, remember you are a world changer, a core shaker and a bringer of truth and beauty. We ought never be ashamed of that nor afraid of it.

To those who struggle to get to grips with us, you have my greatest sympathy! But we need you in order to survive. You have so much good that we don’t have, so let’s team up and be mates. We can help you as much as you help us, if you only let us.

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