Creative vs. professional life

Now that I’ve finished most of my grad school coursework, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about What I Should Do With My Life. This is, and has always been, a fairly wrenching experience for me. My problem has generally been this: I don’t want to pick just one thing to do.

It’s not just that I get bored doing the same things all the time (which I do). I also am interested in so many different things, and can imagine myself in so many different roles, that having to pick just one feels just as heart-wrenching as being able to pick one cute little kitten out from the pound and take him home, only to leave five other adorable kittens behind. (Perhaps an odd comparison, yes. Some people think in terms of their children. I think in terms of cats, I can’t help it.)

I’ve been noticing that rather than choose between my many interests or follow even just one of these passions, I often just take what opportunities come. Meaning that if I can do a certain job, and it’s offered to me, I will do it.

Obviously, this presents problems. Just because you are able to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. There are plenty of things I can do that I hate doing. Sewing on buttons, for a simple example. I am perfectly capable of sewing buttons onto my clothes. I just absolutely detest threading needles and tying tiny knots. I will let a shirt that’s missing a button sit in my closet for months, unworn, because I am avoiding the button sewing. Thankfully, my husband is an expert and eager button sewer so this happens a lot less than it used to.

But I digress. The point is that I would never take a job sewing on buttons just because I can. I would be indescribably miserable. So why the heck would I take a job doing something else I don’t like, just because I can? One obvious answer is money. Lots of people out there go to jobs they hate every single day, because they need to pay the bills. But putting that aside for the sake of argument and general career betterment, there’s really few other reasons to work at a job you dislike.

This is probably no epiphany for most people. But it’s one that I have trouble taking to heart. It is easier, after all, to accept a job (whether you like it or not) that falls into your lap than to do the work required to make your passions into your profession.

The strange thing about doing work that isn’t quite what you want to be doing is that you start (well, I do) making more and more space for that work. It starts to become the career you see yourself in, and the things you are passionate about start to seem like they are part of a separate, private, other creative life that has nothing to do with your daily life, and therefore never gets priority. As an example, I have been contemplating changing my web site. I’ve been worried that I won’t be able to get appropriately professional freelance gigs with a web site that has sushi on it. I keep playing around with Photoshop and Dreamweaver, trying to create a sedate, straight-laced, “professional” web site that I can use to get freelance work.

I happen to love design as well as writing, and when I start playing around with these programs, attempts at creating “professional” sites usually dissolve into me making colorful, fun, artsy, creative pages. I get so sad that I can’t use these designs on my “professional” web site. I have even considered making a second, shadow site for my web site, with a completely different design, just to make myself feel better about having such a boring “professional” web site.

And then it occurred to me….Why am I trying to keep my creative life separate from my professional life?? Chances are that if I make a web site that reflects my design sensibilities, my personality, and my interests, I will have more success getting the kind of work I really want to be doing, rather than the kind of work I feel like I have to accept and trudge through. A long time ago, my aunt gave me a book called, Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow. It sounds a bit self-help hoaky, I admit. And to be honest, I don’t remember a thing about the advice inside. But I do remember the title. (Perhaps this is a case of poor titling, since, really, the title says all you need to know, right? Kind of like “Snakes on a Plane.” But I digress once again.)

Anyway, it’s time for me to do this and stop trying to pander to those parts of my brain that are always telling me what I should do, or to take jobs that I can do. I am ready to do what I want to do.

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2 thoughts on “Creative vs. professional life

  1. Elizabeth,

    Your blog reads like my inner monologue. “Why am I working in a career I detest?”

    I am devouring your old posts and reading through to the present– great, great stuff.

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