Welcome to Thrive! A weekly advice column for creatives and the generally confused.

Dear Thrive,
How do I transition from a normal job to pursuing my dream job as an artist/creative?
-Lost in Corp-landia

Dear Corp-landia,

Sadly for us artists, there is no obvious ladder to climb when it comes to creative work. Folks in other careers have the luxury of clear and direct paths to the top. Companies give them mentors and reviews and steps to succeed. If you work hard, you’re often rewarded with a promotion, a way to reach the next rung on the ladder. Creative work isn’t so direct and while that’s what we love it about, it’s also the greatest source of pain when trying to plan for our lives and our futures. But even without a direct path laid out for us, we can still find our way to happiness if we’re strategic about it.

While millennials have it worse in many ways from the generations before us, we do have one thing they did not: the side hustle. In the past, financially strapped creatives and artists threw their dreams away and resigned themselves to the same 9-5, having a few kids, and not picking up a paintbrush or pen again until they were 50. There just wasn’t enough time in the day to work and create and find a way to make extra money from those creations. Now we have the internet, a place where anyone can sell anything, and if they’re good enough at it, make a killing.

As I said, there’s not one right way to transition from that 9-5 lifestyle into your life as a full-time artist, but there are steps to ensure you get off to a good start. And hey, you might find that there’s a better way than just one or the other. Instead of opening up shop as a one woman cat painting store, maybe you’ll enjoy paying your rent with your day job and making your extra money from your artwork. Again, there’s no right and wrong here, it’s all about finding a formula that works for you now and using it to get you to where you want to be next year and the year after and beyond.

Dream Big – Ask yourself this one question while sitting silently in a darkened room, “If money wasn’t a problem, what would make me happy?” In other words, if you didn’t HAVE to work, what would you spend all your time doing? If it’s sleeping, you may want to reconsider your ability to support yourself on art. Just saying!

Learn to Schedule – Working and creating at the same time is going to challenge you in incredible ways. You’ll have to say no to more social activities, maybe lose a little sleep, save a little more money. By working and creating simultaneously you’re learning about your limits. And hell, if you end up being able to quit your job, think of how productive you’ll be with the extra time!

Steal a Business Model – The best thing about working a day job–whether it’s bartending or administrative work–is that you have opportunity to learn about running a business, budgeting, marketing and more. Pay attention to how the successful people in your office spend their time. Just because their passion isn’t your passion doesn’t mean there aren’t things to learn from them. If your boss personally calls customers once a month to check in, apply that to your Etsy shop selling handmade kimonos. If the bar you’re washing glasses at does a trivia night on Tuesdays to bring in customers, offer up your backyard once a month as an open mic for other musicians. Their fans could become your fans! Just because you aren’t where you want to be now doesn’t mean you can’t learn from your current situation and apply it to your future.

Get to Know Your Budget – Realistically break down how much you’d have to make in a month from selling paintings to live how you want. This isn’t about survival and scraping by, most of us have already done that, this about building your life and your future. Do the math (don’t forget health insurance and new business expenses) and work toward that goal. Once you get there – or close enough to take the leap – take the leap.

There’s no easy way to transition to being a full time creative. As we all know, there are very few companies and jobs that reward employees for dreaming, for exploring, and for creating art. That shouldn’t stop us from pursuing those interest. And if you can apply those (kind of shitty, but definitely necessary) business-like rules to your creative life (schedules, budgets, marketing) you’ll have a better chance of surviving out there on your own. Good luck!

 

THRIVE is answered by Amanda Kusek, a poet, blogger, and dog mom living in NYC.