Today I’m taking a break from writing a vignette to write about some real-life nitty-gritty contemplations. And those contemplations revolve around one question: what the hell is a career, anyway?
I think I have been plagued by this question ever since I grew old enough to understand the concept of a job. A “job” is a concept that’s easy enough to understand. It involves giving your time and skills to someone else in exchange for money. But a “career” is a much more complicated ideal. Let’s briefly turn to dictionary.com for a standard definition:
–an occupation or profession, especially one requiring special training, followed as one’s lifework
Seems simple enough, right? Except that it isn’t. Particularly when you apply it to any “profession” regarding creative expression. The definition implies that a career is a person’s occupation, thereby paying the bills, while also encompassing his/her “lifework.” That’s a big deal, when you stop and think about it. If a career amounts to a person’s lifework, or her summation of life accomplishments during her time here on earth, then that means her career largely defines her personal identity. A career might be significant enough to put on someone’s grave stone.
When I got out of high school, my first thought was to launch my career in Hollywood. I knew I wanted to write stories and make movies (and that hasn’t changed). But guess what happened after five years of living in Los Angeles? I learned about the business behind the films, and it’s not very pretty. I realized that my talents and skills didn’t matter so much as my ability to “network” and endure several years of serving coffee or running other people’s errands in order to get my foot in the door. And even if I succeeded as a writer, my scripts would be subjected to the whims of Hollywood studios and execs who might butcher it to pieces as soon as I handed it over.
Let’s get something straight. I am a hard worker. When I am passionate about something, I give it everything I’ve got. But I am only passionate about the creation aspect of stories/games/movies. As soon as I have to venture into the business aspect, I lose all interest. Worse, the business aspect of distributing my creative works tends to drain my inspiration and passion altogether. And unfortunately, in the world we live in, if you want to “succeed” as a creative artist–i.e. make it your career–then you have to devote as much time and energy to the business aspect of your field as the creation-process. I am not just talking about Hollywood, either. I am talking about musicians who have to spend years networking online or through small-stage gigs before their musical work starts to pay bills. I am talking about talented novelists who can’t get an agent/big publisher to blink twice in their direction or distinguish themselves amongst the teeming ocean of self-published books. I am talking about skilled visual artists who slave away on big corporate slop instead of their own creative work.
I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with pursuing/enduring the scenarios above. If you are creative and you can protect your inner fire while suffering the unfortunate consequences of pursuing a creative “career” in this day and age, more power to you–seriously. But I also want to spread my admiration and respect for creative people who choose to keep their creative-life and work-life separate. And that is why my overall message is this: fuck “careers.” Jobs are jobs. Money is money. And there are two types of work: the work you do out of sheer desire, and the work you do out of necessity.
Some people would claim that it’s possible to do both. I am not so sure. Perhaps something you worked on out of desire can transform into your daily vocation through financial success, thereby providing your bread and butter. But I think such instances are *extremely* rare, and most people obtain those positions through a tedious combination of hard work and luck. Others might spend their whole lives hoping for such a transformation to take place and never achieve it. In the process of repeated failure, they might go hungry in the meantime, or else lose that raw passion required to keep trying.
So once again, I say this to everyone, but especially to creative people: fuck careers (and by that I mean the overall concept). Nothing you do for money should define you as a person. Find a job you don’t hate and do it to the pay the bills. If you’re lucky, your day-job might even feed your inspiration as an artist. You can even turn your day-job into a so-called “career” if you enjoy it/tolerate it well enough; go to school and keep getting better at it. If you’re really lucky, what you love doing creatively and what you get paid to do might overlap. But the chances of that are slim, and the long-term consequences less glamorous than they initially seem. So if that doesn’t happen, stop sweating it. Maybe it’s for the best.
This probably sounds like a bitter post–and yes, I can be bitter about these things–but for once, I’m not saying this out of bitterness. I’m saying this because after spending about a decade of up-and-down success and failure with my creative ventures, I’ve slowly reached this conclusion, and I find it rather liberating. I’m saying that you shouldn’t let the twisted business model of our day and age become the measure of your talent. Do your art because you love to do it. Remember that jobs are jobs (for anyone anywhere), creative freedom is precious, and no one should be defined by what he or she does to pay the bills. Explore new things. Never stop learning. Don’t feel like you need to be defined by a single “career” for life. Work when you need to and spend the rest of the time playing. Because maybe what really defines us is whatever we choose to do simply for the hell of it.