For those trying to balance their passion with their paycheck, here's a quick word on the joys of taking the leap, and the sweet taste of being unemployed. Well, sort of.
We’ve all been there. Sitting behind the desk in an aggressively monotone office suite. Lit by drab fluorescent lights. The only soundtrack available being the increasingly agitated voice of your boss, behind a partially closed office door, screaming about spreadsheets and figures that you have long since ceased to care about.
Perhaps, if you’re lucky, you get to bring your headphones to the office to drown away your infinite boredom at a “reasonable volume,” so as to not disturb your fellow co-workers identically crammed into the puzzle-like custom configuration known as a cubicle.
Perhaps, if you’re lucky, they’ve given you a comfortable chair. Not too comfortable, mind you. Just comfortable enough to give the company a positive review when the time comes for the obligatory employee review. A standard form they no doubt require you to spend several hours of your lifespan to fill out while requiring of themselves only partial seconds to review before using it to line the inside of their wastebasket.
They want you comfortable, but not too comfortable. They don’t want you to fall asleep at your desk. The intense irony of that demand being that what they really want from you is to continue your endless sleepwalk through life. To efficiently and effectively spend your waking hours moving stacks of meaningless paper from one side of your desk to the other. To quickly reply to your emails, and fill your manager’s ears with catch phrases like “market strategy,” “account reconciliation,” and “taking a deeper dive into the numbers.”
Of course, the only numbers you really care about are the twelve being ever so slowly bypassed by the second hand of the clock strategically placed on the wall.
You arrive at nine with dreams of seeing the short hand hit the five. With dreams of your “real career” as an artist bouncing around in your head, you simply can’t wait for the postgraduate school bell to ring and once again grant you permission to imagine yourself to be so much more than just an accountant with an interesting hobby. You leave aside for a moment the brutal fact that this body and soul sapping monotony of day job safety, while leaving you fed, will more often than not also leave you in such a state of exhaustion that, even once you do escape the corporate parking structure, you hardly have the energy to do much else than to go home, collapse on the couch, and fall asleep to the latest replay of your favorite movie while your camera stares at you through a dusty viewfinder as neglected as your forlorn spouse. You actually pray that time will fly.
Then one day you ask yourself the question. It’s not a new question. It’s been in the back of your mind for years. You’ve just been too afraid to provide the obvious answer. You spend your entire work week hoping that time will fly. You spend a minimum of eight hours a day, often more like ten or twelve, at the office. Another seven hours or so to get your required beauty sleep. Last time you checked there were only 24 hours in a day. So, by your own astute calculations, you are literally wishing the mathematical majority of your life away.
While certain religions may differ, it’s safe to say we only get to go around once on this beautiful ride called life. At least in our current form. And on a planet billions of years old, our own existence is but a blip on the radar. A combination of ever valuable seconds whose true worth is often only ever realized once they are gone.
So why would you spend your precious life wishing it away?
On the ceaseless journey, why wouldn’t you grab hold of the steering wheel and claim the birthright of every man and woman fortunate enough to participate in the game? The right to choose our own highway is within all of us.
It’s not easy. Giving up that comfortable chair, and even more comfortable paycheck, is not without risk. If we are allowed to captain our own ship, there is a very real chance that we will veer wildly off course. The mere decision to follow your passion and askew the gilded life will more than likely be met with a fair share of derision and questioning. It should be said that most of the people who give you hardest time will be those who also have a dream, but lack the courage to follow it. Do keep this in mind and always remember to be compassionate towards the doubters as you remember their objections are often more about them than about you.
Even aside from the external qualms, there’s the ultimate question you’ve been asking yourself ever since you were a young child taking your first tentative steps towards the edge of the diving board that is increasingly taking on the stature of a skyscraper. You carefully edge yourself along the damp platform with toes growing tighter with each small step. You ask the inevitable question, “What if I get hurt?”
I wish I could sit here and tell you that wouldn’t happen. That once you make the brave choice to follow you passion that life itself will all suddenly be puppies and Pulitzers. That it will all be smooth sailing and you’ll have the world on a string, just begging to hear what you have to say. Sure, those things can happen; in fact, one of the greatest skill sets required of an artist is the unshakeable belief that things like that WILL happen.
But as with anything worth having in life, nothing comes without sacrifice. No great success is born of absolute success. Instead, life is a steady stream of open ended examinations. A multiple choice test where the options continue to multiply. And our hardest choices are often not between good and evil, but rather between the greater of two goods, or the better of two evils.
Try to think of it like this. You’ve fallen in love with the most beautiful girl (or boy) in class. The moment you see her, you realize that she’s exactly what you’ve been waiting for your entire life. She understands you and laughs at your jokes. You find yourself unable to stop thinking about her when you have to spend even the shortest period of time apart. For some reason, when she’s around, the world just makes sense.
That’s the same way you feel about your art. And just how you’ll never feel complete until you’ve at least tried your best to make that girl your valentine, you will also likely never feel fully complete until you’ve given yourself the opportunity to pursue the career you’ve always dreamed about.
Just like the girl, your dream may say "no," failure is a real possibility. But as Michael Jordan once said...
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
If you don’t take the shot, her image will continue to haunt you as you are herded with the rest of the pinstriped sheep into the next “optional” office party. You’ll be riddled with guilt as you cheat on your true love with a set of spreadsheets that mean nothing the you. You’ll be spending the time with your ill-fitting mistress, wishing the seconds away, then one day wake up and realize there’s only one woman you want to spend the rest of your life with.
And once you find the one you want to spend the rest of your life with, you know that you want “the rest of your life” to start as soon as possible.
The answer is simple. You know what you need to do. Lace up your shoes, clear that ever present lump in your throat, stroll confidently across the overcrowded gymnasium, and ask her to dance.