The common wisdom is that if you follow your bliss and can afford to give up everything else, to do only what you love to do most, you will succeed. The idea behind the advice is that, if you calm your fear, summon your courage, take a chance and back yourself, then you simply cannot fail. They say that you should take the huge leap of faith, quit your job (once you have some money saved up to survive the transition) and start devoting yourself to your passion and the doing the things that make your eyes sparkle. If you can’t succeed at what you love to do most, which you are most passionate about doing, then what can you succeed at, right?
The encouragement is well-meaning. The theory is, in the main, sound. You shouldn’t be doing things that go against your grain, that rub your fur the wrong way and which alienate you from an essential part of yourself. It is vitally important to reconnect with your authentic self and live a life worth living, filled with integrity and pursuing the art you have spent a lifetime pursuing. You are bound to have more energy and enthusiasm for refining and eventually perfecting your art, as opposed to just holding down a job. All of that is correct, in theory.
The problem with the theory is that the universe is a confounded place. You might do everything right, to set about achieving your dearest wishes and fondest dreams, with dedication, focus and determination. You might even have the money to give it a go and see what happens. After all, when people see your brilliant talents and outstanding art, they are bound shower you with unimagined riches. Your uniqueness will protect you against being unwanted. Sadly, the universe is indifferent to your dreams, desires and even your very existence.
Dear reader, I am here to tell you that I leapt and fell. Flat. On my face.
Last year, I tried to pursue my music, writing and painting with serious intent, as a full time occupation and I found that I ran out of money before I could gain any commercial traction with my work. I couldn’t get arrested, let alone interest anybody in my outpourings. In fact, I couldn’t sell a thing and I wound up having to go back to my former profession, to earn a crust. Thankfully, I have a high level of skill as a product designer and engineer, so when I finally did find a job, again, it allowed me to get back on my feet. I’m very grateful for that.
Yes, folks, my attempt to build an artistic life ended in failure. It didn’t work out. Despite finishing a lot of paintings, recording the best part of an album of original music and writing a book, I just couldn’t turn any of it into an adequate income fast enough. I’m pretty sure my output was of reasonable quality, though obviously the more you do, the better you get. I got much better at music production, writing and painting, over the period of time I devoted myself to my art exclusively. I also didn’t complete many promising projects, though and I would still like to go back to them. The time and money simply ran out. It wasn’t self-sustaining. There was no income stream to speak of.
So, was it all an expensive and humiliating mistake? I don’t think it was. I spent some time doing what I love. I got better at it. If I had the chance to do it again, I would. I regret that I couldn’t turn my passion into an income, but it hasn’t stopped me from being enthusiastic about working on my art. I have less time and energy to do it, now and less peace and quiet, but I still love my art. I still want to improve and make better art. In short, the utter failure to make a living and a life around my art has not dampened my enthusiasm for my work one little bit. Well, perhaps one little bit, but not much more.
They say that failure issues a challenge and a dare, to you. “Do you want to do it again?” The answer to that question has to be an emphatic, “hell yes!”
So, you can leap into the void, hoping you’ll fly, but if you come crashing down hard, onto the cold, hard, unforgiving earth, you can survive. You can even learn something in the process. It might make you a better person, with greater humility and empathy. Nothing teaches as quickly as a personal failure, especially one that occurs to you when you are doing something very close to your heart.
Take away whatever you will, from my experience. All I can tell you is that there are no guarantees, but that having a go can still have a lot of value to you, even if it doesn’t work out the way you hope it will. There is great honour and dignity in having tried. I wish it would have worked out for me, but it didn’t and that’s an unchangeable historical event. Failure is an event, not a person, as the wise sages say. I might dust myself off and have another try, some day, or I might be happy I tried once, at all. I don’t know. I can’t tell. All I know is that my plan didn’t pan out and now I have to make another plan.