I have been thinking a lot recently about the direction that I want to take my photography business, and this week I came across two really interesting ways of looking at career advice for creative professionals.
First, there is the “do what you love” genre of career advice for creatives. Then, there are statistics.
For the sake of this article, lets call them fantasy and reality.
Photographer Jenna Martin recently did a great job of selling “the dream” in her recent post How “Doing What You Love” Can Be A Realistic Career Option. It is an interesting article and definitely worth a read. If you’re a cubically contained aspiring creative professional, or an unemployed millennial with an arts degree – I guarantee, you’ll love it.
The problem for me as a crusty old Gen X’r with a family and, you know – responsibilities – is that this kind of “do what you love” career advice is essentially encouraging people to pursue a fantasy.
In other words, the stodgy business guy on LinkedIn is bang on with his piece: “Do What You Love” is Horrible Advice.
Homer: If you don’t like your job, you don’t go on strike. You just go in every day and do it really half-assed – that’s the American way.
If you’re a creative professional, your aspiration in life is likely some version of this narrative:
Sleep in till mid-morning. Get up and go for a latte at your local hipster coffee shop. Update your social media presence on your Mac device. Meet your wife/girlfriend/husband/boyfriend for lunch at a gourmet cafe. Plug away at some ridiculously creative personal project or go photograph some models for the afternoon. Hit the farmer’s market and prepare a gourmet dinner with expensive wine and all local ingredients. Relax and recover from your busy day with more wine and a novel. Sit down at the computer to get some “corporate” freelance work done and stay up really late.
Don’t be ashamed or angry – I’m not mocking (much) – that honestly describes my ideal day right there (although maybe its a symptom of my pending middle-age that so much of my idealized lifestyle revolves around really good food and wine).
But, in the real world “the dream” costs money – and making money takes hard work and a viable business plan.
Marge: Homer, when are you going to give up this crazy sugar scheme?
Homer: Never, Marge. Never. I can’t live the button-down life like you. I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. Sure, I might offend a few of the bluenoses with my cocky stride and musky odors – oh, I’ll never be the darling of the so-called “City Fathers” who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about “What’s to be done with this Homer Simpson?”
Which brings me to the real world statistics that show what type of lifestyle is (unfortunately) realistic for most creative professionals.
Yes, I am directly equating income level to lifestyle because unless you want to live your entire life relying on a precarious income stream, a comfortable lifestyle costs a significant amount of money. Even more so if you have the responsibility of providing for your family.
The Government of Canada publishes financial performance data from various business sectors. The reports are set up to measure business profit, not individual income, so it can be a little tricky to interpret the numbers as they relate to individuals. However, there are still a number of fascinating trends that can be gleaned from the data.
And yes, this is Canadian data and will vary globally – but I suspect that the big picture trends that we can see in Canada would be fairly typical for most global markets.
As a professional photographer, I’m going to start with the photography industry.
Homer: And you don’t think I made any money. I found a dollar while waiting for the bus.
Marge: While you were out “earning” that dollar, you lost $40 by not going to work. The plant called and said if you don’t come in tomorrow, don’t bother coming in Monday.
Homer: Woo-hoo! Four-day weekend!