While it might be hard to guess by looking at us now, Michelle and I haven’t always been successful creatives.
Once upon a time, our alarm clocks were set to six in the morning, and we’d wake up, put on business attire, and go work our “real jobs” at a charter school. Then we’d get home at around 6:30, scarf down some microwave dinners, and then watch Netflix while we graded papers or planned lessons.
Michelle has been a painter since elementary school. When we met in college, she was always working on something. She was an English major, but as long as I knew her, she spent a ton of time in the art building.
When we were dating, I gave her this big canvas for her birthday. And the whole time we were teaching, that canvas sat in the corner, still wrapped, still blank.
On my end, I’ve been writing songs since middle school. In college, I was performing at open mics almost every week. I wrote and recorded an album in my dorm room. I even moved to Chicago to pursue music full-time (which is a different story).
I had an entire album of songs that I had already written and arranged and started recording before I started teaching. But I didn’t have any time to do anything with it. I had built a massive collection of effects pedals, but I barely played any shows. I maybe played out twice in the three years I was there.
Michelle isn’t just doing art—she runs a makerspace where she fosters a community of artists, and even teaches complete beginners how to work in various mediums.
Not only have I finally put a band together, I’m in two bands. I’m playing so many shows that last year, I actually had to take a couple months off to get a break from it.
We’ve organized festivals. We host house shows in our living room. Michelle was even invited by her high school to talk to art students about how they can make a career in art.
I wish I could tell you that we were self-aware and mature enough to realize how unfulfilled we were, and that we made a methodical exit plan where we slowly transitioned into full-time artistic endeavors.
But the truth is a bit more dramatic (and maybe irresponsible?).
In 2014, we were both teaching at the same school. The hours were long, and the work was brutal, but it was secure. And besides—we had summers off, so we could make up for lost time then.
Then two things happened.
On Christmas night, there was a knock on our door. I answered, and two men pushed into to the house. One put me in a chokehold and the other ran into our housemate’s bedroom. As the edges of my consciousness started to blur, I kept thinking, “this is it. I’m going to die in my living room on Christmas.”
Obviously, I didn’t. He let me go as soon as his brother found what he was looking for, and they took off. But that moment where I was convinced I was going to die kept ringing in my mind.
We figured we were young. We had plenty of time. We could work a job we didn’t like for a while, save some money up, then do all of our creative stuff later.
But what if there wasn’t a later? Would I be able to look at my life and feel like I spent my time doing the things that I actually enjoyed? The things that I felt like I was made to do?
While I was still wrestling with that existential crisis, our school got a new principal. He discovered that we were pretty dramatically overstaffed, and would need to lay some folks off. We weren’t worried—we had been there since the first year the school opened. Michelle was even awarded Teacher of the Year the year before.
So imagine my surprise when my meeting with HR ended with the revelation that the next day would be my last.
I had taken the safe job. I sacrificed a life of creative fulfillment for financial security.
And I still failed.
It’s one thing to try something you’re passionate about and to have it not work out. But failing at something you settled for? That’s bullshit.
They gave me one month’s severance (big whoop), and I decided to take that month to really evaluate my life. During that time, I had a revelation: I didn’t need a job to pay my bills. I just needed to make money. And there were a lot of ways to do that besides working a nine-to-five.
I started writing freelance. I flipped thrift store finds on eBay. I wrote and recorded a couple theme songs for podcasts. I sold a couple short stories to online magazines. I even booked some shows.
Still grinding away at the school, Michelle saw the paradigm shift happening in me.
And she wanted some of it for herself.
She came home from work one night, pulled that huge canvas out of storage, unwrapped it, and started painting. She hung it up on the wall, and drafted her resignation letter (to which the school administrators responded, “we actually weren’t going to fire you…”).
She didn’t care. After years of sacrificing fulfillment for security, she had had enough.
Teaching might have given us some financial stability, it took far more than it gave back. And we decided that cost was more than we could afford.
The choice between financial stability and creative fulfillment was an easy one to make. But the more we gave ourselves to full-time creative pursuits, we realized that the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.
The “starving artist” is a popular trope—and one that scares a lot of talented creatives out of pursuing their art. But it ignores two huge truths.
First: artists aren’t the only ones starving.
Creatives are often portrayed as penniless, but they aren’t the only ones scraping by. There are starving salespeople, starving computer programmers, starving receptionists—even starving teachers. Choosing a creative career isn’t necessarily a worse career path than something safe.
Second: you can actually make a pretty good living working creatively.
In the last five years, we’ve had some pretty meager months. But we’ve never been at risk of foreclosing on our house. We’ve never missed a utility payment. We always had food on the table (it might have been Ramen and rice some months, but we always had food).
This year, we actually made more money than we did when we were teaching.
But for many of us, we’ve been so jammed into a corporate, cubicled, cookie-cutter idea of how jobs work that we’ve completely missed the opportunities around us.
Or maybe we think that if we do what we love for money, we’ll end up hating it.
But in our experience, none of that is true.
And it doesn’t have to be true for you either. But if you feel stuck where you are—if you feel like you’ve been forced to choose between making a living and doing the things that make life worth living, then stick around. We’d love to help you figure out how to do more of the things you love and less of the stuff you don’t. You might not end up quitting your day job—but you just might (without making the same mistakes that we made).
We've worked hard to create a program that includes everything we wish we knew before starting our creative journey, so you can get on the fast track and find fulfillment doing more of what you love. In the Killer Creators program, you'll discover the limitless potential for your creativity to work for you. You'll gain confidence and excitement to start making your creative dreams a reality. You will get our exact methods and systems we use to help find creative focus and reach new creative goals one after another. You won't be hindered by a limiting mindset anymore. You'll have a handle on managing your time and money so you can stress less and do more of your creative work. And the best part is this program makes it so simple to start taking action on each part of our framework so you become the killer creator you always wanted to be.
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