Young people never quite trust adult (especially parental) advice, because they are genetically programmed to--you know--be themselves. Oh, that pesky free-will.
My recent interviews with seven young adults, aged 21-30, confirm it: they hear us telling them about the consequences of drinking, using drugs, having promiscuous sex, quitting activities they formerly loved, letting grades slip . . blah, blah, blah. They hear it--and they often actually re-play our advice in their heads, you might be happy to know, just as they make their terrible decisions--but they don't trust it until they experience Things for themselves.
It is therefore unlikely any of our progeny will take the advice I offer below. If, however, you have the dubious honor of raising a "creative" child, your challenges may be many. Parents who seek to KNOW, PROTECT and HONOR their artistic, emotional (hormonal), passionate teenagers might appreciate some help. These kids tend to veer off in directions quite intended to freak their parents out. We do best to know enough about their habits to keep them safe, protect them from real harm, and honor their unique gifts. Why not steer them in the direction of making a living with their God-given talents?
Here is an article, written from a personal viewpoint and truly intended for parents--who have perspective enough to understand--but which I hope might speak to a young, creative kid out there somewhere. Print it; leave it on the kitchen counter; maybe it will strike a chord with your burgeoning musician, actor, puppeteer or wood-carver. Probably not. But it's worth a shot, don't you think?
Six Steps to Becoming a Not-So-Starving Artist
[or Why My Dad Was Right - I Should Have Studied Business]
[or How Launching a Business Made Me a Better American]
1. Change Your Major. If you are a young person burdened (as I was) by an “artistic temperament,” take heart. Let my checkered experience help make your twenties more fruitful and your forties less bitter. I have finally discovered the secret to a happily-ever-after for the likes of us. Brace yourselves, hipsters and agitators; you’re not going to like it. If you are a person who can’t imagine working in a cubicle, there is only one path to the fruition of your gifts: you have got to take some business classes.
Heed my advice, ye who shun the bourgeois trappings of success. I know the seduction of sticking it to the System, living off the grid, rejecting the machinery crippling creative thought. Given the choice—and I was, often—between a Byzantine art history class and anything smacking of economics or accounting, I went with the Hagia Sophia every time. And while it all feels very virtuous, reality tends to demand regular paychecks and bill-paying.
2. Dream the Impossible Dream. Don’t get me wrong: do not become an actuary if your zeal (like mine) tends toward pottery or the performing arts. The truth is, you will never stop learning or pursuing things that deeply move you. Every day, people tell me about passions they explore in their spare time. They write stand-up comedy, develop magic tricks, make cake-pops by the hundreds, fix clocks and tie flies and grow tomatoes and coach golf. They dream of owning food trucks, doing make-up for film, writing travel reviews. They dream; we dream. Often, we long to turn our hobbies into jobs, our avocations into vocations. Most of the time, it seems like folly, and we make more sensible choices.
Here is a secret I wish I had known when I was twenty: a little financial savvy can help young people with stars in their eyes manifest their noble visions. Without some business acumen, those dreams get deferred and fester, as the great poet observed.
3. Make Friends with the System. If you, like I once did, still cling to your ideals and your sixth-floor-studio apartment, listen up. Those tax codes, those accountants, those suits who get out of taxis and walk importantly while they talk on their headsets? Your college friends who become CPAs and lawyers and financiers? Those people we watch like animals in the zoo—admirable, fascinating, their habits so predictable and foreign at once? They are not the enemy. Those men and women are part of a system designed to defend our pursuit of happiness.
I am a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. I have enjoyed a few years of solid classification--teacher, spokesperson, even stay-at-home-mom. Most of the time, though, I pull business cards from pockets like a slippery charlatan: writer today, tutor tomorrow, speaker, announcer, editor, fundraiser, fence-painter, governess, proofreader, toilet-scrubber, laundress. My penchant for cobbling together an existence gives me the air of a peddler wandering the countryside. I tend to unnerve people. At the ripe old age of 46, I have figured out a way to stop apologizing and make this personal deficit work in my favor.
I have become a businesswoman. Yes, me. If you knew how shocking a confession this is, perhaps you would join my parents as they dump Gatorade on their heads in triumph. Wrapping my many pursuits into one beautiful sole-proprietorship has brought me happiness I did not expect. I am no longer wondering if my “hobbies” pay for themselves or cost the family money. For the first time, I keep track of my expenses and my many sources of income. I save receipts with a doggedness that makes my husband weep. Poor guy. For 18 years he has suffered the depths of my financial ignorance, watching my eyes go dead when I am forced to spend time with our financial people. Even now, my patient personal banker must translate concepts like credit versus debit into gentler language (like plus and minus). But slowly, I am getting it. For the first time, a growing bank account makes me proud. At last, the many hats I wear hang on the hook of one official, money-making, dream-the-American-Dream business license.
4. Get Patriotic: Itemize! And this is the greatest secret of all, perhaps the only magic in the cruel world, the ultimate Pursuit of Happiness: our country’s founders wanted to help us succeed. They believed in our ideas (our dreams, our manifestos, our designs). They thought good ideas are good for our country (accountants and artists alike!) and good for the world. So whatever we need to make our dreams come true—to turn our avocations into our vocations—we get to count as a business expense. See how that works? My friends beg me to stop saying this, but I swear, it’s like free money. It’s like the government subsidizing our desire to buy the stuff we need to make our craziest dreams come true.
I am not entirely naïve. I know corruption lies on the other side of my sunny new street. I also know I have the luxury to grow my business slowly while my responsible husband foots the real bills. But my books are wide open and you can’t convince me otherwise: the System wants me to be happy. The mobile art-party concept I launched this year, for example, required me to buy a kiln (www.claydateplaydate.com). Nothing makes me quite as happy as a kiln in my garage, and because my business bought it, it shall be deducted from my taxes. Free money, no matter how I look at it. The perks are many, and since I have the furthest thing from a criminal mind, I cannot imagine any reason to cheat my new friend the System. I also have no desire for priceless watches or extravagant travel, so I trust my newfound understanding will retain its luster for a long while. I am delighted to buy supplies I want to buy anyway and turn them into a small-but-growing, measurable income.
5. Stop Struggling. Whether we like it or not (we do not), it is almost always easier to live our creative vision when we are not burdened by abject poverty. Although I think a couple of my ideas could franchise and make big bucks someday, for now I am content with slow growth. I have only recently started to feel comfortable entering a bank; I must take baby steps. If you are young and idealistic, creative and impulsive, heed me while you are still unfettered and have a lot of energy. Take fewer courses in the fascinating disciplines. Take business classes instead.
6. Accept Your Gifts--All of Them. I know it sounds distasteful. I realize I sound like a bitter old harpy, screeching warnings from a future you cannot imagine. But I promise, all you dreamers and dog-walkers, even a starving artist can feast like royalty on life's banquet. Learn the market; crunch the numbers; fall in love with QuickBooks; be smart. You will reap the rewards of a long-ago, enlightened moment in history. When people who understood business far better than you do took a gamble on humanity's goodness, they left a legacy guaranteeing your right to pursue happiness. Accept this gift among the many you have been granted and shine on, you crazy diamonds.