Find Your Calling

I’m fascinated with how artists reconcile creating art with earning a living. Being a starving artist isn’t inevitable, but being passionate and skilled doesn’t entitle us to earn a living. The saying “do what you love and the money will follow” just doesn’t cut it!

What is the Work?

I just finished Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle, a brilliant dose of tough love that helps us confront self-sabotaging behavior, tap into our muse, and produce our life’s work. Highly recommended.

One of his mantras is “do the work” (which is not the same is “do your job”). If we want to make a contribution through our art, we need to put painstaking effort into work that matters.

The questions I keep coming back to are: What is my work? What projects are worth doing? How can I support my family in the process?

I made a four-way Venn diagram to help us visualize how projects fit into the intersection of hobbies, art, and business.

Four Categories of Work Worth Doing

Vision – Long term goalshow you want to make a dent in the universe

Flow – Fascinating activities that cause time to fly by

Original – Standing out rather than fitting inexpressing your voice through personality, expertise, insight

Get Paid – Solving problems and satisfying desires in ways people pay for

The “sweet spots” of the graphic are where three or more categories intersect:

– Unmistakable Art
– Meaningful Work
– Dream Job
– Innovation
– Calling

Some examples from my life:

I love downhill skiing. The solitude, beauty, excitement, and physicality are enormously fulfilling. This is a hobby because I have no greater vision (my skills haven’t improved in 20 years), I don’t provide value for anyone else, and I don’t stand out in any way. Working at a ski area would be an “interesting job.”

One of my summer jobs in college was organizing warehouse full of bridal shoes (seriously). It provided value for my boss, but it was boring and I had zero passion for the work. Since any able-bodied human could do the job, it didn’t pay very well.

Once I graduated from New England Conservatory, I started teaching saxophone lessons. This pays better than sorting shoes because the skill set is more scarce, and families are eager to pay for music lessons for their kids. Once clients and teachers started referring me specifically, I could raise my rates because unique work is worth more than generic work. When I teach awesome students who inspire me, teaching lessons moves from “well-paying work” to “dream job.”

I’m proud of my last record, Center Song. I fulfilled a dream of collaborating and recording original music with Ingrid Jensen. I hope this falls in the “Unmistakable Art” category, but I can’t really judge that myself. However, I invested thousands of dollars that I will never recoup. It was art worth making, but not sustainable on its own.

I’ve come to realize that building community through creative music is one of my callings. I love the work, and it allows me to provide value to many musicians. Rather than competing on my strengths (like being the best saxophonist, or having the best resume for academic positions), I’m carving out an area that has little to no competition because my work provides value in a unique way. Putting time and effort into this area is making a huge impact in my business, art, and life.

For more on this, listen to this amazing interview with Creativelive CEO Chase Jarvis on one of my favorite podcasts, Unmistakable Creative. The topic is “Reconciling Your Creativity with Your Identity.”

This graphic is a work in progress, but please let me know if it helps you organize your projects.

Keep going. . . and do your work.

– ST

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