A Risky Life

Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström

Photo credit: Håkan Dahlström

I’ve had many conversations with creative friends regarding the life we have chosen to live, a life that seems unnatural compared to what is widely accepted as “normal” and which provides no shortage of discomfort, uncertainty and risk. The fact is that many people who have the artistic itch willingly and knowingly enter into a life path that causes a great deal of stress. Stress from not knowing when your next paycheck will be. Stress from sickness and injury when you have poor insurance coverage, or none at all. Stress from not feeling capable of leading the life modern society has bred most of us to believe we are supposed to live, or from not even wanting to live that life in the first place and possibly feeling slightly alienated or even ostracized from a social structure that finds that to be odd.

These are not anxieties exclusive to the creative community; they’re shared by many, many people devoted to any number of disciplines around the world. And, as I firmly believe, we are all creative in one way or another. But while I know this applies to many different types, I’m thinking of a very specific kind of person as I write this (because they’re the ones I talk to about these things on a regular basis).


Hitting The Wall


We all hit the wall at some point, realizing we don’t have answers to questions like, When will I have a steady income from my art? Will I ever be able to own a home or take care of a family? Do I even want those things? Am I behind everyone else my age who is already married and who has children and a decent car and a house in the suburbs? What do I need to be happy, what is art really and is that even important, where do I draw the line for what I want to express vs. what I want to achieve, why haven’t I gotten my shit together like so many other people, so on and so forth.

When I have one of these discussions with like-minded friends or even near-strangers, I always say the same thing to them:

People like us need to live a life with a higher-than-average level of inherent risk. We’re drawn to it, and it’s not happening to us by accident. The main reason is that if we didn’t pursue this life, we’d be bored to death. “Normal” life, “regular” life, it doesn’t actually appeal to us. Even in those moments when we catch ourselves admiring those who seem to have it more “together” than we do, there’s a part of us that realizes if we had chosen any other path we would be regretting it right now. We would be wondering what would have happened if we had just done what we knew we really wanted to do. And even if at some point in our lives we decide it’s time to settle down, start a family, get a normal 9-5 job and buy a house (or whatever settling down might mean to you), we’ll know that then–and only then–was the right time for us to do so. Any other time wouldn’t have been right. It wouldn’t have sat right in our psyche, it would have nagged at us forever. And we know there are many people who will regret the fact that they missed their chance to try, and we simply refuse to be one of them.


The Difference Between Us And Them


Throwing yourself into a creative pursuit often involves a huge amount of sacrifice and intense emotional investment. Anyone who’s recorded an album, made a movie, written a novel or committed to any sort of large-scale project of personal expression probably understands what a drain it is, how every day spent working on it takes two days off your life in the best and worst ways, and how it feels like you’ve just put yourself through hell in order to create something truly satisfying. Many of us have been to that extreme of putting ourselves on display in a moment of pure vulnerability and lived to tell the tale of glory.

The difference between most people and the type of person I’m referring to here is this: the average person puts themselves through hell and back, emerges and says, “That was ridiculous and intense. I’m really glad I went out of my comfort zone, put myself out there and accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I’m proud of myself. I’m satisfied, but I’m not sure I ever want (or need) to do that again.”

But those of us with a few screws loose say: “That was ridiculous and intense. I’m really glad I went out of my comfort zone, put myself out there and accomplished what I set out to accomplish. I’m proud of myself. Let’s do that all again, right away.”

Because we need it. It’s the only way to scratch the itch. And that’s the difference.