Got a couple of these yesterday. Sorry, sometimes my rants lack any actually useful advice. Here goes.
Now, the Alan Watts quote should be taken with a grain of salt for a couple reasons. One, he’s speaking as a Zen Buddhist and not as a career guidance counselor. (Why anyone would let a Zen Buddhist do any guidance counseling is its own lulzy question. SNL writers take note - lobbing you softballs here). Two, this quote is taken from the 1970’s, so the educational climate was very different than it was today. There were way less people who wanted to pursue artistic endeavors back then. In the mid 1970’s, that started to change a lot more. Film schools, for example, started to experience a giant swell in applicants as auteurs like Coppola, Scorcese, and Lucas experienced fresh-outta-color-sync success with box office hits such as The Godfather, Raging Bull, and Howard The Duck.
Check out these numbers released by The Economist:
In 2009 the U.S. graduated 89,140 students in the visual and performing arts, more than in computer science, math and chemical engineering combined and more than double the number of visual and performing arts graduates in 1985.
Also, here is a chart from this study:
Now, aside from the obnoxiousness of the headline of the graph - look at how strange it is that Science and Math have stayed virtually the same while Arts and Communication have more than doubled!
That study goes on to opine:
There is nothing wrong with the arts, psychology and journalism, but graduates in these fields have lower wages and are less likely to find work in their fields than graduates in science and math. Moreover, more than half of all humanities graduates end up in jobs that don’t require college degrees and these graduates don’t get a big college bonus.
Just some things to think about.
OK NOW HERE COMES OPINION INSTEAD OF RANT TIME:
The line between career and hobby is a strange one. On one end, doing something that you love can be an incredible source of joy. However, it is irresponsible to think that doing something long enough will just eventually bring in money for you. So unless you are a Zen Buddhist who believes that we should shed all materialism and live free of our dependence on money, this will be something you (and later, your family) will probably have to deal with at some point.
On the other end, maintaining something as a hobby has an incredible sense of freedom with it. There have been times, for example, when we thought about putting ads on our blog. Even though this would have only made us a couple bucks a month, I always resisted this idea because I didn’t want to stray from the mentality that this was just a place for me and George to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. It acts as our creative outlet when our jobs get stressful. It wasn’t something I wanted to start depending on. (note: not a stance against blog monetization in general.)
A bit ago, a good friend sent me a link to a blog post by Seth Godin about the differences between working for your passion or keeping it a a side thing. It is worth a read on its own, but here is an interesting part:
A friend who loved music, who wanted to spend his life doing it, got a job doing PR for a record label. He hated doing PR, realized that just because he was in the record business didn’t mean he had anything at all to do with music. Instead of finding a job he could love, he ended up being in proximity to, but nowhere involved with, something he cared about. I wish he had become a committed school teacher instead, spending every minute of his spare time making music and sharing it online for free. Instead, he’s a frazzled publicity hound working twice as many hours for less money and doing no music at all.
I would say that my basic level advice would be the following:
1. Do what you love, but if it can’t pay the bills, don’t expect it to! I know that sounds really discouraging. If your parents are trying to tell you that a degree in the arts is irresponsible, its partly because they are old fashioned and partly because they are absolutely right. If you want to pursue arts anyways, GO FOR IT. I hope that your parents will be as encouraging, loving, and supportive as mine were.
2. Recognize the difference between a passion and a talent. A talent is something that people will (hopefully) want to employ you for. A passion is something you do for yourself and doesn’t necessarily prompt involvement/interest from other people.
3. Instead of making it a decision between only money or only passion, really try to explore where the paths cross. A bad example might be the one Seth mentioned above, about the kid who took a job in PR because it meant that he worked for a label. A good example might be someone like my friend Greg whose passion for music gets explored now by working for a music house where he recommends musical direction for tv shows and commercials yet still has time to devote to his side project of starting a small record label that restores/repackages lost folk artists. There are many careers that incorporate things you already know and love in ways that keep it challenging and exciting. Chances are that you don’t even know about half of them yet, especially if you are a piece of shit teenager.
— If you don’t decide to go for a future in arts. —
4. Have fun with what you do! 2013 is an amazing year to engage with a hobby. Communities like tumblr give poets, writers, photographers, and artists of all types an amazing platform for self-expression. On top of that, consumer-level electronics and software is all available really cheaply. You have access to the same equipment that all of your heroes use.
5. Look for a job that will challenge you but not ask too much of you. You will feel pretty burned out if you are coming home at 8 or 9 every night and don’t feel like your energy is being put into building a future that you are truly excited for. Again, there is no shame in having a decent job. I bet you will be happier than most people.
— if you do decide to go for a future in the arts —
6. Start looking for industry contacts really early. If you are in college, you should start looking for internships by your junior year. Don’t stay there for too long, branch out, find something new. Don’t be too proud to really beg people for jobs that pay next-to-nothing. Take advantage of the time in your life when eating ramen and barely doing laundry can be worn as a badge of honor rather than a badge of shame. Don’t just answer bulletin calls at the alumni center, talk to your professors and ask them where the best places are. Walk in and send someone an email. Get really weird with it.
7. Try to be more loyal to your relationships than to your work. No one wants to work with someone who considers themselves some kind of genius. Chances are, if they want that, its because they consider you a genius. If they already consider yourself a genius its probably because there was a time, 15 years ago, where you were very hard working and very decent to everyone around you. Building those kind of work relationships will help you maintain the integrity of your work in the long run, not the other way around.
Anyways, just as some sort of disclaimer, I don’t consider myself an authority on this subject by any means, and this post is certainly far from exhaustive. I just know a lot of you guys are really trying to figure out what lies ahead. My only advice is that you really try to limit yourself from romanticizing anything too intensely. The biggest mistake in that Watts quote / comic from yesterday is that it makes it seem as if only following your dreams will lead you to a place of happiness and fulfillment. In my opinion, thats a very irresponsible thing to communicate to young people. That’s all.
Feel free to email me if you want to discuss anything further.