Do we have to sacrifice our passions and creativity to fit into the already established societal economic mold?
I’m sure that you’ll assume that my answer to this question is NO. Otherwise, why the heck would I write this? Why would I ask it at all?
Well, this question really bothered me while growing up. I wasn’t around a big city, where people seem to make a living doing random seemingly made-up professions, as long as you’re really good at it. I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere either, where I could just work with my hands and farm and think of life as a self-sustaining responsibility and naturally beautiful cycle that I could foster and grow from in the simple life. I had a little bit of both, but I saw no place for myself. Granted, I feel basically the same way today, I think I’m just more experienced and less cynical.
I’ve always been creative…
..that is to say, I’ve always created things that didn’t exist previously. I would draw non-stop, had an interest in photography from a young age, took art/photo classes, painted, made videos with friends, built legos, played piano and guitar for hours a day, made claymations, etc. It was just as much about the process as the final result. I simply enjoyed creating, but I saw no place in which my interests in the “real world” would serve me.
By the time I went to college, I just went for an Applied Arts degree because it seemed like the only thing to do that was creative and somewhat interesting. I still remember how out-of-place I felt on my first day. Keep in mind that I had been homeschooled through middle school and high school as well, so being back in a classroom atmosphere was bizarre for me. It’s not like I was a complete anti-social recluse, but I wasn’t exactly the ADD class clown standing-on-his-desk-chair that I had once been in grade school. They were teaching us about photoshop, illustrator, indesign, all those programs. I had touched a Mac about 3 times in my life at that point, and had 0 experience in any of these areas. Everyone’s answer to “why are you here?” seemed so logical because they had a clear vision of how to use these programs, but also what the purpose of them really are. My answer was simply that I liked to draw. Immediately I thought I was in the wrong place. But nowhere else seemed like the right place, so I stuck it out.
I switched my major a year later, switched it back, put my head down, created what I felt like and tried to have fun with it. I look back now and think about the mock logo designs, fake websites, brochures, video presentations, photography, etc. and think of how crappy everything I made was. It’s easy to feel that way with any type of art, but I wasn’t presenting my best work. I was scraping by, but you know what – I was getting A’s – so I didn’t care. I was creating complete nonsense for made-up companies and I think most people in the class thought I was insane. I used illustrator as a literal drawing tool instead of an actual design platform, and created hellish Dr. Suess-like characters from my subconscious.
I was just being myself.
I got along with few, matured in my own environment, and got a lot of “uhhh, what?” type of reactions to most things I would say. I didn’t care too much for the mundane, the basic, the traditional, the facades, and I still don’t. But I treated the world as a play thing, as an absurd atomic molecular vortex of cosmic nonsense, rather than something precious to behold and conduct yourself properly within – it’s a gift, not a curse.
Anyway, I got by.
I graduated, was on the deans list, but didn’t want to continue my degree, didn’t really want to keep going to school, and didn’t know what I wanted to do. I felt no closer to a career than I had when I started. I freelanced for a little while, much to my professor’s dismay. They saw something special in me and tried to encourage me towards more schooling and finding expertise in my industry. But even in the few years I learned the adobe programs and where they really fit in the business world, I saw no place for my silliness, and really didn’t feel like getting into crazy debt like most of my friends, only to have the much feared typical “office job”. Everyone was freaking out in their early 20s, thinking that they’re going to choose their life-long career, get an education, and make a ton of money and be happy forever. It’s a lot of pressure. I’ve never done well with pressure. So I shrugged it off and kept living and stayed apathetic. I felt great when I got a freelance design gig here and there, but still had to have a steady job, so I worked about 3 of them, mostly in the culinary industry, none of which were high paying or had long-term potential, but they were fairly mindless and so it worked for me.
Suddenly I’m in my mid 20s and I realize I’ve spent so much time thinking there’s no place for my creative mind to actually make money – so I’ve pursued very little in that area. I had met Jed, my now boss – and he funneled some design work my way which was great. I wrote and acted in some video work for Votary, I made random videos, and continued my musical passions in bands. I decided the music industry was where I’d find fulfillment. But I ended up running into the same problem there – nobody cares. Nobody wants to hear my music. It’s weird, abrasive, loud, and who really makes a living with that? Nobody wants to see my drawings either, they don’t make sense, even if I sold one – is that what I want to do? I guess I’ll keep designing stupid logos and websites for businesses I do not care about and hope one of my actual passions pan out one day.
Votary is getting more business, and I’m finding that editing video work, and being creative in small ways that actually do pay me is more satisfying than making gourmet sandwiches day in and day out for a small hourly rate. “What am I doing?” I live with my parents, I’m 24, I barely make enough money but am not motivated to make any more, but something has to change. I quit my day jobs, and I just started showing up at the Votary office. I told Jed – when and if you have work for me, I will be here. It was truly a leap of faith for me. I felt that if I’m meant to do something in the arts and if there is a place for me, maybe this will be an open door, maybe this will at least propel me towards something other than what I know. Maybe I should take some steps forward and be open to what comes, and start being hopeful.
It was pretty crazy of me, I know.
I suddenly drained most of my savings, and got real desperate for any work at all. The passion was waning, and the practical took over. But you know what, at least I was using my degree right? haha. Eventually Jed realized I was going to keep showing up so he better make me an offer – I mean come on – this guy has some work ethic – he’s making no salary and keeps showing up hoping there’s some work to do. He was even giving me internal marketing design jobs just to keep me busy, and I was happy to do it. We clearly weren’t getting enough work at that point to justify keeping me busy full time, but there’s an area he did need help in – sales. I thought he was joking, me being a salesman? Yeah OK man. I disliked talking to people, found most people uninteresting, hate small-talk, and words like strategy, tactics, pipelines and CRM were not in my vocabulary and I didn’t care to change that. But hey, it’s a job, and it’s….creative?
I thought I’d be able to actually utilize my degree here and be creative. I don’t care about designing anymore logos though. I don’t care about your website, and I really just want to make badass videos and movies and music. So I tried my best. I cold called, cold emailed, tried to implement systems with our small team. Jed even took me on my first warm meeting and basically handed me the sale. That project was for a website and video. It was one of our first really genuine brand stories, because we decided to focus less on what they do and how beautiful the work was (it was for a woodworking brand) and focus on the owner, his personality, and his story. This is what was naturally interesting to us, and turned out to be the most successful thing we could do for the brand. Something began switching in our minds, and it wasn’t just us. I watched the Simon Sinek video about starting with why. (https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action?language=en )
It really changed our perspective. People don’t care about what you do, they care about your story – why you do it. This is what I actually cared about too. I care about stories. I care about people ripping down their barriers, and just being themselves. Stop talking about how great your company is, and just tell me how it began and what really gets you out of bed each day. Votary transitioned from a full-service marketing agency that would take basically anything, to what we all really are passionate about – filmmaking. Films contain almost every form of art and passion that I’ve always loved – visual art, photography, acting, movement, writing, stories, and music. It’s the ultimate storytelling medium. The ultimate piece of art.
…..so how can I take all that and create value for other people while making good money? Well, we’re still figuring out some of the details. But the shift started with focusing less on what we think people want, and creating what really interests us as creatives. People don’t know what they want, they just know they need marketing, they need their message to hit home with people. It’s our job to hear them out, to treat them as individuals, so part of that is getting to know them personally and hearing their story. Then we have to make sure we’re not shoving them in a box with all our other clients – we’re creating something custom for them that only they can truly benefit from, because their biggest value is what they already have. So we can take what they already have and create something truly unique and beautiful while utilizing our skills and passions to do so. Our clients want us to pour ourselves into the work. Why would you hire a creative team to just spit out the same old trendy drag and drop video or typical looking logo or whatever it is? Well, brands do it all the time.
So back to my question…
“Do we have to sacrifice our passions and creativity to fit into the already established societal economic mold?” It’s a trick question I guess. The culture is changing constantly, technology and communication changes, business changes, the economy fluctuates, society grows and slows down and speeds up. People always want to connect though. We always want stories. We all want true inspiration. We all want unique entertainment. The change usually happens when people who stop caring what others think, just be themselves and create something entirely their own. Technological advancements, scientific discoveries, art that pushes culture forward – none of that is driven by desperately seeking the newest trend. It’s driven by creating the trend for yourself. Seeking truth and finding what’s in your heart already will be truly long lasting.
When Votary started making what would be most interesting to us, and what we want to see put out in the world, we started getting more business from people who appreciated what we were doing, and understand the value of it. The authentic brand story, the down-to-earth realness, the beautiful film-quality cinematography, natural lighting, etc. – even feature and short film work – it all points back to aiming for something genuine and something that we’re truly passionate about. Now we even have internal lists of personal passion projects that we want to create, aside from our work with brands. It’s a process and I’m excited to see where things go.
So don’t be like me when I was 24.
Don’t assume that you know the way the world works. Don’t assume that there’s no place for you. Don’t assume that your passion will be snuffed out in the “real world”. This is mostly writing for myself, because this is something I have to remind myself of often. If there’s something that you want to see or hear that doesn’t exist in the world yet – find others who feel that gap as well, and take steps towards making it happen together. Don’t lose heart as so many have these days. Don’t lie to yourself. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t stop creating from that passionate place, because the world hasn’t seen what’s in your soul yet, but what would it be like if they did?