Worker Ant (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Minimum Wage)
I’ve blogged about how reconciling steady income versus my art has been the central struggle for most of my adult life, one that contributed to my divorce and nearly all the upheaval of the past five years.
The conventional minded people in my life used to say I was just picky, or lazy, or just never satisfied with anything I was doing. Maybe that was slightly true, but definitely not the whole picture. Everyone gets the blahs at their work, even artists. Especially artists.
What I felt was stronger than a constant case of the Mondays: being a full-time worker ant was just not for me. Of course, you still need money to live, but there are alternatives to full-time, 9 to 5 work to pay your bills, alternatives that I’m more open to now than before.
Where I’ve been making my mistake of late is in hedging all of my expectations of success on one or two projects at a pop. Convergence may not do well at all. It may be years until I get massive success at writing. And I need to be okay with that.
Eat, Pray, Love was Elizabeth Gilbert’s fourth book: the three prior to that were critically acclaimed, but weren’t nearly as well known. And in between submitting Eat, Pray, Love to the world and waiting for the massive revenues that would come from it, Liz was practically broke and, at the time, had no idea how big it would be. That didn’t stop her from writing Committed, the next part of the story started in EPL.
So many examples, so I’ll leave it there with that one, because it shows me that all I have to do is do what I love, regardless of anything else I’m doing.
As for money in between, I need to make peace with being a worker ant. In fact, I feel more at ease with it now than ever, because I am clear that this is not my whole life purpose, but only a part of it.
Does that mean I can now go back to full-time work? Perhaps, so long as the job itself is flexible to accommodate the occasional audition and shoot date for my acting, and the eventual book tour for my writing. Really, though, it’s far more likely I’ll find something part time.
This means breaking a few “rules” for success I’ve internalized since college. It means not applying to companies that expect a full-time career commitment. It means ignoring prestige and position in favour of functionality and flexibility with my art.
It means seeking only jobs that excite and energize me, not just the ones I can do, where I can serve with excellence, and where the employer is aware, and doesn’t care, that I have big dreams outside of the shop.
It means opening up multiple streams of income – freelance, acting, publication, part-time work, temping – rather than one single one, and integrating them all into a whole, rather than segregating them in my mind.
Finally, it means not identifying “success” with any job or income level or money amount, but rather with my own happiness with life. This is tough: even writing this now, I don’t quite believe it, but it is within reach, something to aspire to.
Success in art, defined as fame and fortune, is awesome, but it can’t be the only reason we do what we do.
Art is something that we’d do for free, even if it means surviving by being a worker ant elsewhere. Being a worker ant is just a part of it all, and as the cliche goes, we are always greater than the sum of our parts.