“If you can imagine yourself happy doing anything else, do that instead.”
That’s arguably the most common advice given to those pursuing a professional life in the arts. Knowing how difficult building a sustainable career in theater is first hand, I can honestly say it’s not a bad recommendation. In fact, I’m likely to give it out myself should a young high school hopeful approach me for advice.
Actually, scratch that. There are too many false assumptions in that sentence.
False Assumption #1: You can only choose one happiness
False Assumption #2: You can only pursue one career.
Somewhere along the line, both artists and professionals settled upon this idea of a singular income stream serving as their financial lifeline. Because of that restricted view, the approach to choosing a career has been falsely defined as an either/ or…
Either make a lot of money or do something that makes you happy.
Either choose the passion path or pursue an alternate happiness.
The result is a narrow view of pursuit.
That narrow view when surrounding the pursuit of passion, as it does for artists, often detracts from the passion itself.
For instance, in theater, the narrow view dictates that you dedicate your life to your art, and financially, you do only what you have to to get by in between. Giving yourself permission to explore a parallel career that would fulfill you financially and otherwise is seen by some artists as blasphemous- detracting from what should be the singular focus- the art.
And so, day after day many artists continue living the single-minded path, resigning themselves to the “starving” status quo and counting on a future breakthrough to make them happy and financially free. In that narrow approach however, the reality of the day-to-day wears on between artistic milestones, often turning passion into misery.
So while some may argue that the pursuit of something beyond the primary goal takes away from achieving it, I argue the opposite. How can I cultivate my passion and reach the next artistic milestone if the in-between is sucking away at my soul?
Diversity of Income, Diversity of Happiness
In giving myself permission to pursue my outside interests, I enrich my passion because I’m enriched as a person. Moreover, when those outside interests produce income, they provide an additional freedom from work that drains the spirit- artistic and otherwise.
“Do your passion work, then work to survive” is a false recipe and unsustainable in the long term. How can you be a thriving artist when you’re just working to scrape by?
Unless you make more than enough income to live off of your passion 100 percent of the time – you must spend time doing other things to pay the bills. Why not make those other income producing activities ones that interest you and provide fulfillment on your own terms rather than resigning yourself to soul crushing survival jobs that drain you?
Diversity of income can provide diversity of happiness. Cultivating parallel skill sets and income producing paths is not to take away from, but to add to opportunity. And while focus is undoubtedly an essential component in achieving any goal, too strong a focus can create so narrow an approach that it limits, constrains, and ultimately proves detrimental to the pursuit of passion, and more importantly – the pursuit of happiness.
After all, any passion pursuit, artistic or not, is born from the pursuit of happiness. In adopting the narrow view however, happiness too often becomes an afterthought if not crowded out altogether. The narrow view doesn’t leave enough room for the natural evolution and self-discovery that happens along the way. Blindly following the narrow path can mean losing track of happiness, losing track of passion, and missing the opportunities to re-cultivate both by staying closed to the alternatives – be they parallel or the beginning of a new journey altogether.
The Evolution of Passion and Alternate Options
People evolve and so there must be permission in place to allow dreams and paths to also evolve. I’m often asked if my journey as a writer and entrepreneur has detracted from or made the pursuit of my passion, theater, secondary. In interviews and conversations, people ask if having a backup plan B means taking away from or to subconsciously giving up on plan A. Again, this idea of either/or, this narrow view comes into play.
I say no, I don’t have to make that choice. Plan B is not an end. Plan B isn’t resigning yourself to failure. Plan B is only possibility. And the more possibilities I’m open to, the more opportunity I have to cultivate happiness through each and every one.
Getting so transfixed on one singular idea of what will make you happy that you fail to allow joy, fulfillment, and opportunity to come into your life leaves you far more prone to failure than having options.
I don’t have a plan B. I have a path with a lot of options on it- A, B, C, D – I could probably go through the entire alphabet. Each of those options accompany me in my life, running parallel and working in tandem, not only to pay the bills, but to foster the passion of one another and ultimately advance the happiness of the pursuit.
Related Reading: 4 Important Truths Behind “Pursuing Your Passion“