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Making Ends Meet: Doing What It Takes to Keep the Dream Alive

by Taylor Slattery | July 22, 2020

In terms of fulfillment, I can think of nothing better than spending all day doing what you love and being paid to do it. I would imagine this is the motivation of most people who end up working in creative fields. The abundance of both information and opportunity found online have made creative careers an enticing option, especially when we see that so many others have found a way to make it happen.

Most creatives can cite the people or things that first inspired them to start their creative journey. It’s easy to romanticize the idea of being like our idols but it’s important to remember that we’re only seeing the tail end of their story. Success isn’t guaranteed in creative fields and the journey isn’t always linear. For every James Jean, there are thousands of other artists who never made it. Maybe they failed to navigate obstacles in their career, or they got burned out and gave up along the way. The path forwards isn’t always clear. We need to be resilient and flexible in order to respond to unexpected changes and capitalize on any opportunities that present themselves along the way.

Depending on your goals and the approach you choose to take, reaching the point where creative work becomes your sole form of income may take longer than you anticipate. In fact, it may never become your sole form of income, and that’s OK too. There are a number of reasons why that might be the case. If you’re used to creating for yourself, you may find that working for others and making creative decisions with their taste in mind rather than your own stifles your creativity.

It may also be the case that you’ve romanticized the idea of being creative for a living but the reality of the situation has sucked the magic out of the process. Rather than let this sour something you loved enough to pursue as a career, take the initiative to step back and restore some balance. That may mean doing some non-creative work to keep the time that you do spend creating special. It could even be as simple as working part-time at a cafe to connect with others and cope with the loneliness of being a freelancer.

If, on the other hand, creative work is something you aim to do full time, depending on your field, it may take a while. So what do you do in the meantime? Whatever it takes.

What attracted you to working in a creative field? What are your goals as a creative? Where do you want to be in five years? Identify these things and use them to guide your decisions moving forward. Decide where you want to go and start taking small steps to get there, but understand that the destination may change over time.

Maybe your goal is to have full autonomy over your schedule so you’re free to travel and work from anywhere in the world. There are a number of different ways to make this a reality.

Perhaps you start by working at an agency. You get your foot in the door, start to learn the ropes and build a name for yourself. Eventually, you’ve learned how the business operates from the back end and built strong enough relationships with clients that you feel comfortable enough to jump ship and try out the freelance life. Your reputation allows you to charge more and you can afford to take on fewer clients, freeing up time to travel and see the world.

An alternate path might be building your audience from scratch. You start a YouTube channel, and your audience slowly grows with you over time. Eventually, you cultivate an audience that is familiar with you and receptive to your work. You can then leverage this by marketing a product. This may be your services as a teacher, consulting, or even goods like t-shirts and stickers. You’ve now got multiple streams of revenue and your work is entirely online, enabling you to live and work anywhere in the world.

There are multiple ways to reach the same destination, each with their own obstacles and advantages. Unfortunately, there is no definitive guide to follow because the way forward is different for everyone. That said, look to the people who are where you want to be & figure out how they got there. If it helps, try to model your journey after theirs and modify it to suit your individual needs. As long as you know where you’re going, even if you make a wrong turn or an unexpected detour, you can always reroute.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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