Thursday, September 11, 2014

quit your day job? maybe not.

A couple of months ago I was asked for advice on quitting a day job as a teacher to become a full-time potter. I've been screwing around with a response, trying to couch my answer in such a way that I don't squash anyone's dream, or offer stupid pat answers that you can get anywhere. In my draft queue, I have 3 posts al lined up and ready to publish that answer this question, and I can't quit put my finger on the button because I think all the posts basically soft-pedal the answer and make for a sucky read.

I can't base the answer on my own experience because I think my experience is not the norm, and there are a lot of reasons for that. For starters, I have never had a job that gave me health insurance, paid days off, a retirement plan, or hope for career advancement. For me to quit and pursue pottery was not a sacrifice of any kind of security.

Also, I am very talented at what I do. It was clear almost immediately when I started working with clay that I had a gift, and I advanced far more quickly than any of my classmates through the basics and up the learning curve. I had a job as an assistant within 18 months, because I was good enough to assist a professional potter that quickly. I have four close friends who make a living at pottery, so one may be fooled into thinking that anyone who is good at pottery can make a living at it. The thing is, these four friends are also supernaturally talented. Their work is copied and emulated by ceramic artists all over the country, if not the world. They are outliers.  I am an outlier.

I also know a few people who make a living at pottery who are maybe not the most talented or have the most artistic vision, but they work harder than anyone else. They endlessly promote themselves through social media, maintain multiple websites for selling, are constantly researching to figure out what to make next, go to every show they can get into, take every opportunity to show their work whether it pays or not, are expert production potters, and are in their studios 50-60 hours a week.

And by the way, the people I know who are supernaturally talented work this hard too.

To start your own art-based business takes a certain type of person to succeed, and you need to have a hard and honest look at yourself to know if you are that person. For someone considering quitting a teaching job, you have to ask yourself, "Did I become a teacher to answer a calling to teach, or did I become a teacher because it's a safe gig with lots of time off?" It's one or the other. Teaching is challenging, and people only do it because they love it, or because the few known perks outweigh the difficulties. If you have a calling to teach, it would be a shame to quit, because you will likely never be as good or bring as much to the world as a potter that you will as a teacher. If you teach because it was a safe gig and you couldn't figure out what else to commit to, then I would say you are likely not going to enjoy the pressure, insecurity, uncertainty, lack of time off, and hard physical labor of a full-time pottery studio.

There are a lot of self-promoting people out there with a book or program to sell you who will tell you that the best thing you could ever do for yourself is quit that day job, follow your passion, and that anyone can do it.  I will even admit to buying into this type of thinking in the past, and there may be some blog posts to prove it. But it's not true. Not everyone can do it, and it's not necessarily the best way to live either. I'm not even going to go into the pitfalls turning your passion into profit.  I've written about that plenty of times before. But there is nothing wrong with being an artist, and having a day job. In fact, thinking you are not an artist because you have a day job is a cop-out and buying into someone else's definition of an artist. Maybe the culture says that you are not a real artist unless you are killing yourself pursuing it full-time, but the culture is full of shit and doesn't know what it's talking about when it comes to your life.

And I don't know what I'm talking about when it comes to your life either. So if you really want to become a full-time potter or artist of any kind, bank as much money as you can, make a plan, build up your resilience to failure, and fucking do it already.