Recently a conversation with Jason VanOrden and a blog post by Mark McGuiness made me reflect on my own interests.
Sometimes I’m motivated by a desire to help other artists. Sometimes I’m motivated by how fun something looks or sounds. I’m also motivated by not wanting to be bored. I learn things quickly and tire of them easily. I’m always looking for a new challenge.
Mostly, though, I’m motivated by not wanting to be poor.
Growing Up Poor Sucks
I grew up poor, (but let’s be honest – I mean poor in the American Trailer Park White Trash kind of way, not in the starving to death 3rd world way) and that colored a lot of how I act in life.
I used to feel like everyone had it better than me. They had brand-name clothes, fancy hair, and cool cars. I shopped at Wal-Mart and got my hair done at Supercuts. I had a big chip on my shoulder too. I wanted to prove to everyone that even though I wasn’t as wealthy, I was still as smart, funny, and gosh-darn-good as the rest of them.
The problem is, when you’re competing against people who don’t know they’re competing against you, all you do is become narcissistic and egotistical. I ended up having a lot of shallow friendships in high school. A few really good friends, but I was the guy who flitted from one friendship to the other without establishing a lot of deeper meaning. Everyone called me a social butterfly.
Then came graduation and I left for two years to serve as a full-time volunteer missionary for my church. I worked with the Chinese community in Vancouver, British Columbia. I had to work at various labor jobs the Summer before I left to pay for my trip. I had previously worked as a roofer, as a short-order cook at franchise restaurant chain, and as a laborer at a book bindery. Not exactly inspiring work for someone who aspired to be an performer.
I served two wonderful years as a missionary. One of the best experiences of my life. I learned how to speak Mandarin Chinese, but I really learned how to serve people and how to work hard. I’m a relatively smart guy and things generally come pretty easy to me, but learning Chinese was just work. It was hard. I had to learn how to buckle down and actually study – something that I didn’t get from our public school system.
After returning home I attended college, all on my own dime (well, that and the student loans that I’m still paying off). I discovered what it really meant to be self-reliant.
I Learned How to Hustle.
I worked sales jobs in college. I sold cellphones and coupon books. I gave away gum at rock concerts. I drove a golf cart around campus putting up posters for the Student Union. I helped organize concerts, plays, and other events. After I learned a little about acting, I started teaching acting classes for kids. I worked my tail off just to get by.
Then I met Rick. Rick was in his 50’s, and he had been a serial entrepreneur for his whole life. My wife asked me the other day, “What’s a serial entrepreneur?” They’re not someone who starts up an off-brand breakfast meal (heh, I love dumb jokes). A serial entrepreneur is someone who builds a business, makes it profitable, and then sells that business to someone else. He’d done it a half-dozen times or more.
Rick totally blew my mind. He wasn’t scraping to get by. He wasn’t begging for scraps. He drove a fancy car, had a family, and unlike my memory of those jerky rich kids from high school, he was a really nice guy. He taught me a lot as I worked for him. Mostly he changed my perception of what it was to be a starving artist.
Being Hungry is a Choice
Artists lead a funny life. We purposefully choose to do something that is incredibly fulfilling and at the same time emotionally exhausting. The work of creation requires sacrifice, focus, and utter dedication. We can soar to the highest heights, and we can also descend to the deepest depths.
What we don’t have to sacrifice, however, is financial stability. We don’t have to hustle forever just to get by – instead, we can hustle for a while to build something bigger.
The thing about artists is that they really do have an advantage in business, on the Internet or otherwise. There’s something about already having the ability to create, to suffer for what you’re creating, that makes artists amazing entrepreneurs. I’ve seen it over and over again – artists who build things that are so awesome that they make my heart ache a little bit. Not just painting or performances, but also businesses that add real value to the world, that change not only the artist’s life, but also the lives of those around them.
For most artists all it takes is a little mentor. Rick was my mentor for a little while. He was a sharp guy and I learned a ton from him while working for him. I benefited from his experience and mistakes. He changed my attitude enough that I can honestly say that without him, there would be no TheAbundantArtist.com – I’d still be out there begging for scraps; hustling for dollars.
A mentor helped me out a ton. I’ve always hoped that I would be able to do that for other artists. That’s part of why I started TheAbundantArtist.com – I’m passionate about helping artists learn the skills they need to break their own poverty cycle.
I know, however, that I’m not the only mentor out there for artists. For some people, I’m probably not even the best. I’d recommend taking a look at Brian Clark, Mark McGuinness and their team over at Lateral Action. Yesterday they opened registration on their amazing creative Entrepreneur Course (affiliate link). Take a look at it and sign up for it if you want. If not, then find a mentor somewhere.
It’s worthwhile to build something that can take you places. You just have to learn how to do it. It’s made a huge difference in my life.
For the past year I’ve been working really hard on building my business so that I don’t have to work for anyone else. Later this month I start rehearsals for a play that I’m pretty excited about. I can go to rehearsals and not have to worry about working late – I’m my own boss now.
That’s an incredible feeling.