General / 10 June 2016

Passion versus Opportunity : Making the Right Choice

If you think that your passion equals your vocation,let me tell you right now; it rarely does.

For the last couple of years I have been trying to become a succesful self-supporting freelance artist. I graduated in 2013. Three years later I end up working full-time with a new job as a kitchen-aid in a restaurant where the hours are long and my weekends as I know them no longer exist.

Before that, I worked several years as a partime mail-man by day and bartender by night. Although both jobs had their merits, the meagre salaries did not provide enough income to support myself and I  was struggling to find work as an artist. I was reliant on my parents for financial support.

Every now and then there was an opportunity to do some artwork for a client. They were usually the same: I had to provide a test image without compensation or any guarantee of partnership. That's a strange way of doing business. You wouldn't do that with your local bakery now would you?  
Asside from a few exceptions I declined most jobs that I replied to in the first place. I knew I would just feel miserable working on them knowing the pay would be less compared to the same amount of work I put in serving drinks at the bar until 5:30 in the morning. 

My work just wasn't good enough for those well-paid freelance gigs that I thought I would be doing. I am no Noah Bradley even though I really wanted to be. No matter how passionate I felt about this, I just was not skilled enough. 

My freelance career has had some ups and downs, where one project paid well but most did not. And in the end I dind't really believe that they were going to help me 'break through'. My motivation for them was minimal and that reflected in the results. I wasn't happy about myself, my career as an artist or my work for a very long time.

Something had to change. So I decided to stop, which at first shaked my beliefs of being an artist. But I was reminded by Steven Pressfield's writing. I might be paraphrasing but in this book 'The War of Art', it says;  'Stopping implies the chance to start over again. Quitting means turning your back and never going back again.'  I would stop, regroup and find something more worthwhile.

As a young  kid I always wanted to work in a restaurant and prepare food. I loved Jamie Oliver's cooking shows and I eagerly wrote down his recipes in a notebook while I watched him do it. I had a good appetite for different kinds of food, and I loved the idea of being the one that prepared tasty dishes as easily as Jamie seemed to do. I told myself that one day, I would build and own a beach-side restaurant like the ones I used to dine with my parents during the summer holidays.

But as the years went by, so did my passion change. And I realised that painting pretty pictures seemed a lot more fun instead. I was going to follow my newfound passion and after my graduation in 2013 I wanted to develop my career as a freelance artist. Living the life of sitting in your pj's and working from home on any project, whenever it pleased me! That seemed like the best thing ever.

Right in the period where I started my trial month as kitchen-aid, I was asked by my ex-classmate Jan van Lamoen to work on his graduation project. I was thrilled to be asked because I knew he was the most competent game-designer of my class and he was very professional. He trusted me to provide the environments and characters for his graduation project. I felt humbled. ( Mostly because I thought I couldn't draw a proper face let alone design face expressions )

For two whole months I worked on his project, all the while juggling my job as mailman, bartender and newly found job at the restaurant. It was hell. In the end, the project was delayed quite severely, but it was done. And I received a contract for 6 months at the restaurant. I could quit my other two part-time jobs! I have already stopped working as a bartender ( finally! ) and yesterday I received a call that June 14th would hail my last day as a mailman.

The last two months I have learned more about myself than in the last six years. 

Doing what you're passionate about is not necessarily where your vocation lies. You can be passionate about one thing, but you might not be skilled enough. And that's the hard truth about me and my artwork. Because I look at my work and I see what other people are doing. They áre keeping a regular sketchbook, they áre working on their fundamentals, they áre attending life-drawing sessions, and so on. 

I have a lot of things to work on if I want to be a succesful artist ( and I still do! ) but it's okay to settle for less.  Mike Rowe puts it like this:  "Don't follow your passion. Pursue opportunity"  
And the truth is I feel okay about my current life. Yeah I'm not working my dream job from home, and my new job has long hours that include weekends,  but that doesn't mean I should be unhappy. 

I'm working a steady job that I wanted when I was a kid, and I actually enjoy that type of work too. I think I could be good at it. I have job security and a monthly income. And I still have time left during the week for  painting and drawing. I'm pretty sure I can still get better at that too! 

My project with Jan has proven to me that I can do more than I thought I could. ( Will post artwork soon when released! ) While I was shifting gears between each of those jobs, I rediscovered my passion for painting and drawing and I learned that I liked doing things I normally did not do, like painting characters.

I have a loving girlfriend who supports me. My family and friends support me and encourage me. I couldn't have done it without them.