I have a background in the arts, and have also worked in nonprofits my whole life, so I feel like I know a thing or two about being broke.
It’s no fun.
While many people may glorify the starving artist stereotype or the nonprofit slave stereotype, it’s not something that my partner or I aspire to be.
You’ve heard the stories about musicians living out of their cars, with the last $2 in their account, while writing the song that would propel them into wealth and fame.
Sometimes struggling can give you a different perspective on things and can create some beautiful art, music, etc. It brings out that feeling of really being alive.
While there are many successes out there that have fostered their creativity in a period of great duress, I would argue that being broke stifles creativity.
I know there are many aspects of creativity, and for this purpose I don’t want to merely focus on artistic creativity. I think there are many ways to be creative – thinking outside of the box, making things work with limited resources, using old things in new ways, etc. In fact, creativity is often born out of necessity. Don’t have something? Figure out how to make it! Don’t have the right ingredients? Figure something else out.
For me, I wish I could say my debt has made me more creative. I guess in a way it has, because it forced me to speak up and write about my experiences. I couldn’t stand the solitude and shame anymore. In general though, I often feel creatively stifled. I don’t want to sing, or write, or photograph – it all seems too luxurious right now while I am in hardcore debt repayment mode.
As a former arts educator in an area of extreme poverty, I used to wonder why none of the children were attending free art classes. FREE! Why weren’t people knocking down the doors to attend artistically enriching, life changing classes? Oh right, because when you are worried about paying your rent, have three jobs, don’t have a car, don’t speak English, have 10 people living in the house and are worried about where your next meal is coming from, maybe free art classes aren’t your first priority.
Granted my situation is not nearly as bad. I have shelter, food, and a job and I take advantage of many privileges I’m afforded. But I can’t shake this heavy weight of debt. It stifles my spirit and wants to keep me silent. It wants to kill the humanity I have left inside of me. Sometimes I am so focused on paying off debt, calculating my expenses or looking for that very-next-gig, I can’t see outside of that very narrow sphere. It’s never ending and because of that I’ve spent less time on learning languages, writing, creating images, singing, etc. I don’t want to hold myself back, but it’s hard to think about anything else, when I want to be debt free more than anything else.
If you think about it, it all makes sense. Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which pretty much states that you need to meet some basic needs like food, water and sleep before you can think about things like creativity and problem of solving.
I clearly don’t want to shut a part of myself off for 4 years and be creative later on. It just reminds me how many things have been on hold because of this debt. Dreams deferred and life goals on lay away, purchased for another day. Dreams seem like things that only happen in the future, but I am stuck with today.
I don’t mean to sound too dark— on the contrary, I’d like your help with brainstorming ideas on how to unclog my brain to let the ideas flow; to let go of my fear, to strengthen my focus. So far the only thing that has helped is meditation, which I need to be more disciplined about.
Let me know if you have any ideas. I also want to hear from you if you think being broke stifles or promotes creativity?