Five women personal finance bloggers — all of whom have worked in creative professions — have joined to write this series about being an artist and making money. Please see the end of this post for links to other posts in the series.

When I was a theater major in college, one of my teachers begged us “If you can do anything else with your life, then do that…life in the arts is difficult and not very lucrative.”

It was a stern warning for us and a reminder that in school we were in a safe bubble and that the “real world” was going to be tough.

As any artist or creative person knows, it’s not that you choose it, but it chooses you. It’s something you can’t avoid, something you can’t imagine living without.

Though I didn’t become the next Meryl Streep or Whitney Houston as my childhood self had imagined, I couldn’t shake theater completely. So I went into arts education as an administrator and later teacher.

Though I’m not teaching now, writing fills my creative void (yes, even if it’s about money). It helps me think about things differently. It gives me an outlet for my thoughts. There are so many ways to tell a story. And surprisingly, through my creativity I’ve been able to double my income and break free from the ‘broke’ trap that I thought I was destined for.

I used to think that as an artist you had to struggle. Being broke was part of the deal and there was really no way out. I thought that money was evil because it was the great divide between rich and poor.

Over the years, my thoughts about money and being an artist have changed. I now realize that you don’t have to struggle to make a living based on your creativity. I’ve also learned that being a creative person can actually help you make more money and make you better equipped at being your own boss. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned.

When I was younger, I used to worry how I would make a living (and I think my parents did, too). But I always figured it out. I made it work.

Now, more than ever, I can see that my creativity is my greatest asset. Being a writer means having to pitch new ideas week in and week out. It means coming up with a new angle or saying something differently than others. As a business owner, it means venturing out and doing other things that I think are awesome, like hosting unique events.

So, what am I saying with all of this? What I wish I knew earlier was how valuable my creativity is. How marketable it could be. How much you can leverage your skills into doing something else.

When I was a teacher, I told all my students that everyone is creative, because I genuinely think everyone is. Not in the same way, but we all have something we are good at — where we can express our ideas and flourish.

Whether you consider yourself an “artist” or not (because let’s face it, that term comes with a lot of baggage), you are a creative person.

You are unique. No one has your story. No one has your voice. So cultivate it. Don’t be shy. Don’t let others silence the parts of you that speak the loudest. Don’t be afraid to walk alone on a path — it means you are brave.

When it comes to creativity and money, I think the two are intertwined. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. It doesn’t have to be “selling out” if you’re an artist and make money. It doesn’t make you greedy or selfish to want to make money either.

These are the things I wish I knew before. But now that I know, I feel empowered to use my creativity, my voice, and my ideas to create, help others, and build wealth.

What else should young artists know about money? Check out the other posts in this series:

Dear Artists: You Can Profit From Your Creative Skills

Dear, Artist: A Little Goes a Long Way

Dear Artist: Vocation Does Not Equal Exploitation

Dear Artist: It’s Not the Struggle That’s Interesting

Melanie

Melanie is a freelance writer currently living in Portland, Oregon. She is passionate about education, financial literacy, and empowering people to take control of their finances. She writes about breaking up with debt, freelancing, and side hustle adventures at DearDebt.com.

Currently she puts more than 50% of her income towards debt, while living a frugal, fun life. In addition to her love of personal finance, art and music, she is also a karaoke master. Follow the adventure @DearDebtBlog.

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12 responses to “Dear Artist, Your Creativity is Your Greatest Asset”

  1. I love this — especially the list of things you learned in the arts that are applicable. I have a similar list, I think; working in the arts definitely taught me how to talk to people, and since I’m naturally an introvert that’s been really helpful. So has the multitasking and the “insane work ethic,” hee. I hate that we undervalue ourselves so much — and love that some of us are breaking free of that paradigm.

    • Melanie says:

      It’s so easy to undervalue ourselves because the arts are not generally regarded as something valuable. But they are used so often! I think if we can all encourage people to stop working for free and value themselves, things will get better.

  2. It’s so interesting how many soft skills you learn from that world that can be parlayed into what you’re doing now. I think the sweet spot with a job or career is somehow marrying something that pays well, but you can also use that creativity, even if it wasn’t in the form you originally thought.
    Tonya@Budget and the Beach recently posted…Dear Artist: A Little Goes a Long WayMy Profile

  3. Jessia says:

    I love how you have been able to take so many skills from your creativity. I agree that every person is creative in some way and learning to harness that creativity can be really beneficial. I also think that a lot of people feel like their creativity is a burden in some way or another. Hopefully those people will be able to see the benefits their creativity can provide.
    Jessia recently posted…Why I Quit My Shopping Ban 4 Months EarlyMy Profile

  4. Yes, to all of this. The skill set, the work ethic, the creativity – SO valuable in the real world!

  5. Money definitely put a road block between me and going after the dream of acting. Mostly because I graduated in the black and feared going into the red too much. A regret I’ll probably always have, but I agree that the same creativity gets channeled different ways now (also writing). And a theatre degree never goes to waste! So many great life and professional skills learned. Who knew so many people were terrible at public speaking and don’t like attention?! 😉
    Broke Millennial recently posted…The True Cost of an Impulse Purchase: a Broke Millennial ConfessionMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Money can get in the way, but it doesn’t mean you can’t use your creativity in other ways. I agree that a theater degree will never go to waste. I learned so much!

  6. Colin Ashby says:

    This is something so many people have a hard time grasping (myself included). They alway think in terms of either/or

    either get a “good” soul-sucking job that pays the bills

    or

    follow your calling and be broke.

    Your journey out of huge debt and launching your career definitely showed me how things are possible!

    As Broke Millennial said, a theatre degree never goes to waste!
    Colin Ashby recently posted…2016 Words, Inspiration, and ThoughtsMy Profile

    • Melanie says:

      Right?! It always feels like it’s one or the other. You can do things differently. It’s tough, but possible. And I don’t think my degrees were a waste 🙂

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