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How to Solve the Starving Artist’s Dilemma

By: Brian Kim - February 17, 2013

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There is a romantic idea floating out there that has been perpetuated throughout society which has caused a lot of mental anguish among those who desire to choose a different path in life.

It's the idea of going for your dream full force vs. just getting a "safe" job to pay the bills, which would be viewed as settling or selling out to "the man".

There are arguments for both sides.

You need money to survive, but if you get that job for money, the argument is that it's a sign you're not committed to your dream and you have less time and energy to focus on it.

Adding fuel to the fire is all the heroic stories you hear of people who quit everything and pursued their passion and have been wildly successful making money from it.

So what's the answer here?

Go for it all?

Play it safe?

The first thing to realize is all those heroic stories you hear about of people who have gone full force doesn't mean those are the only stories out there. Many roads lead to Rome. The reason why you don't hear about other stories is because they aren't as sexy. They don't stand out as much.

And even with those heroic stories, you'll find they had "supplies" before they went full force. It's the same thing that people forget when they cite Cortez and the burning of the ships. It's not like they left everything on the boat - food, supplies, weapons and burned all that and just went to war buck naked.


They had what they needed and then burned the boats.

So it seems from all this that it's OK to get a safe job to pay the bills and that it won't be selling out or settling and that it won't dampen your enthusiasm for your dream.

BUT there's a twist here - a twist that makes all the difference.

Whatever it is you truly want to do - your dream, it has to be predominately on your mind and the reason for wanting to do it can't be just about making money.


Because if it's just for money, then the job you take will take out some of the "hunger" for your dream so you'll end up not going as full force because you're already making money.

But more importantly, above all else, your dream has to be on your mind all the time.

You want to think about it. Spend as much time on it. Take as much action as you can on it.

A person who's found what they really want to do and spends as much time as they can on it vs. a person who doesn't know and just goes through the motions of life without any direction - it's a world of difference in terms of fulfillment.

And let's say the job doesn't pay that great, but it still won't really matter. The person who has a dream and is working on it doesn't have to eat filet mignon everyday. He/she doesn't have to wear expensive clothes or drive fancy cars. All of that is gravy. It's secondary. They're focusing on the meat - the dream

People who don't have a dream fall so easily into the trap of pursuing just gravy and as a result, find themselves figuratively malnourished.

But some people say that the person who doesn't have a job can concentrate full force on his/her dream.

But the starving artist is divided as well on thinking about how to pay the bills while pursuing their "art" just as how another person who has a job is divided in terms of time spent on the job and pursuing their "art".

The only difference is less financial anguish.

It's true J.K. Rowling was unemployed while writing Harry Potter, but people forget that she was on welfare so there was some money coming in to support her, however little it was at the time.

Now should a person choose to get a job and pursue their dream on the side and then comes to a point where in order to really realize the dream, they need to quit their job and go full force - then yes, that's the way to go.

When that point will be is up to the individual though.

But there's no shame in getting a job to pay the bills while you pursue your dream on the side.

And here's another thing.

If you make a ton of money from your dream, whatever it may be - from writing the next great novel to building that awesome invention, great.

And if not, that's OK too.

Because it's not about the money.

It's about pursuing your dream and getting it out there so the world can benefit from it.

John Grisham wrote 1 page of his novel everyday before work as a lawyer.

Then you've got the big actors in Hollywood who were working as waiters/waitresses before they hit it big.

Then you've got the big business person who saved up a lot of money working at his job, sold everything, and thus, got a nice cash cushion, and spent the next couple years working on the business and getting it off the ground.

That's another way to go too.

Saying FU to your boss and then going full steam ahead on your own business living in a cardboard box eating ramen noodles to build the next Google - that's the kind of story you only tend to hear because they stand out so much - but they don't represent the only road to take.

Even movie stars take the route of "job/dream" - they do a cookie cutter blockbuster movie they don't really want to do to score the next big paycheck and then act in the small independent films or plays that they really want to work in or heck, maybe just do a couple blockbusters and start directing movies, which was their true passion all along.

There are no rules out there that state you HAVE to be a starving artist to achieve your dream.

Who wrote those rules anyway?

Who says that it has to be a certain way?

You write the rules.

And as long as you're working on your dream daily, as long it's the predominate thing in your life, as long as it's in the forefront of your mind, the rest is just trivial details.

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