I recently had a realization that I now think has been influencing the entire direction of my life without me realizing it. And it’s completely related to our plans to retire early.
A Creative Uncreative Life
I’ve always been a creative person. Not the outward, eccentric “Oh, she’s definitely going to move to SoHo and be an artist” kind of creative, but throughout every stage of my life, I’ve been filled with the desire to create. I’ve always made things, I’ve always written and I’ve always had visions of new and bigger projects. It’s one of the three pillars of our life’s purpose, along with adventure and service.
Yet despite this, I’ve never seriously considered a creative career, or at least not a solely creative career. My job has its creative moments, but it’s primarily a business job. I’ve always done creative things on the side, but never so much as applied for a job in a more creative field.
If creativity is such a constant for me, such a need, how can it be that I’ve never even attempted to shape my life around it, at least not until quite recently? Finding this question and knowing that I didn’t have a good answer led me to my realization:
I have never wanted to put pressure on my creativity.
The Aha Moment
In Big Magic, a beautiful and inspiring book that I highly recommend to anyone seeking to live a more creative life, Elizabeth Gilbert writes:
To yell at your creativity, saying, ‘You must earn money for me!’ is sort of like yelling at a cat. It has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away, because you’re making really loud noises, and your face looks weird when you do that.
I remember where I was when I read that passage, what time of day it was. Because: THAT. That was why I had never pursued a creative path in life, why my creativity was always something I did on the side, for pleasure only. I had unconsciously tried to protect my creativity from the pressure of earning money, or, in more War of Art terms, from resistance. Because it’s not just about the cat getting confused — it’s actually about scaring it away.
Any time I’ve had to do some creative project for someone else — for school, for work, for a side hustle — I’ve met far more resistance or felt far less inspired than if I’m doing that project for pure joy. This aha moment taught me two new things:
- Asking creativity to make money for me is a surefire way to rob it of its joy, and
- That resistance, I now realize, is my way of protecting my heart. From the idea that it won’t be good enough, that it won’t be understood, that it won’t make money. (That’s certainly a lot nicer, anyway, than thinking of resistance as just laziness or procrastination!)
There are a million reasons a person can be driven to create, but anytime we put any of that pressure on it, we run a terrible risk. In a Facebook post about Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert says more:
For the first ten years of my creative journey, I did not make a single dime out of writing. And for the next ten years of my creative journey (which included the publication of three books) I always kept alternative day jobs — always made sure I had other streams of income to rely upon. I did not quit all my other jobs until EAT PRAY LOVE became a crazy bestseller, you guys. And EAT PRAY LOVE was a freak of nature. The reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world. . . I have seen so many beautiful creative souls murder their creative process because of this relentless insistence that they are not real artists unless their art pays the bills. When it doesn’t work out (and often it doesn’t, because, once more, Creativity is a FLAKEY AND WEIRD airhead goddess) these people become angry, bitter, stuck, bankrupted, and — worst of all — they often quit creating at all.
She is describing basically the worst thing I can imagine: not creating at all. Because of putting money pressure on your own creativity. But whether it’s money pressure or some other pressure, it’s that pressure that I believe stifles my creativity.
The Gift of Financial Independence
Having this realization helped me see our goal — early retirement (technically we’re already FI but not enough to support ourselves comfortably forever) — as not just freedom to spend our time however we wish, but as this incredible gift to exercise my creativity more than I ever have before.
Something I’m now wondering is: Are there actually two kinds of people when it comes to creativity? Those who protect it and resist putting pressure on it, and those who are unafraid to put it out there?
I’m clearly the former, and maybe those who chase or achieve creative vocations are the latter. I’d certainly love to be the brave kind of creative, but history tells me I’m not. Which are you?
Whichever type you are, financial independence is absolutely a gift for creative souls. It takes away all the pressure to earn a paycheck from anything at all, and lets us bare our ideas and vision without fear of failing at the money-making game. Or how many people wait tables or sling espresso drinks or [insert some other job viewed as temporary] while they pursue their true passion of writing, acting, singing, painting, making movies or designing something amazing? Starting in a little over a year, we’ll never have to do either one: expect creativity to pay the bills or do unfulfilling work just to support our creative aspirations. What an amazing gift!
The Beauty of an Unmonetized Blog
We have made exactly $0 on this blog, and that number is actually in the red if you factor in the costs of hosting. I’m not proud of that. Like some of the artists Liz Gilbert mentioned on Facebook, I do sometimes feel like I can’t be a real blogger if I’m not making money from it, even if we purposely aren’t monetizing the blog.
But I’m also grateful that we aren’t making money from this, because it means the only pressure I feel to write here is self-imposed. I’m not trying to keep up a certain level of traffic to maintain a stream of ad revenue. I’m not trying to please sponsors who are paying to place content. I’m not questioning my own motives for writing any particular piece of content or recommending any given product. I’m not cluttering up the page with ads or slowing down the time it takes to load on your browser. Keeping this creative outlet and money totally separate, for me at least, makes it a lot more fun and joyful, with a whole lot less resistance involved. I’ve never in my life been so prolific at something as I have been here, and I believe that that is thanks in large part to the lack of pressure.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with monetizing a blog, and I admire those who manage to make a living out of it, truly. I admire those who can create without being paralyzed by the fear of rejection, who are willing to bank on their own creativity. But I also think about big deal bloggers who flamed out because the pressure of making their blog their vocation took so much of the joy out of it. I never want that for this space. We’ll get our money from other places — that would be the money we’re hurriedly socking away now — and we’ll let our creative projects be all about the love.
Permission to Create without Pressure
If any part of this post resonated with you, consider this your permission to create with no strings attached. Let yourself write without worrying about what it’s for, or if it’s for a blog, without worrying about whether anyone will like it or how many clicks it will get. Let yourself spend time — maybe enormous amounts of it — creating something that brings you joy, whether or not anyone else will ever value it. See how doing that feels, whether it helps the resistance subside or the joy increase. (And if you’re not a creator yourself and want to read something wonderful — since it’s book recommendation day, apparently! — do yourself a favor and read Very Good Lives by JK Rowling, about her own creative struggles and so much more. The text is also available here for free.)
Then let us know: Do you also find an innate urge to keep your creative impulses separate from the money-making part of your life? Or do you feel it’s more natural to put yourself out there creatively and make it your vocation? Let’s discuss in the comments!