I read a lot. I mean, a lot – more than most people I know. Often, I read books related to personal finance, especially when I kind find money psychology books. But I have also found throughout the years that a lot of the good financial advice emerges from books on other topics. Some are tangentially related to money: work, life balance, productivity, etc. However, I’ve also gotten financial insight from novels, memoirs, and even occasionally a poem. This morning I started reading the first book of the year, and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned so far (about eighty pages in).
And Then We Grew Up by Rachel Friedman
My first 2021 read of the year is And Then We Grew Up. The subtitle is On Creativity, Potential, and the Imperfect Art of Adulthood. Rachel Friedman authored this book.
The book is my favorite type: a combination memoir and advice book filled not only with personal anecdotes but also with related research. In this particular case, it’s a book about trying to figure out what it means to make a living at a creative life.
Who Is Rachel Friedman?
Rachel Friedman started out wanting to be a musician (a viola player). However, in her first year of college, she became overwhelmed with the anxiety of the path. She ultimately quit music college and spent some time traveling around the world. As she did, she indulged another creative passion: writing.
Then she became a writer. As she notes in the intro of the book:
“I had taken on any and every freelance writing assignment, from churning out SEO clickbait for travel websites to “reporting” on heat-resistant makeup for a glossy women’s food mag.”
As a writer myself, working from the only city comparable in cost to where Rachel lived (she in Manhattan, myself in San Francisco), I can certainly relate. More importantly, I can relate to the deeper questions of what it means to be a creative person working in a field where earning money through your creativity doesn’t always look like what you had hoped it would look like when you started out on that path.
Premise of the Book
And Then We Grew Up is Rachel’s story of her own journey. Moreover, she seeks out a handful of highly creative people that she went to summer art camp with as a teenager. She visits them to discuss the paths that their creative careers have taken now that they’re in their thirties. Through analyses of those conversations, she comes to new conclusions and insights about what it means to make a living as an artist.
Additionally, she incorporates a wealth of research and relevant quotes about the artistic life, work-life balance, productivity, definitions of success, and making money through creativity. She is well-read, which shines through, and she curates her resources perfectly in the context of a memoir/biography.
And Then We Grew Up: Money Lessons
What does this have to do with money, per se? Lots, actually, both directly and indirectly. Directly, she mentions the reality of finances in the creative world. Indirectly, her exploration of what satisfaction means as a creative person naturally takes into account issues of finances. After all, unless you happen to be born into extreme wealth with zero need to work at all, your creative life has to find balance with earning money.
Your Financial Position in Life Affects Your Creative Career
One of the key things that she touches on is the privilege of even pursuing a creative career at all. Sure, there are outliers in the world – people who come from little access and yet persist with their art and become capable of making a living at it. But for the most part, having privilege gives you more options for exploring art as a career path. A few examples of how:
- Having privilege, even of just a middle class life, gives you access to art events, classes, and opportunities throughout your childhood. You know that you have the option of becoming an artist because you see it around you.
- The people in your life – parents and teachers – might be more likely to support your early creative dreams if they themselves believe that making art as a living is a viable possibility in life. Privilege makes it more likely they’ll see it that way.
- Without privilege, you might not have easy access to a college education. Not that every creative person goes to college, of course. But those years of indulging in a creative education, particularly at a liberal arts school, go a long way towards supporting a career in the arts.
- It takes a long time for most people to succeed financially in creative careers. If you have parents willing to help foot the bill for your daily life as you do so, then you’ll have a better chance at it.
- Lack of privilege correlates with so many factors – health conditions, unplanned pregnancies, trauma, abuse … and all of those things do have the potential to limit an art career.
It’s not necessarily that you need money to make art. Instead, it’s that to be able to believe in art as a career choice over a sustained period of time is a luxury that privilege facilitates.
Most People Don’t Suddenly Get Rich Off Of Art
Friedman went to school with at least one actor who “made it.” However, she didn’t choose him to interview for the book. She was interested in what “regular people” do – people who are definitely talented in the arts but who aren’t ever going to make millions from the work. How do they make it financially and creatively? Some of the key takeaways are:
- You can find alternative ways of doing what you love every day for pay. For example, one musician decided early on that she would work as a music teacher. It gave her the work-life balance she wanted and a steady paycheck. Some people say this is selling out, but for her it’s the right path to working with music every day.
- People may choose to do their art part-time and other work part-time or full-time. The obvious example, cited in the book, is the actor/waiter. They may be looking for their big break. However, they may also just do both for the rest of their lives. She cites many famous people who held “day jobs” long after they could afford not to do so. Notably, she emphasizes composer Philip Glass who was famous enough to be recognized when he showed up as a plumber to work one a dishwasher.
- You can add creativity to any type of work. You don’t have to work in your artistic field to create your art within your field in some way.
- Living the fantasy that you’re going to get rich takes away from the richness of the process. There are so many wonderful aspects of life. The artist has access to enjoying them simply through art.
- Artistic success is often as much about luck as it is talent and hard work. Your job as an artist is to do the work. You can’t decide how well it will do. If you believe in the work, then the work has to be enough. You can be ambitious in your goals but you have to also let go of the outcome.
Artistic Careers Aren’t Linear and Values Change
One of the biggest reminders for me is that artistic careers aren’t linear. We like the movie-edited version of famous creatives lives in which they start off with talent, undergo a variety of challenges, and then they “make it.” Friedman shares about a friend, Adam, who emphasizes the many starts and stops, peaks and valleys of his career. That resonated for me … the fantasy is that I’ll “make it” and do only the writing work I’m absolutely passionate about. The reality is that I’ve had so many ebbs and flows, and that those will continue.
Also, our values change with time. We may come to value financial security over creative pursuit. Or we may have times when it’s just the opposite – when we are so passionate about a project or idea that we’ll take a risk on it despite tending towards financial stability in the past. Life isn’t linear, no matter how much our storytelling brains like us to think it should be.
I stopped reading today just before Chapter 4, which – upon skimming – I see is going to include stuff about the gig economy. I’m excited to dig back in.
What is the first book that you’re reading in the new year? What financial tip can you take away from it?
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