Written By: Keshia Erin
There are so many artists who have brushed on this subject in their own blogs and videos, and I wanted to share my own perspective on the topic because I find many of those people don’t bring enough honesty to the table. I think we all yearn to use our time in the work force doing something that will bring us joy. The choice to make your passion into a career is exciting, challenging, and intriguing, which is why I think a lot of us do it. If you are an artist who has chosen this path, you’ve probably been in this situation and have your own stories about the things you’ve learned. Feel free to share those in the comments as I’d love to hear from you. If you are instead a person who is still thinking about taking the dive, my goal is not to discourage you, but to share some of the things that blinded me about the whole thing when I made that choice. Would I go back, or stop being an entrepreneur? Probably not, but I don’t want you to make my mistakes, or in the very least I want you to be semi-aware of what can happen when you make the choices I made.
I’ve been a photographer for three and half years now and I still yearn for any moment to be behind my camera. It is my calmest and happiest place. I want to work in a space that allows me to set my own pace, and my own goals. I want to work in a way that allows me to express every talent I possess and be constantly challenged by the new tasks and new opportunities that come my way. That freedom is why I chose to try and make a career out of photography and graphic design. One side of the coin allows me to be in my happy place, while the other allows me to create art in a digital medium. Getting to focus on my art is the most amazing experience I’ve ever had the pleasure of having.
The catch in pursuing this is that, for all that you get to do of what you love, you have to do about four to five other things you didn’t expect to do that you might not even like to do. You see, my day to day is not just photography and graphic design work. I also need to become a social media guru, I need to become my own accountant, I need to learn how to market my company, and I need to become adept at planning, following, and setting goals. If I’m completely honest… I’m a mess and some of these things are a huge struggle to me. For example, as a woman with ADHD, as good as I’ve become at compartmentalizing and organizing, I have no idea how to maintain consistency because I can’t seem to follow the schedules I lay out for myself. There’s always a more pressing thing to focus on when the time comes for a new thing to take precedence. I suffer from not being willing to put one thing down for another even if I need to because my mind is so involved and focused on the thing I’m doing currently.
The other major thing that I struggle with it maintaining the business aspect of my company. I thought it would be more straightforward than it is, and while I am interested in it, I was completely unprepared for this in a way I hadn’t realized until tax season came and I was too embarassed to ask for help until a couple weeks ago. Because the business aspect of the company is lost on me, I am enrolled in my bachelor of commerce degree. I do it online so that I can have a more flexible schedule, but regardless, it is not something I expected to need going into this. If I thought I could do this by floundering in the dark I would not be pursuing this degree, but my two years of struggle to get this off the ground and my desire to become self sufficient has only proven to show me that while I have a natural talent for art, I am not so lucky with being business savvy. When you love something, you’ll do almost anything to make it work, so I am learning a whole new skill set just so that I can structure things better. That is the reality of pursuing a business: you must learn new skills that you may not even enjoy just to make things work. You need to be so hungry for the goal so much so that doing some things you hate is worth it.
I also made the mistake of working in a partnership with friends. This initially had seemed like a great prospect because I wanted to build a future where the people I loved could pursue their passions with me, but it soon proved to be far more complex than a sole proprietorship. It turned out that I was the only one who wanted it this badly. We live and we learn, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t hurt when the dreams of what I wanted originally had to change. Having those hard, but necessary, conversations really took a lot of courage particularly when my anxiety kept trying to make me hide from them. Being strong regardless of the outcome can be one of the most terrifying things. The truth is I still love all of the people who attempted to be part of this journey, and I was only afraid that I would not still have them in my life. Being able to have those conversations was the best thing I could have done. They were just as scared as I was to tell me that they no longer had the passion for the project. The key to making something like that is for all of the people involved to be on the same page about your goals, and when they aren’t you need to be ready to make those hard conversations happen. While this company has not ruined my relationships with my friends, always accommodating for the people who are not invested is detrimental to the success of a company. It is quite often the case that new entrepreneurs are not prepared for the demand that a new company has of them, so if you want this badly enough, a sole proprietorship will offer you the best space to figure it out for yourself without the stress of having other rely on you. Starting a small business is a risk, and for all the reward you receive two to ten times the struggle, but eventually you do reach a space where there isn’t as much struggle and there’s just you and the amazing career you’ve made for yourself. Do not partner with people who are not prepared or interested in the project the same way as you are. If you find business partners, they need to be just as passionate. They need to be as invested as you are in seeing things succeed. If they are not as interested then it is best to fly solo until you are surrounded by people who want to be involved.
Make sure you stay true to who you are. One of the side effects of working in a partnership was that I felt like I needed such a high level of professionalism that I was keeping my audience at arm’s length. I felt like I needed to have an air of corporate prowess about me, and that I couldn’t be seen as a mistake-making human. Part of this is because when you enter into a partnership your actions also represent the rest of the people involved. With a sole proprietorship you get more freedom to be yourself. What I am starting to learn is that my personality and who I am is part of why the people who do like my material keep supporting me. We’re part of a society where professionalism almost feels like a barrier to knowing a real human, and it can keep you from meeting great people and growing as a person. The people that become successful in recent years quite typically have given who they are as a reason to be seen. They never sacrifice who they are, and learning to have that ‘take it or leave it’ mentality has been stressful as someone who is insecure about their flaws. I’m starting to learn that the audience is more interested in the story behind my work, the person who created it, and being apart of the story rather than just accepting the content I make at face value. I am awkward, and am still learning how to remain comfortable enough to let people see who I am, but over time I hope to be a more open and inviting person.
Pursue this for the right reasons. This is such a trope, but don’t just be in it for the money. Money is uncertain, and the likelihood of becoming insanely popular isn’t guaranteed. Make sure you choose this path because you love what you’re doing, not because you think it will give you renown or heaps of money. The reward for pursuing your passions has to be the journey itself. It is certainly easy to get swept up in the prospects of pulling in high paying clients, but what I’ve learned is that while I have the quality to do so, I need to focus on just the art right now. The amazing dream studio and high paying clients will come in time. To try and rush this process is going to result in failure. I need to just throw myself into the work and love it. Like a plant, if I put enough love and care into it, then it will grow. Patience really needs to become one of my strong suits.
The last thing I have struggled with is knowing when to let my mental health take the front seat. Sometimes it is important to just take a step back and let yourself recover from stress. Build time into your life that allows your mind to rest. If you don’t, it can be so easy to fizzle out. It also makes it really easy to start resenting the things that made you take this path to begin with. Let yourself heal. You are not a failure for taking care of yourself. Your dreams will not die if you take care of you. In fact, your company will be better off for it. Your work starts to exhibit your lack of interest even if you don’t intend it to. Take care of you and the work will reflect it.
If you have any more advice as an entrepreneur, or any questions because you’re thinking of becoming one, please leave a comment or message me and I’ll try to answer the best I can! There are so many reasons for pursuing your passion as a career, but remember that there are just as many as to why it is difficult. You just need to decide what you want and how badly you want it!