It's Not Optimism. It's Inertia.

I am a singer/songwriter.  That’s what I do.  I spend days, nights, and weekends writing songs and performing them for crowds that range from anywhere between 150 people to one lone employee who is literally being paid to listen to me.  Work is unpredictable, as are my earnings, but that doesn’t change my job title.  

Sometimes it feels like I’m alone in this way of thinking.  There is an interesting phenomenon that occurs when you tell someone you are a singer/songwriter (or an actor, or a dancer, or anyone whose job falls under the “Artist” umbrella).  First, the person you tell will bombard you with an excited wave of interest.  This feels nice.  Next, you will both be transported to a world where normal social etiquette no longer applies.  In this world, someone else attaching insulting words like “struggling” and “starving” to your job title is A-Okay.  Not only that, it’s actually encouraged.  This feels less nice.

There seems to be a lingering romantic notion that being an artist means living in a drafty boarding house attic, surviving on leftover porridge.  In this dreamland, one actually needs this hunger to create the most twisted and beautiful art.  Therefore, by acknowledging this struggle, people think they are almost paying a compliment to the artists of today.  Well, I’m sorry to ruin the fun, but not so much.  These words are unflattering, yes, but more than that, they usually don't even apply.  My personal (least) favorite word used, also happens to be the most common-- “aspiring.”  The use of this word says to the artist that regardless of how much you are working, if you aren't making 10 million dollars a day, you just aren't an artist yet.   

I know it can be fun to play in this alternate artist universe, but for the sake of comparison, let’s take artists off this rickety, dimly-lit pedestal for a moment, and treat art as a career path, much like banking.  When you enter the banking industry you start at the bottom.  You get an internship, followed by an entry-level job.  Then, year by year, you rise a little higher, until forty years later, you are the CEO of the bank, just like you always dreamed you would be.  But when you were binding presentations and proof-reading excel files for pennies, did anyone call you an “aspiring CEO?”  My guess would be no.  They called you a banker.  

I don’t know how things happen elsewhere, but here on Earth, life starts small and grows big.  Trees start as seeds and grow, ring by ring, into sturdy oaks that hold up tire swings.  Humans start as crying babies and grow into flourishing adults.  Businesses start as corner shops and grow into monster businesses with rolled-back prices.  This is the rhythm of life.  That being said, not every tree is going to be strong enough to hold a tire swing.  Not every adult will flourish.  And not every business will be Walmart.  However, none of them will be those things on day one.  Or day 1,000.  They need time to grow.  

But artists aren’t given time.  They’re given a bunch of pressure to make millions of dollars in a day.  They’re told they aren’t what they are.  They’re told to enjoy this time while they’re young, before they have responsibilities and real lives to get on with.  They’re told their art and hard work aren’t enough.  So really, it should be no surprise when most of them quit before they become the artist versions of CEOs.  If entry-level bankers were being told from every which way that their job wasn’t good enough, you think they’d stick it out for forty years?  I don’t.  And so, we have a bunch of artists quitting just when the art gets really good.    

I believe we are holding back great artists from sharing great art, one “are you famous yet?” joke at a time.  So here’s an alternative message for all the entry-level artists out there.  Or for anyone who may need a little encouragement today:

Dear Artists,  

The work you are doing is important.  You will change lives doing what you do.  And you will learn how to best do that with time.  Give yourself that time.  

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you are aspiring to be what you already are.  

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you’re struggling to do what you are already doing.  Also, please note, if you do feel like you’re struggling-- there is no such thing as a struggle-free job. So don’t let struggle be the sole reason you switch career paths, because I can promise you that struggle will be patiently awaiting your arrival at your next job.  

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you you’re starving.  That’s just a weird thing to tell someone.  DO take any safely unopened food they may offer you, because... you know… free food.  

Know that each of these misguided but well-meaning people is working toward goals just like you are. They’re just a little less conspicuous about it.  

Every once in a while, remind yourself where you started.  Take a second to admire the distance between where you were and where you are now.  Congratulate yourself on your progress.  

Keep pushing forward, and you will keep moving forward.  It’s not optimism. It’s inertia.   

Love Love Love,

Share this:


  1. Hi Kat, This is so thoughtful and so well said: And yes, bravo, you are the ARTIST! Henry

  2. Awesome! Very well said. Almost like it was written by someone talented with words and insight...
    Dennis (father of an awesome singer/songwriter/producer/artist/writer/philosopher)