I take a look at my friends and we all seem to be asking ourselves the same question. What the hell am I doing with my life?
Mary's getting married on Snapchat, Lukas is adventurously traveling the world on Instagram, Tim and Sophia are having a baby on Facebook - #mylifeisbetterthanyours – and meanwhile I'm sitting at home, eating I-feel-sorry-for-myself ice cream in my sweatpants - #mylifesucks - asking myself in every ‘Netflix-is-moving-on-to-the-next-episode’ break:
Why is the grass always greener on the other side of the screen?
We split our life into two major categories: personal and occupational. So when one goes wrong, we always have the other. Your boss may be a jerk, but you do have that hockey game to look forward to. Your boyfriend may have left you, but you just can't wait to go on that company trip.
But what if you decide to make one part of the other? Say you make your hobby your job … like athletes or - in my case - artists?
We define ourselves by what we do and spend most of our time doing our job, so naturally, we define others by their career choices. One of the first questions we ask to get to know a person is: „So what do you do for a living?“ „I'm an actress ...“ Now there are two universal reactions that follow this statement. Number one: „Can you actually live off of that?“ Or number two: „Wow, so will I see you in Hollywood?“ And when you're forced to answer "no" - to one or the other, or both - you are either met with pity or blankness.
The problem with pursuing a career in the arts is that there is no clear path. If you want to become a soldier you join the military. If you get a medical degree, you become a doctor. You might have a degree in dancing but where do you go from there? And maybe you never attended any university, but you still become a writer….which makes us ask:
What exactly is art? A single black dot on an 80x80 inch white wall? A complicated symphony? A 500-year-old story retold in a modern society context?
What is the definition of a true artist? A red carpet? Pain and suffering? Followers on twitter? Becoming famous after you've passed away?
What does it mean to be professional? Being on time and knowing your shit? Making money? Speaking truth behind those words on a page, those movements in a space or the paint on a canvas?
Art was born with humanity. From cave paintings, to ritual dances to theatrical storytelling. It has always been with us, a sibling keeping us company from the beginning, a tool with a triple purpose: to express our own emotions, to pass knowledge on to others, as well as to entertain. It reflects on and is a reflection of society and its diversity is just as vast as the human race. There is no single definition. But in our obsession to define and explain everything we have tried to pin it down - and two major ideas have emerged: the struggling, suffering artist and the successful star.
So here we are, back to our initial question. What the hell am I doing with my life? Everyone we graduated high school with is posting updates on promotions, salaries and company parties while I am still trying to figure out why I decided to do what I'm doing.
Somewhere along the road of western civilization art has changed. It has become less about sharing and more about showing off. Less about passion and more about prestige. Less about community and more about competition.
We are so blinded by the fortune and fame aspect of it, that we forget to look at content. That's why we spend the first hour of the Oscars talking about who has big enough boobs to pull off what dress and listen to wannabe pop star voices trying to out-belt each other in casting shows.
Art reflects on and is a reflection of society and we have forgotten the beauty of simplicity. Everything has to be big nowadays. The problem with that is that if you try to make things bigger than what they are, all you do is fill a void with hot air and you're left with an empty hot air balloon of art.
So instead of focusing on the nonexistent substance, you have no other choice but to look at the surface. It’s not that every piece of art out there is superficial. Naturally not. But it is striking how many famous actors' faces and bodies are redesigned in post and how much auto-tune you hear on recordings. Producers and record labels make the decisions and they often don't care about educating, they care about selling. There is a reason we call it industry.
So you try to stay away from the new market and concentrate on the good old days when art still had meaning. Well that is easier said than done, because you are entering the territory of educated snobbery. Excuse me, you can't see the difference between a Renoir and Monet? What do you mean you can't tell if it's Bach or Mozart? And you can't name the 40 authors of the Bible … well you are just in the wrong place, my friend!
Fine! You do your own thing then! Ah, but see, the thing is … what is so special about you? What makes you better than the others? Why should I fund your project if you are a no-name? Go get some followers, become a YouTube influencer and then we can talk!
Many people think being an artist is just fun and games. But if you want to survive in today’s world you are not just an artist. You are also an agent, publicist and marketing manager. You not only have to know and master your craft, but must also be able to promote and sell yourself. Hell, I didn't sign up for that! All I want to do is create.
So there we go … I give up … I get myself a day job. But not the I'm-waitressing-while-going-to-auditions-struggling-artist-day-job … a real 30- to 40-hour job. And look at that! All of a sudden, I am not considered an artist anymore. I am an accountant, teacher or technician who likes to paint, make music or act in my free time. But the worst part is that we start believing it ourselves. We start to believe that we gave up on our dream, when, in reality, we are looking for ways to make it come true.
Being an artist is an art in and of itself because you have to find your own unique way of doing it.
We often mistake perfectionism for professionalism. But by trying to make things perfect, all you do is try to please everybody else and, slowly but surely, you lose track of what it was you were actually trying to say.
If we wait for perfection in order to be something we will never be anything.
I'm a musician who can't read notes. I'm an actress who hates going to auditions (I just don't see the point of sitting in a room with 15 other women who look just like me, the only difference being that they're thinner and prettier). I'm a writer who can't spell and a dancer who can't do turns worth a damn and hardly lift her leg up to 90 degrees.
But no matter what I do, I do it with passion. I love being part of something, performing with other artists and sharing our energy with the audience. I don't care about awards and fame as long as I get the chance to say what I want to say.…. I would take the fortune, though ;-)
You want to be a musician? Be a musician! You want to be a painter? Be a painter! And don't let where your main income comes from devalue your work. We can feel happy yet still sad. We can walk while drinking coffee. We can be a Dad and a banker at the same time so why can't we be a florist and a dancer?
Coming to that conclusion I ask myself, ‘am I just writing this to convince myself that the path I have chosen, am choosing or will choose is right’? Maybe. But sometimes it's good to remind ourselves that it's okay to take and live by the advice we give others.
So, my fellow artists and stuck in “what-the-hell-am-I-doing“ friends, in the end it comes down to this:
Look at those kids, the weddings and promotions and move on, because chances are Mary, Lukas and Tim are looking at you, feeling just as envious. Let people pity and question you … those are their emotions, not yours, and they have to deal with them, not you! Don't let anyone rush you and don't rush yourself. You do not have to live every day as if it were your last! Have that ice-cream, binge-watch the Nanny and don't find excuses for doing it … just enjoy it. Do everything at your own pace, because if you walk your own path, no one can outrun you.
The only person you spend the entire span of your life with, from the time you wake up in the morning 'till you go back to bed at night, is you. You are the only one you are truly married and bound to for the sum total of your days. So you had better enjoy it … ‘cause if you don't… who will