“Being realistic” is a frequently cited barrier to pursuing one’s dreams. For those of us who aren’t lawyers, doctors or financial analysts, deflecting discouragement from well-intentioned relatives – and butting-in bystanders – creates a thick skin.
I found love working 9-to-5 at $10 below minimum wage and no employment contract, writing for a local lifestyle magazine.
It felt like flying. Fingers racing over computer keys, I imagined myself as Rose DeWitt Bukater in Titanic, standing at the bow of the world’s grandest ship hitherto, arms spread wide, transporting me with every word I typed closer and closer to the Big apple, the alleged land where every individual becomes a Technicolor version of themselves by mere dint of setting foot on its soil. This is what life should be like, I told myself. I want to feel this way every day of my existence.
But I’m not here to share a success story. Popular opinion equates the writer’s life with the peasant life. The future is untold, and some passions come with a price tag. What is the RoI for a figure skater who spends thousands of dollars training with a top instructor but doesn’t make it to the olympics? Hey, at least she got to do what she loved… But self-actualization doesn’t feed hungry mouths. anyone who has experienced that “flying” feeling has had to grapple with the emotion-versus-reason conundrum.
J.K. Rowling could readily attest. Subsisting on unemployment benefit as a single mother, the latter chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone were penned, certain nights, on an empty stomach. “I thought it would be selfish for my daughter if I could earn a better living doing something else,” the now-billionaire once said. “It just felt very self-indulgent,” but an illogical drive incited her to push on.
“Self-indulgent” is a common word used to brand young people who wish to study fine art. In a sink- or-swim industry like fashion, the payback period for the expenditure of blood, sweat and tears is difficult to forecast.
The same considerations once plagued a journalist friend of mine, who wanted more than anything to be a stage actress in a country where theatre was – and still is – understood to be a “hobby”. When she confided her wish to study at Jakarta art Institute, her parents told her right away, “It’s not possible. Who could live that way of life, on that kind of income?” Told by Ratna Sarumpaet herself, an actress, writer and founder of Teater Koma, that she shouldn’t expect to get paid for the first few years, my friend quashed her dream and went into advertising. She cites turning thirty and the financial snugness of her current job as further reservations. “Do you still think about pursuing your dream?” I ask. “Maybe someday if I don’t have to worry about money anymore. I have to be realistic.”
What is the demand elasticity for a tap dancer, a sculptor or even a stand-up comedian? That depends. Even art can be monetized, and while artists might flinch at that word, Kurt Wenner, inventor of 3D street art, knows we all have bills to pay. Wenner worked for NaSa as an advanced scientific space illustrator, and has since been commissioned by big brands the likes of lexus, Dunkin’ Donuts, National Geographic, absolut vodka and Disneyland Paris to create optical illusions of smoothies, cars, vodka bottles and even alice in Wonderland rising out of a fictitious chasm in the pavement. There’s nothing like art to capture onlooker’s attention and sear a brand name into their subconscious minds. Music, Blockbuster movies, graphic design and Batik printing are forms of art that have utilitarian value: we consume them, pay for them, without qualm.
The danger of all art may be that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Damien Hirst, who achieved an ‘E’ in his art a-levels, grossed over £350 million by cleaving cows, snakes and sheep in two and displaying them in formaldehyde-preserved glass cases. an art installation by Martin Creed called ‘lights on, lights off ’ of an empty room containing lights that flickered on and off at five-second intervals, infamously nabbed the 2001 £20,000 Turner Prize, and was hailed a “statement against clutter and consumerismin the world”.
Ever heard of the ‘one Red Paperclip’ story? 26-year-old Kyle Macdonald looked at a red paperclip on his desk and decided he would use it to buy a house. He traded the paperclip over the internet for a fish-shaped pen, the pen for a handmade doorknob; culminating after fourteen trade-ups in a KISS snow globe and a movie role which he exchanged for the Kipling home of his dreams. He won the home and the hearts of legions of supporters simply by the brazenness of his proposal.
Fashion designer oscar lawalata, who was forced to terminate his studies and start a business, told me in a recent interview: “I find myself through my work; I don’t work for an income. I examine the beauty of a culture. The craftsman’s willingness to make a piece of kain: their faith in their craft despite very meager wages. But behind that is creativity, an inner treasure they can harvest, and in that are many life lessons.”
Any skill can be construct- ively transmutable, even in an office cubicle. an airline pilot is adept at fast decision-making, a talk show host would kill it in public relations; a painter could have a sharp eye for graphic design. as newsroom jobs are being cut, journalists are finding a lucrative niche in inbound content marketing with their news-gathering and interviewing abilities.
No one can stop you from being who you are, no matter your environment, if you can let the lines blur.