Trollope’s philosophy probably sounds a bit foreign to most of us. There is a pervasive idea spreading throughout our culture that says we must choose between our day job and full pursuit of our passion. If we ever want to “make it” as an author, singer, or entrepreneur, then we must quit waiting tables, give our boss the finger, and live off Ramen noodles. This sounds very rouge, very sexy, very brave, and in a way, it is.
However, I would like to challenge the notion that it is the only way to go about doing the work you love.
Sure, Trollope did not always enjoy his clerk job, but it gave him several distinct advantages. Not only was he able to provide for his family month after month, but because he had a consistent stream of income, he avoided the pressure to compromise his art in order to monetize it.
His contemporary, Wallace Stevens, had the same philosophy. “I find that having a job is one of the best things in the world that could happen to me,” Stevens once said. “It introduces discipline and regularity into one’s life. I am just as free as I want to be and of course I have nothing to worry about in terms of money.”
This way of living allowed these men, and us if we choose to follow this path, the freedom to experiment, be generous, and most importantly, fail without losing the ability to play again.
I’m not saying this is the “right” or “only” way to go about it. Some people thrive off of the “all or nothing” mentality. Others don’t. Your philosophy for supporting yourself while pursuing your art is a lot like the artistic process itself. There is no one size fits all system.
Find what works for you.
What frees you to experiment? To be generous? To fail?
What frees you to do your best work?