But first, however, let me be clear: To me, the fact that an artist is financially successful doesn’t mean that he or she is thriving, just as the reality that an artist may not have a lot of money doesn’t mean that he or she is starving.
I don’t view prosperity as being merely financial. You can experience financial abundance, but be impoverished in spirit. You can live on a modest budget but experience an embarrassment of riches in friendships. I don't know anyone who wouldn't exchange money for good health. And I’ve known people who are so wealthy that they don’t have to work; yet on the inside they feel lost and dissatisfied.
Even within the financial realm, there are levels of success. By Hollywood standards, Will Smith is far more successful than, say, Don Cheadle. But most people I know think that Don Cheadle lives a pretty amazing life (from afar anyhow).
Though some people do exceedingly well financially, you might not trade your life for theirs. Think: Well, I don't want to call any names -- I'll let you fill in the blank.
Will and Jada, I am not; yet even as a freelance writer -- a craft where people are usually assumed to be "starving" -- I do well for myself and live a very balanced life that allows me to take care of myself mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually.
If living as an artist or being actively engaged in your art form is important to you, consider taking some of the following actions:
- investigate the steps that successful artists take and activities they partake in, and begin to incorporate those activities into your life. I did this by watching TV shows like The Charlie Rose Show and VH1’s Behind the Music (I know, I know; it’s trite and formulaic) and attending book signings, where I asked writers about their backgrounds as well as about the books they were promoting;
- obtain as much training and education as you need, but don’t hide behind education as a way of avoiding the real world; at some point you have to come out and play;
- practice your craft daily. Immerse yourself in it in as many areas of your life as possible. Make it a priority;
- turn off the tube -- even many TV stars don't watch the medium. 'Nuff said about that;
- honor your craft by observing lifestyle habits that protect your ability to perform well;
- don’t jeopardize your day job unless you’re ready to make the leap;
- stop entertaining any conversations about how you are going to attain your dream until you’re clear about how you’re going to do it. This includes conversations about who’s going to pay for your benefits (probable answer: you) or retirement (probable answer: you). In my experience, doubters’ questions can undermine your resolve.
- begin to hang around with people who are serious about turning their art form into their livelihood;
- start spending time with people who think and behave in ways that are independent from popular culture;
- establish a Board of Directors for yourself, consisting of friends, mentors and advisors who love you and will act as a sounding board along your journey.