How I Help Creatives Find Financial Stability

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Here’s a question that came from one of my readers:

As an artist 6 years into my career, I am making things work both financially and artistically, but I continue to be interested in finding creative work that allows me to be upwardly mobile. Can you give me some advice for finding stability?

This question often comes up as I guide creatives. Creatives are often faced with typical financial challenges, including the support of a family, house payments, and paying off college loans. Most creatives I know are also truly in pursuit of stability, seeking higher quality and more creatively satisfying work opportunities.

The pursuit of stability brings up an interesting dichotomy: Search for a financially stable life and risk sacrificing your creative output; Search for a creatively stable life, and risk sacrificing financial stability.

The challenge we all face is how to strike a balance between the two. Here is a three-step process for finding stability as a creative:

  1. Take stock of your current situation–Here are three questions to answer:
    1. List all of the work you have had in the last year and break it down into the following buckets:
      • Work you love that is directly tied to your work as a creative.
      • Work you love that is not tied to your work as a creative.
      • Work tied to your work as a creative that you do to pay the bills.
      • Work not tied to your work as a creative that you do to pay the bills.
    2. Assign the salary you made to each of the four buckets.
    3. Assign the number of hours you spent on each job.

  2. Create a personal strategy statement–One of the biggest challenges to upward mobility is that we often end up sacrificing creative integrity to achieve financial success or vice versa. Here are some questions that will help you create a strategy around your work:
    1. What is your timeline for accomplishing these goals?
    2. Based on your current situation, write down areas that you may want to develop in pursuit of upward mobility. (Tip: Is there a way to capitalize more on the work you love?)
    3. What, specific goals do you have in regard to stability?
    4. Identify the areas that you may want to let go to pursue of higher financial and artistic gains. (Tip: Can you replace horrible gigs with work you love but is not directly tied to your art?)

  3. Develop an action plan for upward mobility–This is perhaps the most important part of the process. If you don’t get something down on paper, you’ll likely end up spinning your wheels.
    1. Write down your personal strategy statement for accomplishing your goals.
    2. Set a timeline of 1-3 years to achieve your goals. (I’ve found that any longer than three years is too long)
    3. The main goal is to retain your creative integrity while also making more money. Consider dismissing artistic work that is holding you back from your upward mobility and replacing it with work that is more satisfying but may not be directly related to your artistic output.

To help you, I’ve created this financial stability worksheet. The first page is completely filled in and annotated with a fictional character so you can see how it works.  I left the second page blank so you can fill it in on your own.

Thanks so much for reading and please let me know if I can help you as you build stability in your financial and creative pursuits.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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