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Personal Growth

You Can Have an Easy Life or an Awesome One. Choose Wisely.

Every choice, from the leather couch you buy to the business you start, will cost you.


A few years back after one of my more impassioned lectures, a young buck in the back row raised his hand. “Mr. Victore,” he said, “I understand what you’re saying about taking risks in your career, but I’ve got rent to pay.”

I was shocked by his defeatist attitude, saddened at how the practicalities of life had already beaten this young creative soul down so that his biggest ambition in life was to pay rent.

Gone was adventurous youth. This kid was no longer the hero of his own life, willing to face his fears and slay the dragons that kept him from his reward. He was already sheepishly waving a white flag out the window of his mini van.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “Thomas,” he said.

“Thomas, here’s your tombstone: Here lies Thomas, he would have done great work, but he had to pay the rent.”

“Here lies Thomas, he would have done great work, but he had to pay the rent.”

Which brings us to my point: Everything you desire in life has a price and you have to be willing to accept that price. If you desire to do great work, it will cost you. Likewise, security and comfort will cost you. If you want a luxury apartment with a wrap-around sectional couch in leather with stainless steel legs, it will cost you.

But here’s the thing: I’d rather be exhausted striving for excellence than churning out work that succeeds merely because it offends the least amount of people. The cost? The fear of financial uncertainty. But I willingly accept this cost because it allows me to follow my path and craft the type of career and lifestyle that I want and need. There are things that I will not compromise on, including my sanity, happiness, time with my family, spontaneous travel with my son, and creative control in the work I choose to take on. If I fail, I will fail on my own terms, doing what I love.

Taking a creative risk and stepping off the status quo treadmill requires bravery. It demands embracing risk, and fighting the good fight to face your fears of financial doom without bailing at the first sign of discom- fort. The discomfort is just a test. It’s a test of your commitment and enthusiasm—a test of your endur- ance and how much you want it.

If I fail, I will fail on my own terms. 

It takes creative courage to make these hard decisions about your life and career, and to do what is in your heart. It takes gigantic cojones to serve your vision of a creative life, not blindly following the practical advice of your parents or friends.

Creative courage means not being content to let your Gift rot while pursuing a path that others have prescribed for you, creeping along in the safety of a status quo life. It means refusing to join the ranks of those around you bragging about their lack of commitment to their lives. It means having the bravery to leave a job that chafes or saying “No” to a high-dollar marketing client that you don’t actually believe in.

There are times when you need to re-tailor an ill-fitting life. These are the times that will define you—the moments you seek out your dragons and slay them when they rise. This is the courage to be creative.

Comments (84)
  • Paul Bateman

    Bravo James – well said😉

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  • Ross A

    I get where he’s coming from, but being dismissive of someone who has to pay bills? I’m currently where said Thomas is because I just graduated and need income. Maybe in the future my creative soul can be nurtured back to health…

    • Steven

      I think James V. wants you to rethink about if you really “need” this income. Of course you have to be able to survive financially, but a lot of people seem to miss their creative potential because they will at some point aim to go the easy way of (let’s say) earning some money in a standard office to be “safe”. What you give up for this is, as said, your creative potential.

      • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

        Inspiration and aspiration are great, but you know what? Not everyone gets to be an astronaut or President of the United States. Some people don’t even get to run an independent design studio hell-bent on world domination.

        Sometimes “creative work” isn’t well received in the artist’s lifetime. I don’t think it’s the intent of the author here, but shaming someone for wanting a little comfort to enjoy time with their family, read a book, or see a movie once in a while isn’t the same as selling out to The Man.

        I guess the point is, it’s my choice to get the big couch and take it easy. Neener neener.

      • cheeflo

        Assuming you don’t find another outlet for it. Maybe a graphic design career is only a point of departure.

  • http://fb.com/chmessinger Charles Messinger

    Come to Brazil, start your business from nothing, and you can tell me later what you learn.

  • http://www.aChocolateChipLife.com/ Patty Gale

    Very well said!!! Definitely got me thinking and re-evaluating a lot of things.

  • Magda

    I def. like how you put it and it is very inspiring! However, nowadays many times, as I have encountered it, it is not about having a luxurious apartment, it is about losing the basics (food and just a bed to sleep in)

  • http://www.be.net/luisvalverde Luis

    Genius!

  • Kelz

    keep your day job. It will pay the rent and bring the bread on your table. Then, as an aside, do what you love. If your hobby or part time work brings you additional dough, that is great. If your part time job hits a jackpot, then you can say goodbye to your day job. To grow a business or to make enough doing what you love, it takes time and lot of work. That is when most people give up thier business or run into rent arrears or sink into debt…and wish they had their day job back.

  • Lee

    I love the article and I think the sentiment is great. However, i have to agree with some of the previous commenters. If you have a family you are responsible for, it’s not so easy to put their ability to eat and have a roof over their head at risk to pursue your creative destiny.

    • alexrodreguez

      dont have kids then…jeez man, you make a problem, then complain about the problem

  • ADK

    Yes…..but I really DO have to pay the rent, pay car payments, feed 2 kids, clothe the family, etc. etc.”Work to live, not live to work” – sure. What you are saying is inspiring and exciting but not particularly applicable to real life. In this day and age, unless you are child free and under 25, being able to exercise your creative gift typically fits into life as either a hobby or second job. With perseverance, many extra hours and a little luck that passion may translate into a full time job that also pays the bills – and I hope that all of us that try for that will succeed. Hopefully we can avoid the experience where our calling transforms into a daily grind. You can call me uncourageous or scared of failure, but failure whether they’re on my terms or someone elses is not an option. My job pays my bills and my art and family make it worth while.

    • Victor Reynolds

      Amen!

    • Jamie

      I agree with what you’re saying, but I disagree with your statement that this is not a problem for those of us who are “child free and under 25.” I’m 24 and I have bills too. I don’t have kids, but I have a house and two dogs (I’m not saying
      dogs are as expensive as kids, but vet trips are still costly!).

      • ADK

        Fair point!

    • Ibby

      I’m child-free and under 25 and I’ve still never had the choice to just neglect my responsibilities and do whatever the hell I want (not since childhood, anyway). What these upper-middle class lectures on enjoying your life neglect to mention is that you need a basic level of income and stability to even have those choices – and the majority of the population just doesn’t have that. When you grow up in poverty and have to work your ass off just for a chance at having a steady income over minimum wage, you’re not going to ignore your 6-figure student loan debt and go chasing “dreams.”

  • http://www.timjlawrence.com Tim Lawrence

    I agree with some of the comments, though i think it’s important to distinguish that it’s not an either/or proposition. In the “do what you love” vs. “don’t do what you love” camps, there seems to be this false dichotomy in that you either can or you can’t, and this is nonsense. I think the thrust of James’ viewpoint–which I agree with–is that all of your choices come with an opportunity cost, so if you do decide to stay at a job that’s unfulfilling merely to pay your bills, you are making some significant sacrifices whether you realize it or not. The reality is that there isn’t one prescribed path that universally works, though if you are doing work you can’t stand treat it as an urgent matter (as a former corporate drone I know how easy it is to fall into complacency), and slowly, steadily, zero in on what it is you want and take small, incremental steps to making it a reality. For me, that meant two years of planning and action before I was able to ditch my stressful, emptying corporate job. I’m thrilled I did what I did and I am now doing work I love, but it was not and is not all smooth sailing. The key in my view is to take consistent, imperfect action, and do not stop no matter what. This applies whether you’re doing a lousy job or you’re already in the “doing what you love stage.”

  • http://KhalidM.ca/ Kal Mokhtarzada

    YES!

  • http://diegoe.be/2014/10/20/here-lies-he-who-would-have-done-great-but-had-to-pay-rent/ Here lies he who would have done great, but had to pay rent | diegoe.be

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  • Victor Reynolds

    Helps to keep that fire burning.

  • BENNOUR karim

    (y)

  • David Tham

    It seems easier to slay a “dragon” than to tame it because a dead dragon would be cheaper to keep than a “live” one. So it seems to me that the author still chooses the Easy Life because it’s easier to make financial certainty the goal, where one can put a value on what one can get out of what one has put in.

    It’s like seeing the proverbial glass ‘half-empty’. The problem is that the yardstick used — to measure the difference between an Easy Life and an Awesome One — assumes that financial certainty is the goal.

    However, the glass half-full perspective is different. Being courageously creative should mean that producing or giving is the goal — and financial certainty is merely the means to produce or give more.
    Before starting an enterprise, it’s essential to ensure that one has enough capital — both social and financial — to endure failure. If your next question is “but how much is enough?”, then you should consider the reasons why you have been looking at the challenge through the glass half-empty.

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  • http://www.scoop.it/t/daily-clippings/p/4030225863/2014/10/21/you-can-have-an-easy-life-or-an-awesome-one-choose-wisely You Can Have an Easy Life or an Awesome One. Ch...

    […] A few years back after one of my more impassioned lectures, a young buck in the back row raised his hand. “Mr.  […]

  • Jamie

    As much as I’d love to take a risk and do work I love, I would rather be sure I can have a roof over my head. If I’m worried about how I’m going to pay my electrical bill or stressed because can’t afford to put food on the table, I’m not going to be able to do the work I love. Having a day job that pays the bills, even if it makes me miserable,
    provides me with what I need to be ABLE to do the work I want on the side—AND it keeps me motivated knowing that if I work hard on these side projects and build up my business, I will be able to leave my day job behind to pursue great work. I love James and I think he has a lot of good ideas, but when the risk is too great sometimes it IS better to play it safe. I don’t think that’s an excuse and I don’t think that means I want it any less than the next person.

    • alexrodreguez

      dont be such a pussy

  • Ibby

    Yeah that’s nice and all, but maybe that poor kid in your class actually did have rent to pay. People who say things like “money isn’t everything” and “you can’t be afraid to risk everything you’ve got” have never been truly in need. Kids who grew up poor and managed to do well enough to get themselves out of poverty are not going to go throw it all away. Nice little rant on upper middle class privilege, but you need to accept that your values don’t have to be shared by everyone else.

    • alexrodreguez

      You sir, are a pussy.

  • izdz

    If only life were this simple. Trendy ideas that ignore the realities.

  • http://cargocollective.com/tlcdesign Tim Lee Chen

    Thanks for the great piece James!

    I love and agree (for the most part) with what James’ has written. For me, the message really struck me when I read his words, “If I fail, I will fail on my own terms.” I believe that personal happiness (and an awesome life) comes from being satisfied with oneself and the outcomes derived from the choices that we’ve made. Outside the unstoppable forces, we really can shape our own sense of happiness (keeping in mind that the context for each individual may vary).

    We do not have the power to choose how our ideal lives play out. However, we do have the power to be proactive on the choices that will ultimately lead us to a happier sense of being.

    • cheeflo

      Agreed — you are responsible for your own happiness.

  • James Victore

    Wow. I am astonished by these comments in two ways. First the readers here assume that I have some piles of cash stacked away in my castle and I am out of touch with the way things work. This is completely not true. I have a son in college and another child on the way. I rent a small studio/ apt in Brooklyn and support 2 families. I am living the life I rally for every day. Second, and the most saddening, is the lack of confidence that these readers have in themselves and their craft. Their inability to see their options in the face of circumstances is exactly why I wrote this piece. Both my work and my ideas are not for everybody. I wish you all the greatest of luck with whatever path you choose. Cheers, James

    • Ben

      I really appreciate what you’re saying James, however we’ve been conditioned to be good worker ants. I’m 28 and have had a good job in advertising the past 4 years. Now I’m looking for a change because the work isn’t fulfilling. Is it better late than never? I think it is.

    • Jamie

      I can only speak for myself and assume this is where others might be coming from. I have only ever worked traditional jobs (that makes me sound old) and I don’t know how to make a living any other way. I’m not established, I don’t have clients. Money isn’t everything, but it is a necessity in life. If there’s a chance that I will make zero income in a given month, that is a very scary thought, and a big roadblock. I can admit I have no confidence.

      But I am taking your skillshare class and it has really helped me to be more confident in my art at least!

    • EmoBein .

      Enough said. ..Cheers James.

    • Funny Farm

      Very good article. I worked for about 10 years in the automotive business management sector and hated every minute of it. I decided to take a chance and start my own vintage instrument business about 25 years ago and never looked back. It was very scary at first but the business became quite profitable and allowed me time with my family and time to reflect without having the ball & chain of working for someone else. I am now 64 years old, “semi-retired”, and we live in a beautiful farm house on 55 acres and just enjoy life. If I had not taken a risk to do something I love then I am sure I would always look back and regret it.

    • RentandLoansAren'tFree

      So your kid, will he have college loans to pay on top of rent? Is being bankrupt ok? It’s a good thing you succeeded. I’ve been able to take some risks, but I paid off my bills first. It’s called measured risk. If I wanted to be the best singer in the world, I wouldn’t just sing in front of subways waiting to be discovered. I’d learn more about the industry and pay my rent in the meantime. I feel badly for your son unless you’re paying for his degree. And then, your kid isn’t the one in the back row.

      • James Victore

        Geeash, Can you see no other options? My son can. What are you afraid of? Making a living for what you love, what could be worse?
        Relax, kiddo.

      • http://www.winsomewriting.com/ Winsome Writing (Brian Lenney)

        ^Ass

  • Benjie Moss

    Your heart’s only going to beat so many times, then you’re done.

    You’re unlikely to ever get rich anyway, so what have you got to lose?

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