Being a self-employed creative can look so glam. Total freedom. “Passive” income. Taking a day off just because. Traveling for weeks at a time. Working at hotel bars with mimosas. It’s true — all of these can be perks of working for yourself (except there’s no such thing as truly passive income), but we rarely talk about the harder stuff. The struggles. The gritty moments.
I see the misconceptions and over-simplification of being an artist or self-employed creative everywhere. But I promise you it’s not all six-figure incomes and luxurious, bright studio spaces (although it very well can be those things, too).
Here’s a glimpse into my reality — the biggest struggles I have faced over the last five years of being a self-employed creative.
1. It’s freaking lonely sometimes, man.
One of my biggest pain points when it comes to being a self-employed creative is loneliness. I’m saying this as a 95% introverted person. I love being by myself and working alone every day, but there are times it can drive you mad.
Like when rent is due in two days and you don’t know where the money will come from. Or when you’re feeling like such an imposter about a new painting or offering, but have no one to confide in. Or when you’re just yearning to bounce ideas back and forth and have a good ol’ brainstorm session.
I will sometimes wonder, “Am I the only one who feels _____?” (The answer, always, is no.) I’ll get stuck in some weird loop in my head, bouncing from inspiration to confusion to hopelessness and back again. Finally, my boyfriend will pull me out of the house to go to the gym or spend a Saturday out in nature and I snap back to feeling a bit more grounded.
2. It’s extra challenging when dealing with depression and/or anxiety.
I’ve had a history of dealing with mood disorders before I became a creative entrepreneur. The added stress of this career path can exacerbate my symptoms when I’m having a depressive or anxious episode.
It can also make it harder for me to pull myself out of a hole when I do get depressed. For me, routine and structure are soothing when I am dealing with depression or anxiety — two things this life does not naturally provide.
That being said, I do believe there is a way to navigate this career path sustainably and healthfully, and that is something I am committed to doing moving forward. Still, it must be said — it is difficult to manage depression and your business at the same time.
3. Imposter syndrome can feel impossible to escape.
Creating art and sharing it with the world is a vulnerable act that can easily lead to imposter syndrome. I feel like a fraud almost every time I do something new, from launching a new collection to simply posting a small “work in progress” shot on Instagram.
A lot of my feelings of imposter syndrome stem from being a self-taught artist, although even if I did go to art school, I know I would feel like a fraud at times because I believe it is nearly inevitable as a human not to.
When you’re a self-employed creative, there is no boss giving you direction or providing feedback. No co-workers to bounce ideas off of or soak in some sweet words of affirmation. It’s all you — a beautiful and intimidating reality.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term or you are dealing with your own version of imposter syndrome, there are some really great TedTalks that might be helpful:
4. It’s easy to get caught in the comparison trap.
Everyone evolves on their own timeline, and maybe it’s just me, but there is an unspoken pressure in society that if you don’t “make it” by 30, you’ve missed your opportunity.
Newsflash: Rothko struggled with finances and didn’t create one of his iconic color field paintings until 43. Kandinsky didn’t touch a paintbrush until he turned 30. Cézanne was considered a failed painter through his 50s. And the list goes on.
It’s easy to see other artists on Instagram and compare, especially when you’re already dealing with any of the pain points listed above. As I’ve gotten older and spent the last five years building my business and exploring my creativity, I’ve learned it’s all a facade. There’s no such thing as making it. If you get to do what you love, you’re there.
However, there are still those down days when I can get caught up in the comparison trap. Thankfully it happens much less now than in my early 20s.
Despite all of these challenging moments, I wouldn’t change what I do. For me, the pros absolutely outweigh the cons; I love being an artist and self-employed. It definitely isn’t for everyone, and I hope that by being more transparent about the realities of the self-employed creative life, we can find true connection and understanding.
What has your experience been like? Have you found self-employment to suit you and your needs? Are you thinking about taking the leap? Or maybe have you gone back to the 9-to-5 life after realizing self-employment wasn’t the right fit? I’d love to hear about your experience.