How do you make it as a creator? You walk through fire, that’s how.

Sometimes people ask me about how to make it as a creator. They’re looking for the safe path, the sure bet.

How can they seamlessly transition from their day job, to making a living making their art?

I don’t have the answer they want to hear.

Imagine your child is in a burning building.

Your art is your child. Your life is the burning building.

With every second that passes, the fire renders another point of entry impossible to navigate. That window is covered in flames, or a supporting beam is blocking that hallway.

It becomes increasingly difficult to save your child. At some point, the whole thing will collapse, and it will be too late.

You can wait for the authorities to come. You’ll be safe, but your child may perish in the fire. Your physical body will be fine, but you’ll always wonder what you could have done.

So this is what you do if you want to save your child — this is what you do if you want to make a living making your art: You walk through fire.

Yes, if you choose a safe route — one where you do your thing on the side with whatever tiny bit of energy you have leftover after getting home from your 9-to-5, and then you hope that you can replace that income before smoothly transitioning—you’ll be okay, but your art may never see the light of day.

I’m not saying that it can’t be done. I’m saying this is the only way I know.

I’m also not talking about some kind of artistic compromise—like you’ve transitioned to doing freelance work, but you’re trying to get that out of the way so you can do what you really want to be doing.

I’m talking about this situation: You both don’t know exactly what your art is, and you don’t have a clue how you’ll get paid doing it.

What constitutes “walking through fire?” It’s something different for everyone. Here’s my path, starting post-college:

  • Develop a financial runway: Three years of eating 80-cent Banquet meals, while sitting in a gray cubicle in Nebraska. Invest all savings in the stock market.
  • Learn to think differently: Three years in Silicon Valley.
  • Go your own way: Cash out a year’s worth of living expenses from the stock portfolio. Leave Silicon Valley in the midst of a boom, with job offers for more money than you’ve ever made nipping at your tail.
  • Search for “it”: Three years experimenting in a cheap Chicago apartment. This is how I found the idea for my first book.
  • Pursue “it”: Six years of marketing and developing around my first book, as well as more experimentation. You’re still not making as much money as those Silicon Valley job offers promised.
  • Double down on the second wave of “it”: Cut out loose ends in your business. Move to a “third world” country to design your life around your craft.
  • Make it (?): After three years of “doubling down,” one of your books takes off. Maybe you’ve made it by now?

It’s different for everyone, even the above doesn’t work without some lucky breaks. The main point is, you’ll do whatever it takes, however long it takes. With a little overlap on these events, that’s about a sixteen-year process.

How do you know if a path like this is right for you? It all depends upon your answer to this question: If that building comes tumbling down, with your “child” in it, will you be able to live with yourself?

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