As someone whose career is in the financial services field, it’s become a regular occurrence to look at friends or people walking down the street and imagine how awesome their lives are because they’re in a totally different line of work. Nothing against budgets and spreadsheets, but finance is near the bottom of the job excitement barometer. It’s right below telemarketer and above the guy who follows the Toronto police horses around to clean up their “droppings”. Times like these always have me questioning my career path and lead to internal brainstorming about the switch to something in the creative arts.
After one particularly difficult day at work a few months ago, I tried to drink away my frustration with a few friends at a local Toronto speakeasy. It may have been the cool summer breeze brightening up my spirits but I felt suddenly invigorated and courageously engaged some fairly attractive females in friendly conversation. There was something about the combination of their vintage clothing, non-prescription glasses and vibrant personalities that was enchanting. I was under their spell and couldn’t look away. After exchanging the first few lines of typical getting-to-know-you banter, we got on the topic of what we do for a living. Their replies were all located somewhere in the creative spectrum: art curator, musician, painter and even a part-time sculptor.
When I told them my profession was in the finance field, all of their smiles evaporated into thin air leaving only pursed lips and furrowed brows. One woman looked visibly upset with me while the rest just slowly shook their heads in unison. As I struggled to break the deafening silence, they surprisingly took it upon themselves to apologize. Not for being rude, but they felt genuinely sorry because I must have the worst job in the world. I was clearly missing out on their ultra-exclusive creative club. Devastated, I tried to smile through the pain and change the topic as soon as possible, but it was no use. Conversation devolved into one word answers and monosyllabic murmurs. They presumed that I would probably never ever click with their social circles, so why should they waste precious time conversing with me?
Weeks after trying to forget this experience, I still couldn’t shake the fact that my chosen profession could actually be a deciding factor in the pre-coital screening process. I have an insatiable need to be liked by every person I come across and had never encountered this kind of prejudice (jobism?) before. Many sleepless nights were spent imagining all of the amazing events the creative class were attending that people like me would never be invited to: Rubik’s cube pajama parties, dirty martini clothing swaps or even all-white flash mob dinner parties. I started deliberately avoiding eye contact with every wispy female who was impeccably dressed, had a visible tattoo or wore a bandana/snapback/fanny pack. It was torturous, but it paled in comparison to the excruciating deep down pain I experienced that fateful night.
I’ve always tried to live my life on the edge but my career aspirations never left the mushy middle. It took years to decide which path to take after high school and there were many missed opportunities because I couldn’t envision myself doing anything for more than a few years. I didn’t go all in on the whole finance thing early either. Since it’s difficult to excel in finance with just a university degree, old co-workers always ask when I’m planning on finishing this designation or that Master’s program.
I’ve dabbled in drawing, writing, journalism and even glass-blowing but could never fully commit myself to a life of possible critical acclaim along with the accompanying hundreds of hours of unpaid or minimum wage “training”. Apparently, the hopeful success at the end of the rainbow was not worth the journey it took to get there. This is certainly not true but my youth and naiveté at the time caused me to believe it was.
My parents never explicitly taught me to follow my passions and it had a profound effect on how I view life and the normal trajectory of a young professional. Success was to be measured in annual dollars earned and the square footage of my home. Are they to blame for not nurturing my creative side and passively teaching me to ignore the pseudo myth that “you’ll be successful in anything as long as you try your best”?
Though I crave the personal satisfaction one attains whenever receiving praise for a piece of art (my grade 9 swan painting still draws rave reviews), I sadly appreciate the structure and steady income of a “boring” 9 to 5 office job. Perhaps I foresaw that I mentally couldn’t hack the early years of an artist’s life or maybe I never tried hard enough to find a creative medium that lit an effervescent fire in my belly. Life is too short to live with regrets but the tradeoff is that now I’ll always be a little jealous every time I see a new band, attend an art exhibit, watch a comedian or see a live play.
So the next time a vintage vixen at a bar asks me what I do for a living, I’ll look at her straight in the eyes and say I’m an accomplished writer and an aspiring accountant. Being creative means living life on the edge.