A Cost-Benefit Analysis of Being in a Creative Profession
Updated: Jan 10
I’m not handling your money or curing you of your illness, nor am I defending you in court or selling you a car. I spend my time reminding you of what it means to be a human. And for some people, that’s a damn scary thing.
It’s easy to forget the value of creativity—to chalk it up to something artsy-fartsy, heady, or outright unnecessary. In the midst of my job (and soul) search, I’ve decided to evaluate something. Is it worth the hustle and uncertainty to add artistic value to humanity, or should I give up and pursue something stable?
Solution #1: Screw it, go be artsy
Cost: Less pay
When you trade in your pencil skirt for a pair of paint-stained overalls and a flexible workspace, one downside could be lower pay. It’s a sacrifice many creatives are willing to make, but it doesn’t go unnoticed. The thing to watch out for is “passion exploitation,” where some employers frame a creative role as a unique opportunity to do what you love—using this as a justification for lower pay.
Benefit: Enjoyable days
It goes without saying: Following your passion (whether it's creative or not) gives you more enjoyable days. You're doing work that compels you, so it's less of a drag to go to work. Your Mondays probably suck less, and you're working on projects that make your heart happy. As a creative, you’re going to fit in time for your craft one way or another. If it's your job, though, you'll have a lot more time to fit it in.
Cost: Monetizing your passion
Regardless of how edgy your company is, the goal is to produce revenue. You’ll invest time in your creations that may end up covered in red notes and strikethroughs. It’s natural to feel defeated after negative feedback in any profession. What makes it especially hard-hitting for creative professionals is that there is an emotional connection. It’s a creation and a manifestation of your own thoughts and ideas, so it’s hard to listen to criticism.
Benefit: Following your dreams
Even though you’ll come across obstacles when people modify your work, you get major brownie points for following your passion. You’re pleasing your inner child who begs you to honor big dreams, no matter how far-fetched they may be. Following your dreams has become cliche; it shouldn't be. It's a bold, commendable move, and the reward is priceless.
They call you a starving artist for a reason. The creative route is tumultuous—and far too often glamorized as an exciting journey. In reality, that journey of high highs has some of the lowest lows.
Your job search is never just about your job—it’s a soul search that you internalize on so many levels. When you’re fired or called out for underperforming, it’s a direct reflection of something you’ve created on a spiritual and emotional level. It is a roller coaster ride of emotions.
If you know you’re not a 9-to-5 cubicle type, you probably won't feel fulfilled in a role where you’re not creating and collaborating. Choosing a creative career is an exciting, rewarding adventure of doing what you want to do, learning what you want to learn, and being who you want to be. It's not always rainbows and unicorns, but then again... is art really ever easy?
Cost: Freelance lifestyle
Creative professionals come in all forms; one of those forms is the freelancer. It doesn’t have a great ring to it, but it’s a tried-and-true path for many creatives—especially those who have a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
Freelancing comes at a great cost, though. You don’t have healthcare benefits, you’re on your own when it comes to filing for taxes, and you don’t have coworkers to gossip with (or about). It’s inconsistent and completely dependent on the work you put in. One month, your business may be booming, and another month may be one of complete radio silence.
“What you put in is what you get out” has two connotations. If you’re the type who loves autonomy and works hard, freelancing could be a viable path for you. As a freelancer, you set your goals and defend your work however you want to. Tough clients come and go, but your work is 100% in your hands.
Solution #2: Make money and keep your passion as a side gig
Cost: Lack of purpose
You’ll spend 50-60 hours a week doing your job. It’s hard to bring a big smile to work when you hate getting out of bed in the morning. With little sense of purpose, it’ll take more effort to conjure up the motivation to perform well.
Benefit: Contributing to various things
When you take work hours out of the equation, you still have a life. If you’re able to balance it well, you can use your creative juices in your free time. Even if your day job doesn’t revolve around your craft, you’ll still have a sense of purpose at work. You can contribute something to every job you have.
This one varies from company to company. I don’t want to overgeneralize, but it’s more typical to find an open, collaborative, flexible environment when you’re in a creative field. Culture goes beyond 15 days PTO and a dress code. It’s your home away from home, and if you don’t align with the mission and values of a company, it’ll have an impact on you. A formal and traditional business setting requires a certain level of professionalism that, quite frankly, may not be your vibe.
Benefit: Maybe you’ll thrive
Excuse the cliche, but you never know until you try. Some creative people have a business-like alter ego that actually thrives in traditional work environments. It gives your brain a break from its constant stream of creative thoughts. Not that money is everything, but if you’d like to advance in an area other than your passion and you set your mind to a life of work + passion on the side, there’s a chance you could make more money than you would in any creative career.
Cost: Work environment
Footloose and fancy-free is the anthem of most creative spaces. A traditional workspace doesn’t always satisfy this need. If cubicles, white walls, and minimal decorations preclude you from your artsy brainstorms, you may need to factor work environment into your decision.
When you can rely on your company’s policies and order, you always know what to expect. Your training and development opportunities follow an established process to ensure you’re on track for success. That’s not to say that a creative career won’t give you these opportunities or stability, but it’s something to be aware of in case it’s important to your work habits.
Against my very nature, here's a chart I created to compare my solutions.
And the winner is….
For me, the answer is clear. I love what I do far too much to not do it 24/7. I'll pick the road less traveled if that means I can follow my passions.