“Should I let my kid go to art / music school or should I force them to study something else?”
I get asked this question probably once a week – minimum.
Some background for those of you just joining us: I do a lot of shit. During the day I am a VP level Project / Product Manager responsible for a long list of art and technology things that you probably use. For example, if you’ve ever used an iPhone, you’ve used something I’ve designed and deployed.
After I go home for the day I start my second shift as Showrunner of (Re)Generation Who: Baltimore’s Doctor Who Convention and PotterVerse: Baltimore’s Harry Potter Convention.
Then I do my third shift, which is seriously studying to be a musician.
I’ve worked professionally in the arts, marketing, finance, mobile telecom, and pharma – all at blisteringly high levels because I don’t know any other way to work. I also professionally wrote and drew a comic for 10 years and worked in animation. One of the big things that I do is I ensure that my events have programs within them that elevate the arts and encourage kids and adults to pursue their Thing.
It’s my Why.
If I didn’t feel strongly about this I’d be using my second shift time to sleep or eat or something. I would probably have bought a house by now.
At my core, I am a performance artist and musician. Always have been.
For example, this is the most “me” that’s ever been captured in a photo. The only thing missing is my guitar:
This is an important element so that you understand what I am going to write next.
Parents come to me for advice when their kids want to study art or music. Some are terrified. Others want me to tell their kid it’s a bad idea. I don’t have a BFA. I have a BA. I didn’t go to art or music school.
I will not tell your kid that it’s a bad idea to study the arts. Sorry. I’ll give your kid real advice that’s based in the actual world. They should be studying both. Why?
Today’s CREATIVE climate is one such that all of us creatives have to be everything. For my comic, I wrote, drew, evangelized sponsors, created social media campaigns, handled my finances, did outreach, and pretty much everything else myself. Same for my events. If you are doing a creative project, you will have to be every department in your own company. Period.
We are all octopi.
We have to be in order to succeed. If you want to be an artist or musician and you suck at Marketing there’s a pretty high chance you are going to fail and not even know why. I am not the best at anything. I’m just really good at some things and Beast Mode Level in Marketing.
You can be the best and still no one will care if you don’t know how to market and manage yourself. Success is still not guaranteed and MONEY is required to make money. So make sure you can do something else to generate funding. Kickstarter and Patreon are a tiny fraction of the guaranteed money I can pull down from a consulting gig. Because I was good at other things, I’m able to support myself and wisely invest in my education and projects such that I can do what I want.
Today’s BUSINESS climate is equally competitive. Why do you think I went from being so broke I couldn’t afford shampoo to where I am today? It’s because I did creative projects after work which gave me the expertise and training that NO COMPANY will give you today. I am VP level and in that entire journey I have never had a company try to nurture my skills. I did that myself because I knew that if I just sat in a cubicle I’d be like that guy in Office Space whining about his red stapler for the rest of my life.
Or worse yet – pretty much every job I’ve had had laid off all of us every 6 months to 2 years. If you are a cubicle jockey, that is just as tough in today’s world. How will you stand out? I stand out because of everything you see on my bio page, and ALL of that was because of the arts. I get raises where others don’t because of my creative capabilities.
The biggest mistake you can do as a parent is to squash your kid’s desires.
Childhood is supposed to be about experimentation. That’s when you have the TIME to DO IT. I work in a field that has literally nothing to do with my BA from Rutgers University. I could have majored in Butt Science and I’d still be where I am because of who I am and the natural drive that I have.
Them: “That’s a strange Butt Science Degree you have there, young lady.”
Me: “But I can manage any project and make you $$$ unlike anyone else. Google what I did on the internet.”
Them: “Hot, damn! Here’s a cash money!”
Today people judge you by what you can do and have done – not by what is written on a piece of paper. I don’t even posses a Project Management certification (PMP) and I make more money than many of the people I know who have that. Why?
Track record of exceeding expectations.
I was at vacation in Disney World one year at the same time a PMP Conference was there. That was a moment of clarity for me when I realized that I basically bypassed that due to achievement and was going to the Magic Kingdom while they were stuck in some dry meetings for the day.
But back on the main topic –
Do you think I have the time in my 30s now to study music seriously? Not really. I give up sleep and a social life to do it because I need to do it or I’ll slowly die. There’s been a hole directly in my chest since I was 5 years old when I first heard Van Halen and Iron Maiden that told me I should be playing music but with no money or support I was stuck sitting in my room hoping that I could afford a guitar when I got older.
Today I am making up for lost time and I am at a terrible disadvantage because I wasn’t given the freedom to experiment as much as I needed as a kid. I didn’t let go of the anger about this until I was 28.
The hole is still there. It’s still trying to kill me unless I play music. This is who I am. People trying to direct me into other careers meant well, but ultimately caused a pretty severe disservice to my development.
My advice is to always nurture interests, no matter how impractical they may seem. In my experience, those things tend to propel whatever you end up doing forward because the default position in life is to be a sack of flesh eating a Lean Cuisine in a cubicle that’s dripping water from the ceiling while Judy in Accounting is explaining the color of her baby’s poop to you.
Anything different won’t be necessarily accepted. I’ve never been a woman who “fit in”. The key is – if you leverage it properly you’ll out perform and out earn everyone else and it’s all because of the arts.
We dismiss the impact of the arts and we are jackasses for doing so:
America’s dismissal of the arts in general has created a lot of boring people who can’t think their way out of a paper bag. It’s basically a slave class of workers that companies use as flesh cogs in a disposable and replaceable machine. There is no longevity at any company anymore. My longest corporate gig was 2 years before yet another merger had us all on unemployment due to no fault of our own.
Let your kids experiment. Let them be themselves. You can’t stamp it out no matter how hard you try. My devotion to music is a perfect example of that. Experimentation is the key to finding out who you really are. I worked in animation for Disney and found that it wasn’t my dream just like I worked in comics and discovered the same. The key thing is that I got to try it and got it out of my system so that I knew what WAS my dream and could focus on that. I should have been able to figure this out when I was 20, but I didn’t have the exposure to it that I needed to make that decision.
Sorry, but it’s highly unlikely that anyone knows what they are doing at age 18. Technology changes so fast now that it’s kinda impossible. My job didn’t even exist when I was in college.
Tell your kids to study the arts, but also make sure the school they go to prepares them to market themselves such that they can manage things and support themselves no matter what happens in the future. Failing that, make sure that they can study the arts on their own time because nobody needs a diploma to play music or draw things. They just need enough of whatever it is that they need (usually exposure to concepts, support, and industry knowledge) to prepare them for the future.
The biggest stupidity I’ve ever seen is how America separates the arts from academics. Rutgers University actually prevented me from taking creative classes since I was enrolled in their main school. Some creative schools really fail at preparing their students for the real world octopi approach and produce proficient creatives that have no idea how to get and hold down a job.
You can and should do both because both of these things are critical to survival in today’s real world. Discouraging someone from pursuing an interest is about as stupid as trying to hold your coffee cup with your buttcrack.
It never works and just causes inflammation that results in lost sleep and a lower quality of life in their 30s when they finally have the money to buy a guitar and a few lessons.
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