What’s the question you most dread being asked by your parents? Let me guess. “When are you going to get a proper job?” Some of us are fortunate to have supportive families, who “get” our creative career. Some of us aren’t. Next time you find yourself fending off enquiries about whether a better-paid and more reliable profession mightn’t have been a better choice, try the following retorts.
“There’s no such thing as a proper job”
Time was, you’d go to school, maybe university, then bag yourself a job and stay with that company for the next 40 years, growing greyer and more portly, until you retired with a decent pension and a bottle of single Malt. How times have changed! Of course there are still jobs with a clear career path, but fewer people’s working lives conform to the job-for-life formula your folks probably have in mind. They might not realise that these days less conventional working practices – portfolio careers, self-employment and the like – are becoming increasingly commonplace.
“That’s not how the creative industries work – let me explain...”
Here’s a thought. Maybe your parents don’t actually understand what you do. You can’t really blame them. Who really knows what other people’s jobs involve day-to-day? Not me. Most of the time when people tell me their job titles, I smile, nod and ask for clarification. There are exceptions – police officers, teachers – although most of what I know about them is gleaned from watching The Wire. If your dad’s an accountant, why should he know what a creative producer does?
Not understanding creative work makes it seem more precarious. But, according to a report by the think tank DEMOS, there’s little evidence to back up the perception that starting a creative business is higher risk then other types of business. In fact, half of new creative businesses survive past five years, compared to just a third of new restaurants. I'd like to see them tell Gordon Ramsey to go get a “proper” job.
“You won’t be saying that when I win an Oscar”
Not every artist spends their days languishing in a garret, gnawing on rat bones. Life might be a slog now, but there could come a time when you’re totally smashing it. Tell them you’re putting together a list of people NOT to thank in your grand acceptance speech, with their name at the top.
“At least I’ll die happy”
Nearly 9,000 asteroids are orbiting close to the earth right now. You could get struck down by one tomorrow. How would you have like to have spent your final hours? Donning a tie and working for the man? Or donning a tie and pretending to be working for the man, as part of an immersive theatre piece?
Seriously though, asteroids aside, even if you live into old age, you’ll have spent a whopping great chunk of your life working. The way things are going, we probably won’t be retiring until we’re 70. So if you work eight hours a day, five days a week, from the age of 22 (minus holidays), that’s more than 90,000 hours. Surely they’d agree, that this time should be devoted to something you feel is worthwhile?
“The world needs artists”
Yeah, maybe we don’t need them in the way we need doctors or air traffic controllers – no amount of interpretive dancing will deliver a baby or land a plane safely – but artists are essential to society. As our Culture Secretary Maria Miller is so eager to stress, the creative industries make an important economic contribution – but more than that, art enables us to question the status quo, experiment with new ideas, and imagine possible worlds. Our generation faces unprecedented economic and environmental challenges – some of which are arguably our parents’ fault. We need creativity now more than ever!
What do you say to people if they ask why you don’t get a "proper" job?
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Image by Richard Rhee, on a Creative Commons license.