This post is part of a series about, you guessed it, money, as inspired by a letter I received from artist Rachael Ashe. Read Part 2: The Costs of Growth, Part 3: Cost of Living, Part 4: Where It Comes From and Part 5: What's a Real Job?
I got a letter from paper artist Rachael Ashe a few weeks ago, and her letter struck so many chords that I'm going to write a series of posts about it. I think every single one of us who is trying to make a living through creative work will relate intimately with at least one, if not all, of the things Rachael expressed.
I've gotten to know Rachael over the last few years as part of the Vancouver crafts/art scene and Vancouver Mini Maker Faire. She's been working hard to make art her full-time job, and in her letter she vented about money. Here's one of the things she wrote:
“I need money to cover the basic costs of living, but also to invest in things to help me grow beyond what I'm doing now. I feel so guilty having [my partner] carry the two of us alone, and I feel my lack of monetary contribution to our situation holds us back in so many ways. Money. Money. Money. Goddamn you, money.”
First, damn straight, it takes money to be in business. I find this one of the most daunting aspects of business, really, though I also think we, as DIYers, are better situated to work around a lack of money than less crafty entrepreneurs, to some extent. But that's not the part I want to focus on. Rachael's guilt is the same guilt I've felt on and off for the duration of my fourteen years with my partner.
When I first met Greg back in '99, I was a grad student. As a grad student in the great state of Delaware, I lived on about $14,000 a year, without too much help from my parents. Greg, on the other hand, was fresh off his Master's degree with a shiny new professional job. He lived like he was a student, though, so he was essentially swimming in money as far as I could tell.
I remember one night a few weeks after we started dating, Greg suggested we go see a movie. We'd already seen a movie that month, so I told him my entertainment budget had been spent and suggested we rent a movie or do something else instead. He told me he'd pay. I refused. Then he told me that he was going to go see the movie in the next few days with or without me, but he really wanted to see it with me, so I should just let him pay for me to go because it would make him happy (and it would make me happy, too).
It was in no way the last time we've had words about money, but in many ways that exchange has characterized the fourteen years we've shared finances. I've always made far less money than he makes (ETA: except for a couple of years when he was back in school and I worked full-time as a magazine editor; the financial contribution I made to our family during that time was extremely important to me), and I've always wanted to contribute significantly more than I can while continuing to do the work I love (as opposed to work I'd hate that would make me
miserable way more money).
Greg has taught me a very valuable lesson. It's taken me all these years to properly put my finger on it, and Rachael's letter really helped me do that.
Money can't buy us happiness, but we sure can allow money make us miserable.
The truth is that Greg and I are a great match. He's ordered and structured and caring and kind; I'm disorganized, spontaneous, enthusiastic and sarcastic. We share values that allow us to navigate life together in a surprisingly successful manner, and that allow us to work out our differences in a relatively productive way (with the usual assortment of epic fights and breakdowns).
It's important to me that he's happy, and it's important to him that I'm happy. Though the former is something I consider to be obvious, the latter is something I need to remind myself of constantly. He reminds me of it constantly.
He knows I value money and my contribution of it to our family. I don't take for granted that he continues to make far more money than I do.
The major lesson he's taught me is that it's okay. This is the life we've built for ourselves, together. The security he provides does not make me feel less ambitious about making more money, though I do still occasionally battle guilt about it. In many ways, he's a business partner to me. When I need to put a lot of heavy work into a project that won't be able to pay me until the work is long done (like with CrochetMe.com years ago, or like now with The Holocene), we talk about how our family might be affected and we hash out whether we can take the risk. We talk it through. If I'm not fully convinced about the project, there's no way I can convince him. But when I am convinced, he knows it and he supports it.
I continue to work hard to accept that support without adding qualifications that make it more difficult. I work hard not to feel guilty about having his support. I work hard to use that support to contribute not only financially to our family, but emotionally. When I'm happy I share it.
And when I'm happy, I work best. I have more and clearer and bigger ideas. I connect better with other people. I'm more inclined to take risks and to seek out new work. What I'm trying to say here is that when I'm happy I make more money, and I enjoy making it.
So I'm going to pose a question to Rachael, and to you, dear reader: Can you forgive yourself the guilt, even for a short time? Can you give yourself a week or a month to see how your mind and your creativity function without it? Do you think you'll see your plans change in that time? Do you think your relationship to money might be affected?
I ask these questions knowing my answers to them, but I don't ask them rhetorically and I don't ask them to be obnoxious. What do you think? Do you feel the guilt Rachael and I continue to struggle with? How do you work around it?