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 1: Guilt at Home, Part 2: The Costs of Growth, Part 3: Cost of Living and Part 4: Where It Comes From.

8 Foot Bride of Harvard Square - Remastered Andy Ihnatko via Compfight

I’m going to close out this week-long money conversation by repeating a quote from Rachael’s letter, because it’s a doozy.

Why does it feel so crazy, stupid and reckless to be an artist? (Is that a real job?) I could be working full-time somewhere, earning good money, saving for the future, and probably unhappily trapped in an office.

Let’s have a party in the comments, shall we? What is a real job?

I’ve watched myself come a long way from the early days of my career, when I’d shuffle my feet and look sideways and mumble, “I run a crochet website,” when someone would ask me what I did for work. I have a less concrete answer these days, since I do a bunch of different things, but whatever answer I decide to share comes out in my normal voice, and I make eye contact. I usually say I’m a writer or an editor. And I’ve been very proud of myself these last few weeks, because when people ask what’s new with me, I get straight to the point and say I’m writing a book. What’s it about? Eye contact: “It’s about creativity and fear and failure, and how we can embrace those scary things to have more fun and make more stuff.”

I think the reason this “real job” question comes up in crafts and art is that we often feel inclined to shuffle our feet and look away when we talk about our work. We’re inclined not to presume that what we do is important, or good, or valuable. We’re inclined to assume people need us to justify what we do. Many of us have no formal credentials. Hell, many of us have no formal resume. Enough. Let’s have it out in the comments – what is a real job?

I chose the photo above because I think what Amanda Palmer said in her TED talk about the fairness of the exchange between an artist and her audience is very relevant to this discussion. If you haven’t watched her talk yet, don’t wait. It’s brilliant.

Near the end of Rachael’s letter, she wrote a sentence I’m going to break into two parts. “I can’t imagine being anything else but an artist…” – to be honest, I can’t imagine Rachael being anything else but an artist, either. Isn’t it wonderful, to love what you do so much you can’t imagine doing anything else?

“… but maybe it’s just not meant to be right now.” I invoke my disbelief in fate.

And also, if not now, when?

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“And also, if not now, when?” So true. I don’t want to do the things I love when I’m older. I want to STILL be doing them, if I still love them, not planning on finally “getting around to it”.

I also have a hard time talking about “what it is I do” to people at parties because right now, my stuff isn’t generating any money at all. My blogging is taking off but the money I get from ads number more in the cents per day realm. My book is living partly in my head and slowly peeping out as an outline. My shop is firmly in the start up phase. So what am I? An unproven newbie? Or just a housewife selling her cutesy wares on Etsy for pin money? (Nothing wrong with that, it’s the dismissive sneers about being that woman that’s wrong.)

So what is a real job? I don’t know. Should we define it solely with financial terms? What about our labors of love?

Em Star

I had a conversation about this very issue with a friend today–she knows someone who has the opportunity to quit her job she hates to do something she loves for less money, or get promoted at the current job to make (what seems to my friend and I) s*** load of money. After a long discussion, we decided we would both go for the dream job and say no thanks to the promotion. Of course, we’re both English teachers who craft on the side, so our heads are in the clouds anyway.

Right now I have an Etsy shop and I teach part time at several local colleges, and I feel that temptation you’ve written about to hem and haw about my job. “Well, I’m a teacher, *but*…” “Well, I sell some stuff online, *but*…” I’ve decided, after reading these posts and talking with my friend today, screw it all! I love teaching and I love crafting; I might be only eking by financially, but darn it, I’m happy doing it. So yes, they are both “real jobs,” and anyone who disagrees with me can kindly go spew their unhappiness onto someone else. I love the idea of “if not now, when?” As my teenage brother says: YOLO :)


I’ve had the career that people understood and now I’m doing the opposite – writing, photography, blogging. I can’t tell you how often people have looked over my shoulder at the proverbial cocktail party to see if someone more worthy is around to talk to.

I think part of that is my own shuffling of feet as I describe what I am passionate about and what I do. I’ve only recently learned to hold my head high and own it. And I’ve found that I attract more like-minded people.

We place so much value on the jobs that earn the most money, whether it’s who has the power in a relationship or how we feel about ourselves.

Love this series!

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