I was fortunate to attend a workshop on creativity a couple of weeks ago, hosted by authors Elizabeth Gilbert and Cheryl Strayed. Liz Gilbert’s most recent book, “Big Magic”, is about finding ways to live a creative life. As she states early in the book, this doesn’t mean the traditional ideas of creativity, like painting, writing, dance, or theatre, although of course those could be the way you express your creativity. What she’s talking about is finding the things inside you that make you unique – “the jewels” – and giving them space and time in your life.
My journal from the weekend is full of nuggets from the workshop, but the one that really stuck with me came during the Question & Answer time on Sunday morning. While answering someone’s question, Liz explained the idea that there are four separate ways to spend our time. We can have a hobby, a job, a career, or a vocation.
A hobby is something that you do for fun. There is no goal to make money or really do anything productive with a hobby – although that may be the outcome. There’s no requirement to have a hobby, it’s optional.
You can also have a career, and that should be something that you love to do. It’s a lifelong process that builds as you go. If you don’t love your career, it’s just a job. There is no requirement to have a career.
Some people have a vocation. This is a calling, and can be something like writing, teaching, or being a nurse. If you have a vocation, it’s not optional. You must do it or your soul will shrivel up.
And finally, there is a job. Liz was firm in the idea that everybody must have a job in order to have food and shelter. It doesn’t matter if you like your job or not, you just have to show up and do it often enough that you don’t get fired. It doesn’t have to be fulfilling or pleasurable. You don’t have to give it 100%. But a job is not optional.
She went on to say that there are ways to combine the four items. For example, very lucky people have a job they love, which makes it a career, and it’s based on their hobby and/or their vocation. Others have a vocation that’s actually profitable enough that they don’t need a job.
This was all very interesting to me, because in the past year I’ve been redefining for myself what it means to have a career, and how to make your hobby into a job. I’ve used the words “extended hobby” to refer to my yoga teaching, and according to Liz’s definition, I’m actually right to say that.
I also have clients who struggle to have a job and/or a career while also fostering their soul with a creative hobby. They want to find a point where they find success in their career while still having time and energy to inject some creativity into their lives. I have begun to believe that the only way to have a successful, long-lasting career is to absolutely insist on finding time for something that feeds your soul. At the very best, it means that you have a rich, full life. At the least, it means you can take your mind off a stressful work situation by focusing some attention on something completely separate from work.
That last part is what Liz means in Big Magic when she talks about having courage, giving yourself permission, and being persistent. You must find your own creativity, and nurture it, no matter what others may think. You must give yourself permission to make it a priority (no one else can do that) and then be persistent about doing it consistently. It could be knitting, gardening, karate, or stamp collecting, but whatever it is, make it your own.
The one piece of advice I would give about your creative pursuit is this: don’t try to make it your side hustle. The minute you attach financial worth to this hobby, it becomes a job. You must do it first and foremost for yourself. If others like it, and want to pay you for some aspect of it, that’s secondary. That can’t be your motivation, or it won’t work it’s magic in your life.