STAY HUNGRY: Sometimes Hunger Is a Good Thing
The surprising benefit of needing money
(7 minute read)
I have no idea how or where this thought came from today. Oh, wait, I do!
Several times today, in the space of a few hours, I’ve come across mentions of why it’s important to remember why we started our art, and why we make it. I’m guessing you and I may have shared the same thoughts, lo-those-many-years-ago. Maybe we dreamed of being a famous artist. (Or an infamous artist? Your choice!)
Maybe we jumped right in. Or maybe we put it off for years. What held us back? Maybe, like me, we didn’t think we were “good enough”.
I didn’t like to paint. Therefore, I must not be a “real” artist.
But at some point, maybe, like me, we knew it was in us, and had to come out.
So we start, with excitement and joy. “I’m doing it! Woot!”
We keep going, and hopefully, get better.
We have a sale, or two, or twenty. “I’m on my way!”
For some of us, this climb continues until we soar. Our gallery representation grows, we get some media coverage, we make the big bucks.
We become the famous artist we’ve dreamed of being. Our dream becomes the norm: “Business as usual.”
There are a lot of artists today, probably more than in any other time in history. My generation (of which I am the trailing edge) has had time to not only pursue our art, we’ve had time to actually retire from our day jobs and do it full-time. Hence, a lot of competition. A lot of competition.
And lot of new artists entering the field every day, attracting a new audience of their own.
So as more artists make more work, to a slowly smaller audience, and sales slow, some artists contemplate quitting.
Their main reason? “Nobody likes my work.” “Nobody buys my work.” We seriously believe that more money will make us happier, and if we can’t get it, then why bother trying?
Fortunately, many artists, when given the chance to reflect, realize money/sales would be nice. But it isn’t the only reason we do what we do.
We do our work of our heart because it feels good. We like how we feel as we work our way through the process. We love having the freedom to do what we like the way we like, and using the subject matter we like.
With luck, perhaps we realize a bigger truth: Money isn’t everything. And too much money can ruin everything.
Decades ago, I served on a board for an art organization. We were running out of money at every turn, and our executive director was getting frantic. We had some money, a generous benefactor or two. But we couldn’t grow, we couldn’t take on all those new projects and endeavors that would really be the game-changer.
Heard this before? Then the following bit of information may break your brain.
Too much money can be even worse.
We hired a consultant who specialized in non-profit board training. She was amazing! Spot-on in her experience, suggestions, and insights. She shared that in her experience, the most damaging thing that could happen to a non-profit board was to have too much money. (I still remember the stunned silence that met this statement!)
“It literally takes “the hunger” away,” she explained. “The organization spends more, liberally, but not necessarily on the projects that really benefit the cause. It’s about spending, not growing or going deeper. And it can suck the life, the passion, out of the cause.”
First, let me say right now, YES money is important. We need it for the basic necessities in life, we need it to have food, shelter, kids, pets, health insurance, a car or other transportation, education. Money is a necessity, not a luxury.
Money, needing money, and wanting money is not the problem.
The problem is when we really think about how much is “enough”. Because for almost everyone, there is no such thing as “too much money”, until there is.
Remember Po Bronson’s book, What Should I Do With My Life? Published in 2002, the message most of us “heard” was, “Follow your bliss and the money will follow.” Unfortunately, that’s not always true. But most of us missed the bigger story:
Too much money can kill our dreams.
It turns out that, just like that consultant said, too much money has its own issues.
Bronson described how many people put off following their dreams until “they have enough money” to pursue them, without having to worry about making money from them. But what really happens is, they lose that hunger to follow their dreams. It can even make their dreams seem meaningless, pointless. Why bother making your own art, when you can afford to buy anyone else’s? Why perform music like your favorite bands, when you can buy an entire collection of their instruments? Why race cars when you can collect race cars instead? Why paint the ocean when you can look at it every day from your $10 million dollar estate atop a cliff? (Yes, I know people who think this way, and who do this.)
Martha Beck, life coach extraordinaire, once wrote about a client, a single woman, who worried about having no money, no security, afraid of becoming a street person late in life. Beck helped her set a goal of $1 million dollars in savings, so she would feel safe. Several years later, she met her goals. “You made it!” said Beck, congratulating her. “How do you feel now?” “Well,” sighed the woman, “If only I could save another million, I’d really feel safe.”
Do we really think that extra million will do it? Maybe for a day or two until our fear of “running out” raises its scary head again.
Let’s check in with one of the wealthiest people on the planet, Jeff Bezos, who has an estimated net worth of over $116 billion dollars. Well, there are a lot of billionaires out there today. How about a little video that shows just how much money that really is? (He purchased a home in Los Angeles home for $165 MILLION dollars, or less than 1/703 of his total wealth.) And this video was made after he’d already lost over $4 billion dollars due to market drops, and a $38 billion dollar divorce. So, money did not buy a happy marriage, either. And apparently, making more money is still one of his most important goals.
Here’s what happens when I get ahead in my own art biz income: I go on spending sprees, buying up supplies and materials for new projects, because I’m secretly afraid I will never have a “surplus” of money again.
Pretty sad, huh?
Finally, an insurance agent gave me clarity that still haunts me to this day. We were both on the board of another start-up non-profit. This gave me the opportunity to have some amazing talks with him, including this story.
He had the opportunity to take a dream vacation, a dream of a life time, with his partner. They could afford it, but it would be expensive. He agonized for a long time about whether this was a wise decision.
Then he had the insight that this was what insurance is all about. It’s a way to reassure us that, even if something terrible happens, we will be okay.
That’s when he realized, at the heart of every buyer of insurance, is the question: How much money will make you feel safe? Of all people, he realized, he should know the answer to this!
Anything can happen in life.
And no amount of money can ever keep us completely safe.
They went on their dream vacation, and he’s really happy they did.
As the poster in a good friend’s house said, at a pivotal point in my life, “All ships are safe in harbor. But that’s not what ships are for.”
Money is good. Lots of money can be great. Too much money can be mind-numbing, and soul-shrinking.
Being a little hungry can be beautiful, and powerful, too.
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