Man will begin to recover the moment he takes art as seriously as physics, chemistry or money.
~ Ernst Levy
The question is usually understood to mean “What do you do for a living/to earn money?” Some people answer with puffed chests and proud smiles “I’m a doctor/lawyer/teacher/scientist/computer programmer/engineer.” To be sure, these folks have reason to be proud. Many of them worked hard in school and paid their dues on many levels to achieve the positions they hold. They offer a significant, valuable skill set that benefits society at large.
In my experience, people working in areas that are deemed less practical are more sheepish, often apologetic in their replies. Perhaps they are an artist, musician, writer, entrepreneur … or worse, a stay-at-home parent. Most people don’t even consider the latter a real job. Some don’t consider the other occupations I listed real jobs either.
Why Don’t You Get a Real Job?
Try telling someone that you are starting your own business, or that you’re a musician, writer, or other type of artist. Mention that you are forfeiting a pay cheque to care for your children and home. Not always, but more often than not, eyes glance away in search of a handy escape hatch. The response is usually an awkwardly uttered “Oh … well… that’s interesting. . .” Before you know it, the subject has changed or the enquirer has quickly moved on to mingle with more intelligent, interesting, normal people.
Even those who appreciate good art, music and writing wonder how you could possibly make a living in that type of field. Some of us are reluctant to pay for creative endeavours. In the age of the internet, why should we pay when we can find it somewhere for free? The arts are all well and good, but they don’t offer any real tangible benefit to society do they? They’re the first educational programs slashed when budgets are tight and they always seem to play second fiddle to the athletics department.
Entrepreneurs are often viewed as flaky dreamers … until one of their ventures makes it big. The most obvious recent examples are tech titans like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, but history is replete with innovators who were initially viewed as oddballs, and later, as geniuses. We owe them a debt of gratitude as large – perhaps larger – than the professionals who go on to fine tune and execute their vision.
I don’t want to wade too deeply into the stay-at-home-parent issue, as that’s a whole other blog post (or 12!). The purpose here is not to say that one form of family dynamic is better than the other, but to point out that skilled parenting, whether it’s by someone who works outside the home or not, does not seem to carry a lot of value in our society. Still, families with two working parents are now considered the norm, and it’s been my experience that people do look askance at those who choose to have one parent look after the children and household while the other earns the income – more so if that parent happens to be the father.
What Is a Real Job?
It seems to me a real job (as mentioned above) offers a significant, valuable skill set that benefits society at large. It’s pretty easy to see that most of those in prestigious, practical lines of work do offer skills that benefit society. But what about artists and entrepreneurs and stay-at-home parents? Is it time for them to suck it up and get a real job?
My definition of a real job didn’t include anything about money, although any stay-at-home parent will tell you the absence of a pay cheque is probably the thing they regret the most about their choice. Some entrepreneurs or artists give up on their ideas just before they might have blossomed because they simply can’t afford to pursue their dreams any longer. Like it or not, our society doesn’t place a huge value (especially in the monetary sense) on this type of work – except in the rare case where an artist or entrepreneur makes it big.
Still, there are many great artists, entrepreneurs and parents out there who are contributing a significant, valuable skill set that benefits society at large. Some of them are earning money and some of them aren’t. I can’t imagine my life without music or books. I love my iPad. I’m grateful that my Mom stayed home with us for several years. I’m also grateful that she worked for many years to help support us – and I’d like to think she put out a decent product.
Why Ask the Question?
All of these questions came to mind recently as our two older sons turned 17. Honestly, I don’t know where the years have gone. It seems like only yesterday a bewildered young version of me brought home tiny twin boys. Overnight I became a 40-something grown-up living with a group of young men, and one slightly older – but still very handsome – gentleman!
Many of you already know my two older sons are musicians. They are at a point now where they must decide whether to pursue their dreams or get a real job. What’s a skilled mother to advise?
I don’t know what the right answer is, but I do know these boys.
These two young men have never done anything by the book since the morning they graced our lives – a month before their scheduled arrival. They have coloured outside the lines, been oblivious to boundaries and touched everything they weren’t supposed to touch – repeatedly. At the same time, they have an iron-clad sense of justice and truth that is probably rare for people of any age, let alone adolescents.
Music is their native language. I’ve spent many years trying to help them cultivate, yet hone their artistic nature. How can I now ask them to suck it up and get a real job? To be sure, the road won’t be easy for them and the term “starving artist” sometimes keeps me up at night. But would things be any easier if they tried to cram themselves into a “real” job that just doesn’t fit?
When I’m honest with myself, I have to answer in the negative. My one hope and wish for all of my sons has always been that they would be happy. I’ve come to understand that it’s really hard to be happy if you don’t wake up every morning excited to do what you do. What my eldest sons do is music. I think that is a significant, valuable skill set that benefits society at large – whether said society wants to pay for it or not.
What do you think?