How to make a hard choice? Imagine you have a child finishing high school. Your child announces that he has considered several career options and has narrowed it down to artist or attorney. As a parent what is your reaction? When I reached this milestone in my life a career in arts meant something more industrial like textile design or even fashion design. A fine arts career was an oxymoron since everyone knew that outside of the education department there was no such thing as a career for fine artists. It was a life of struggle and desperation. Simple as that. It is law my son and that is that.
Thirty years later the world has become more enlightened. A degree is so generic that it seems almost pointless unless it is for a specific profession like medicine or engineering. Yet a decision between arts and traditional trades and professions is still a hard choice. Especially in "these tough times". So how does one choose in these circumstances? Philosopher Ruth Chang on TED Talks puts forward an empowering argument.
Consider the artist or attorney decision. Why do so many people opt for law instead of art? Because the fear of the unknown makes law seem like a less risky option. At least with law there is a prospect of earning more plus the social cachet of being a lawyer. Those TV programs glamorising lawyers also help a lot. But to base this decision on these criteria - fear and reward for example - is a mistake. You cannot hammer a round peg through a square hole without it ending in tears.
I can assure you that there are many young lawyers without work. Many others have had to start their own practice only to find that business is based on cashflow and the bank manager does not care what certificate hangs on your wall. No cashflow no mercy. Many young lawyers have had to close up shop deep in debt. Of those that have reasonably lucrative careers in law there are many who yearn to be doing something else more creative. To make it an the legal business, like any other business, requires hard work, hustle and many years of dedication. Passion too. So to succeed as an artist you will need the same dedication to the task. If you put in the work the rewards will come.
What we see then is that a law career and an arts career are on a par. Both can work out and both can implode.
How to choose between careers that are on a par? Will more income sway you? Lets say you love art, but you can expect to earn 25% more as a lawyer. Will that make you choose law even if it makes you miserable? It is unlikely that money alone will make the difference. Chang argues that in a hard choice situation you have the power to make your own reasons. What are your unique qualities and how do they fit in with the career. If you love art, but are lukewarm on a law career then it is likely that your law career will collapse in the near future.
If your joy and happiness are focused on art then it is more likely that art will sustain you. You have the power to be the author of your own life. Your subjective reasons are valid.
How to make this hard choice in mid-life? The fear of losing what you have accumulated now kicks in. Suddenly your assets and things that were the goal before become the shackles that bind you. The decision should be easier if you have a financial cushion to absorb a career change. Sadly this is not often the case. Fear increases with age. There is also a sense of noble matyrdom that keeps many professionals slogging on with work they hate. Sacrifice for a noble cause.
Just maybe our loved ones would rather have a happy mom, dad and spouse at home? It is a thought. Perhaps we can face these hard choices more clearly and make the correct choice for ourselves?
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa