Creative Freedom Must Be Earned

It is probably a mistake that we instruct children to do whatever they want with the majority of their time for the first 18 years, then tell them that’s no longer how it works. What if we afforded adults that same creative freedom? Would the economy collapse? Would it thrive?

I think it could work. The world would probably look a lot different than it does now. We’d have more writers and fewer plant managers, more Youtubers and fewer farmers, and perhaps that pressure would actually lead to faster innovation in industries like food, transportation, energy, and other critical infrastructure. After all, some people are deeply interested in those, too, and they’d get to work on them full-time!

Alas, as it stands — and perhaps I am wrong to assume it could be any other way — creative freedom must be earned. You can earn it with an unrelated, full-time job, or you can earn it by compromising what you work on, but anytime you say, “I will do this exactly the way I want to do it,” there will be a price to pay.

Ironically, exercising your creative freedom to its full extent is usually the fastest path towards pursuing it full-time — if that is your goal, and if there is a path to financial sustainability in the first place.

Let’s say you work a job in accounting, but in your spare time, you showcase your woodworking skills on TikTok. If you stick to your guns and make the figurines you like to make, the world may or may not like them, but if they do, you might have a business on your hands. The advantage here is that it’s easier to be authentic because there’s no financial pressure on your woodworking hobby to begin with. The drawback is that you only have a few hours a week to both perform the hobby and document it.

For the full-time creator, the tradeoff is a different one: How many videos will you make to pay the bills, and how many will you make because you want to make them? Chances are, the stuff you want to create and the stuff people want to buy won’t 100% overlap. In most cases, that percentage is much closer to zero than 100, and so the full-time creator can quickly find herself in a situation that’s similar to that of the employee, ghostwriting article after article with no time left to work on her own book. On the plus side, she gets to write all day long, and to the cubicle worker dreading to return to yet another spreadsheet, that too can seem enticing.

Regardless of the specifics, the time you spend creating the way you used to when you were nine will have to be earned with blood, sweat, and sometimes tears, and so you better not waste it. There are few things more saddening than to shovel free an entire Thursday only to realize you spent it chasing dumb get-rich-quick schemes two days later.

When you choose creativity, choose creativity all the way through. Insist on doing things your way, and let the chips fall where they may.

Until the world realizes children had the right approach all along and organizes itself around it, we may have to struggle for our creative freedom, but if we use what we earn well, it’ll be one of the few battles in life truly worth fighting.