How I Gave Up A Perfectly Well Paid Job And Became A Professional Artist Instead: Part 2
I admit it. I was a rampant materialistic consumer. Of stupid proportions. When I first got a job, I would go out and buy whatever I wanted, whether I needed it or not. My record, book, comic, CD and DVD collections were extensive. I bought consoles on the day of release and spending £40 on a game was nothing. A new hobby would come along and I would buy all of the requisite gear. No expense spared. Christmas and birthdays were just obscene. The sheer quantity of presents was staggering. I don't even want to be reminded about it.
I thought that I bought things because I was working really hard and could afford it. I deserved it. But what I realised over time was that I bought things to cheer me up and alleviate the pain of a pressurised job. And it worked - short term. My purchases made me happy for a week or so and then I was looking for the next thing. That new special thing that I must have, that would make me even happier. I was never content with what I'd got and I didn't use anything to its fullest. I kept doing the same thing over and over again, buy, buy, buy, with the same result: it didn't make me happy.
Two things started a change in me: going part-time as a teacher and the film Fight Club. Due to some fairly harsh times at work I went part-time for a while and in that time my wife and I had to work out a way of cutting down. Gone were the times of buying whatever, whenever. We decided to set ourselves a weekly budget, based on a full review of our wages and necessary outgoings. We kept a note every week of what we bought. An underspend to save up for things was allowed, or very occasionally we could overspend and then pay it back. I was surprised that I actually felt a little bit happier doing this. I enjoyed saving for things. I used to do it as a child. It would take me at least ten weeks to save up for a £10 game for the C64. When I got the game, I would play it to death because I knew it would be a long while before I got another. I had returned to that approach and it felt much more satisfying than the instant gratification I was used to. The weekly budget didn't completely solve the happiness problem - I was still teaching after all.
So what about Fight Club? Well, it brought the subject of the evils of consumerism into my head. An idea that would percolate for years to come.
The change continued apace when I left teaching and took up a job that paid just above the minimum wage. Again we had to reassess our weekly budget and again I became happier. This could be largely due to leaving teaching but not completely. The reduction in material goods helped too.
The next part of the puzzle was reading a book called 'Stuffocation' by James Wallman. Suddenly everything became clear. Yes, my house was too full of stuff. Yes, I felt guilty about the stuff I never used. And yes, I wasn't happy.
The book suggests many ways to overcome this most modern of problems, some that I'd already started to put into practice. But I needed to commit more fully. I blitzed the house and either sold what I didn't want or gave it to charity. I kept the money gained as a fund for experiences. It felt like a weight had been lifted.
Finally - and this is how I became an artist - my job contract came to an end. After talking with my incredibly supportive wife and looking at the whole money situation we decided on a radical solution: take up art full time (with a side dish of doing all of the ironing, cleaning and cooking). I had been painting more over the previous year and really enjoying it, so it seemed like a natural step. The experience fund would help with the cost of the art materials. What better experience than following a life-long dream.
So we leapt.
And now we're happy. We have both left well paid (stressful) jobs and our income is less than a quarter of what we could have been earning if we had stayed in those miserable professions. Yet we're both enjoying life so much more. It's not something that could have happened overnight and it's taken a lot of adjusting. I sometimes wish that I had always lived like this. (I've done the maths and I could have still had the same house filled with the same essential stuff, but I would have only needed to have a low paid job.) I cringe at how much money I've wasted. Yet I think it's a process that I needed to go through, seeing that consuming vast quantities of stuff didn't work.
It has taken me over twenty years but I've now reached the point where I buy very little. I listen to music on Spotify. I rent my films from Lovefilm. Books, I get from the library. My one vice is cooperative board games. But one game lasts for ages. After playing them for a good long while, I sell them if I have an inkling that I won't play them again. My weekly budget now pays for everything other than bills, including petrol, meals out, birthday presents etc. Twenty years ago it would have been a nightmare but now it feels natural. The environment is breathing a sigh of relief too.
Where does feeling successful fit into this plan? I had to ask myself how I defined success. My answer was that success equals happiness. When I started teaching I thought that success lay down the route of having stacks of cash and buying loads of stuff. For me now, the opposite is true. Don't get me wrong, if I won on the lottery I wouldn't turn it down. Yet now, that money would buy experiences rather than things. It would allow us to work less or retire earlier. So yes, money is still important but only up to a point.
So that's how I can afford to be an artist. Now the dirty side of things is out of the way we can look at my influences as an artist. See you next time.