Art & Money: Why I Turned Down My Dream Job

Picture 3A friend had emailed me a link with a message, "Did you see this job? It's made for you!" She was right. They were looking for someone to help manage an Artist Residency program, and the job description requested a candidate with just about every skill I'd ever acquired in my working adult life, from supporting artists to social media content creation to arts administration and more. All that, and the gig was in one of my favorite towns in the country, a tiny desert outpost with temperate weather and an abundance of creative folk.

I made up my mind then and there, this was MY job. I was meant to apply and meant to receive it. The universe - via my friend - had delivered me a shining, clear beacon of light that blasted out the message, "Leigh, behold your next step!"

So why, when I was offered a second interview, did I end up declining it?

Here's what happened: I applied for the job. I dreamed of it daily until I got a call for an interview. The interview, which was supposed to last a half hour, lasted an hour and forty-five minutes. That's how well I got on with the program director. We scheduled a second interview for a few days later. In the meantime, I went to my mother's house to clean out some boxes in her basement. The years of paperwork I uncovered in this archeological dig included the last 12 of my freelancing "career." As I sorted through the paper avalanche, I came upon page-after-page and note-upon-note of scribblings about dream jobs - the ones I applied for, the ones I got, the ones I didn't get -  as well as several plans, schemes and brainstorms about my own creations that were going to lead to a lasting and fulfilling work life. There was the pricey short film that was going to launch my film career, the proposal for an art school in that abandoned building, a file cabinet's worth of stuff from my short-lived art gallery, and much more. As I read through it all, it occurred to me that there were very similar notes on my desk at home from just two days ago, notes of inspired ideas and the accompanying monetary calculations of how these inspired ideas were going to allow me to eat, feed and shelter myself. None of those ideas of years past had panned out in a sustainable way, even the ones that were "sure things," the ones that the universe, I thought, had brought me at just the Right Time, the ones that were supposedly "meant to be."

Sifting through these 12 years of papers, I suddenly felt as though I'd uncovered the inner workings of a mad woman. It seemed I'd been doing the same thing year after year, but expecting different results.

I spent the next couple of days in a state of anxious despair. I wanted the artist residency job, but I knew taking it would mean a lot of financial finagling. Come to find out, there was no actual pay for the job, though it included housing and access to studio space. "But this job was meant to be!," I kept thinking.

Finally, after a long chat with my best friend, I had a revelation, what some might call an A-Ha! moment. I understood that I'd been making all my day-to-day career decisions based on the need for money, but making all my big picture career decisions on inspiration alone. In both instances I had been leaving out a necessary part of the process. I should have been making ALL my creative career decisions with both inspiration AND money in mind. You see, I thought if I was inspired to do something, if it was meant to be, then the financial end would just all work out. It truly never occurred to me that I was supposed to do anything else but follow my heart. After all, that notion is drilled into us as artists: "Follow your bliss." "Don't take a job just for the money." etc. In the arts we're fueled by inspiration. It's our currency. Just about everything we do hinges on it. Perhaps that's why it took me forty years to fully understand that there were two steps in manifesting an ideal art career - Step 1: Feel the inspiration. Step 2: Get in action to make sure the money piece supports the inspired idea.

The brainwashing I'd had around the perils and evils of money did not allow me to see that taking care of my finances before leaping ahead was actually a giant act of self-care. Turns out when we make decisions based on both inspiration AND money, we are truly setting ourselves up for sustainable and lasting success.

And so, with the mantra of "We must give up what is good to get what is better," I declined the second interview at my dream job. I lost an opportunity, but gained a much greater understanding, one that will serve me for the rest of my life - my creative, financially sound, sustainable life.

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(Light bulb photo by Anthony Storo.)