I Nearly ‘Starved’ As An Artist, Then I Changed My Life
Once a starving artist and now a self-proclaimed 'numbers geek'—a story of how to stay true to your passion without going broke.
When I began my career as a professional actor, there were a lot of things I didn’t mind: subletting my room to people I didn’t know to save money on rent; hauling my life in suitcases across the city, taking two trains and a bus to avoid paying for cabs; couch-surfing and ridesharing across America to bank as much of my per diem as possible while traveling for work.
I didn’t mind a lot of things because at the end of the day, I was living my dream: making a living as a professional actor.
I got paid to travel, sing, and dance on stages across Asia, South America, and the United States. Although I didn’t make much (there was one particular tour where I was given a grand sum of $54 per day to cover the cost of food and hotel stays), it certainly beat paying for those once-in-a-lifetime experiences out-of-pocket.
As high as the highs were of lugging down the Great Wall of China, hang gliding over a beach in Rio De Janeiro, and taking nightly bows to thunderous applause while onstage at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, the lows of agonizing over whether to leave my cruise ship gig in the midst of ongoing harassment and tolerating the toxic environment of my restaurant survival job became increasingly difficult to negotiate.
While I could handle simple trade-offs like public transportation in lieu of taxis, it became harder to accept the trade-off of my personal happiness.
I had never prioritized salary or financial security in my early career pursuits. I was lucky to average around $20,000 a year, including supplemental income from my too-many-to-count survival jobs. But the more I found myself negotiating my own happiness in the name of the passion I’d so ruthlessly prioritized, the more I began to realize the enormous value that comes from financial stability, and the more I started craving financial freedom for myself.
Unfortunately, my acting salaries – a whopping $500 per week when I was lucky enough to be working – were never going to get me there. Not in New York City – even on the bare-bones budget I’d mastered as a starving artist.
I had to start earning more, but I wanted to do it on my own terms.
Babysitting, personal assisting, and restaurant gigs weren’t exactly putting me on the fast track to financial stability, so I became a total numbers geek. I tracked every penny spent and earned on spreadsheets; read every bit of personal finance literature I could get my hands on; and started sharing what had become my very personal mission of “breaking broke” online.
IT WASN’T JUST ABOUT THE NUMBERS, THE MONEY, OR THE SECURITY – IT WAS ABOUT BUILDING A LIFE ON MY OWN TERMS.
One where I didn’t feel that I had to do something because I couldn’t afford the alternatives – whether in the context of a job, a relationship or anything else.
It turned out I wasn’t alone in wanting that freedom. In my online musings, I’d stumbled upon an eager audience, struggling with many of the same things I’d struggled with and wanting many of the same things as me.
Starting my journey of writing and speaking about money pivoted my path from starving artistry to thriving entrepreneurship.
I became recognized and paid for the work I was creating, finally getting a taste of financial freedom for myself without sacrificing my love of creating or storytelling in the process.
Rather than choosing between passion or financial security, I found a way to build a career and a life where I get to enjoy both – the fulfillment of creation, and the undeniable peace of mind that comes from financial freedom. Not only that, I still get to perform – but now, the money doesn’t matter.
I now have enough diversity of income that a $500-a-week gig is a bonus rather than a source of stress.
I walk into an audition room without the heavy burden of “needing the job.” As it turns out, money really does matter, and choosing to be financially responsible and fulfilled doesn’t have to mean sacrificing personal, artistic, or any other kind of fulfillment.
If anything, financial security empowers the continued pursuit of those personal missions without having to compromise happiness along the way.