“Starving artists”: choosing happiness over success

Ever since I was young, I was taught to use my talents and potential in order to work the system in my favour. However, in order for it to have any meaning, everything has to be in a certain format validated by a diploma and made marketable.

If I were a writer, I would have to be a professional one, striving to write books people would want to read, or columns in a magazine or a newspaper with a big name. Otherwise, I would be a “starving artist” and I would never amount to anything. If I am good at what I do, money and status will come, and if I am not, I will probably never matter. My work may be appreciated years after I die-if that even happens- but no one strives for post mortem fame.

“I get very few questions about whether this actually makes me happy and what these columns really mean to me.”

Since I started writing my column, many people have asked me if I get paid and if it’s good money. I get very few questions about whether this actually makes me happy and what these columns really mean to me. When I say that I really enjoy having an outlet for my thoughts, when I tell them how much I am growing, and how much I enjoy trying to improve my own work, it almost seems meaningless to them. I feel as though because I am taking things as they come, looking to make myself happy and not only to boost my CV, I lack focus and have no goals. Why am I writing so diligently every week and not demanding anything in return?

Everything I do in life, it seems, needs to have a definite purpose or needs to profit me somehow, otherwise I am wasting my time. How will I ever manage to build up a set of skills and compete in the labor market if I keep wandering around living my life? It seems as though I am not productive if I am fine with where I am and not constantly looking into the future. Everything, from my creativity to my relationships, needs to have a label, a purpose, and needs to fit into a certain category in order to be “worthy” of my energy.

The truth is, the more I make decisions that bring me in touch with my personality and myself, the happier I become. I have spent years getting my grades up, trying to get into good schools, quantifying my talents and proving myself. I have done truly crazy things sometimes in order to establish myself in an environment that would later on enable me to live a “good life.”

“[…] I was bringing myself down so much in order to be successful in a conventional way, it became very obvious that it was not worth it anymore.”

I have often envied people who could do better than me, and spent my days trying to find a way to become like them. I would refrain from writing in my free time because it would use up the energy I needed to put into work. Most of this has made me miserable. I developed anxiety, I’ve felt lonelier than ever before, and in spite of all the support I got from family and friends, I’ve never felt more lost. It came to a point where I had to stop for a second and really think about what I was doing, because I was bringing myself down so much in order to be successful in a conventional way, it became very obvious that it was not worth it anymore. I was striving to be this sensational person who will never cease to amaze the world with all the things my mind can do. Instead, it became hard for me to live with myself. I needed to realize that my passion would drive me to do things even if I don’t make a list of goals, and that my talents would get me exactly where I needed to be in life.

I’ve learned that drive and motivation can have a healthy and an unhealthy form. Only after I stopped going against myself in a very destructive way did I begin to slowly recover and feel alright again. This lesson was always passed on to me as an elective, and it was up to me to make it a priority.

 

Nevena Vracar is a sociology Bachelor student at the University of Amsterdam. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of The Amsterdammer.

Hi there! My name is Nevena and I am a 22-year-old student currently in the second year of a sociology bachelor at the University of Amsterdam. I come from Belgrade, Serbia and I’ve moved here about three years ago. I am a part of the opinion section of the Amsterdammer and my columns focus mostly on my experience as an international and studying abroad.

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