Sunday, April 28, 2013


John Green once said in a video blog that the older we get and the more decisions we are required to make (where to go to college, what to major in, where we work, etc.) the less options we have in life. In some ways, this is true. I studied English and Religion, and with no practical experience in construction it would be hazzardous for me to build a house, whereas a Science major who doesn't read or consider the spiritual dimension of life at all (even for other people) wouldn't be suitable to enter a classroom to teach either of my chosen subjects (with which I have a teaching qualification...almost... you get the point!)

However, John's brother Hank is but one person who demonstrably created new options for himself. His main field of work, before the Brotherhood 2.0 project, was in ecology. (That's simplifying it.) A few years later, he's a multi-album, sell-out-touring musician (with his own record company, too, DFTBA Records), who runs a major video conference every year (Vid-Con), helped produce a web-series (The Lizzie Bennett Diaries) and runs a number of smaller, but still significant, projects, including a business that sells 2-D Glasses. His choice way back in his teens? To study Science. Hank also considers the greater questions in life, but he's a teaching qualification away from having his own classroom, even for Science, but that doesn't stop him running Sci-Show and co-running Crash Course on YouTube.

But what about someone without a college qualification? Of the people I'm familiar with online, Alex Day - another YouTuber - shows that you don't need to have a degree to make something of yourself. He's a college dropout turned Top-40 musician. (I don't think he liked the course very much, though his one-time membership in Mensa suggests he was more than capable of actually completing it.) He also releases albums with DFTBA Records, along with t-shirts, but released his singles solo. He also has a card game (made with his cousin) called Sopio, and runs Life Scouts.

Do our choices limit our options? Not necessarily. Day and the Green Brothers (John being a former hospital chaplain, among other things, before finding fame and fortune through vlogbrothers and his New York Times Bestselling novels - enough to live on with his wife, son, dog, and a second child on the way) show clearly that their choices in their teenage years didn't stop them following through on their dreams and ambitions. Is it possible for everybody else?

Let's look at it in my case. Technically speaking, I'll be qualified to teach. However, a degree in English also allows for me to work comfortably in a number of different fields, including publishing and journalism. I made the decision to write as much as possible when I was fourteen years old, and that hasn't limited anything I've done in life. Far from it. If anything, I've given myself more options, especially coming to the end of my college years.

But I also have an interest in business. I read about it as much as I can, when I'm not working on essays or studying for exams. I have a business plan in the works (a project I've mentioned before in more vague terms that is becoming less of a secret with certain people, but still very much private), something that has only been affected by one formal choice in my life - to study Business at Leaving Cert level - but is otherwise based upon my own interests.

What's most significant about this, for people who might feel they are limited by what they studied formally, is that something I did privately, out of my own interest, that was in no way connected to my formal education, is now affecting my life in a postive way. Just as Alex liked card games, John loved writing and Hank enjoyed music and videos, my personal interests are impacting on the options I have in life, opening them up, rather than limiting what I can do in life.

Something Dave Lordan mentioned at yesterday's workshop comes to mind as I write this, too: it's not the builders, the electricians or the plumbers he knows who are finding work, but the writers, the artists and the musicians. Working in the Arts is an option, now, more so than ever before, and especially in Ireland.

My recommendation, though, is to learn something about business and marketing if you want to make something of yourself in the arts. (I have an interest in them, and so began reading about them before making the realisation that it was actually beneficial in being a writer.) It's possible to do something without knowing much about business, but it's much, much easier to actually have control over your life when you know how others do - this going beyond mind-set, and into actual practices. There's also the advantage of being reminded of some important factors, like who you will deal with in being an artist (in many cases, retailers, publishers and the media) and how you present yourself to these people; how forecast your money, and the reminder to pay taxes on what you earn (in some countries there's an exemption, or a reduced rate - check with your tax office!); thinking about how to work in the long-term (for businesses, making changes or releasing products); and a whole lot else (especially in terms of marketing) that can make drastic and sometimes necessary changes to how to work as an artist.

Do you need a professional qualification to run a business? No.

Do you need a professional qualification to work as an artist? No.

Both are things you can pick up yourself if it suits you. You already have options in your life, based on your previous choices. Most of the time, as John Green rightly said, your decisions reduce the number of options available to you. However, that doesn't mean there aren't many decisions you can make that will do the opposite. Consider your hobbies, your current job, your current situation in life (married? kids? pets?) and the courses and books available to you, and tell me you have no more options. For most, it's simply a matter of making one more decision.

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