Life-improvement advice for the privileged


These are some slighly unrelated thoughts that are somehow linked to these existing discussions here:

A path to improvement?, Balance in creative pursuits, and especially Personal Productivity / Prioritization
and of course also related to the ongoing “goals” thread.

and originated from reading this article here:

We all want to achieve our goals and we all want to be better artists, people and that’s good. I think there’s some great advice out there that helps you with achieving more and being better, but all of them seem to ignore a couple of fundamental aspects of life, which sometimes are kind of the elephant in the room, and sometimes are just things we don’t want to see.
please note that I think the article linked above does have some very good points – albeit nothing really new – so I’ll mostly quote it for the sake of the discourse, not because I want to specifically bash the author or the text.

A very common point I read around is: you should live your dream instead of living a mediocre life that is just ok. Which is a good point and I wholeheartedly agree with that, but what is often ignored is that living your dream is very often a privilege not everybody can have. It also kind of ignores the fact that some people might actually love being a lawyer (though that is another topic I guess).

quoting the article:

I have friends who are lawyers, dentists, doctors, and other “worthy” professions. When I ask them, “Is doing this your dream job” they have all responded, “no”. After that is usually followed up with some lame response such as, “But life is good…”.

and further down in the text:

Be that person you were meant to be, or be like everyone else, living mediocre lives.

This is one way to see it. But what about all the people who have a shitty job because their lives are just a big mess and they have to survive day by day? It’s easy to talk about the lawyers, dentists and doctors…
So more often than not, this is just an advice for privileged people to privileged people, at least that’s how it feels to me.

The other thing that often is ignored: if you have a family and kids, if you want to reach your goals, it might mean that your partner will have to renounce to theirs and you’ll have to step over many “corpses” to get there.
Claire Dederer does make a very interesting reflection on the matter towards the end of this article about “Horrible people who are great artists”:
To sum it up she claims that more often than not you need to be a bit of a monster if you want to be a great artist, meaning that at the base of every artistic success story there is a lot of selfishness, which means leaving behind partners, children and social relationships.

I guess the big question that is left at the end of this is: can we reach our goals even if we’re not part of the privileged ones? Can we do what we want without hurting the people around us too much?
It’s some questions I ask myself a lot lately.

Has anyone sold (nearly) everything?

but what is often ignored is that living your dream is very often a privilege not everybody can have.

I agree; the concept of privilege is something that artists often don’t want to talk about in relation to themselves.

To be a successful artist, you need resources and time. Unless you come from a privileged background [aka your family and/or your partner is financially stable and can offer you support], both these aspects have to be sacrificed to a certain extent while you pursue a day job. Unless you are prepared to live the life of the precariat - some people are comfortable with that, some aren’t [I’m not, so I have a day job to pay the bills].

Yet, because a lot of people don’t want to think about privilege when it comes to themselves, they can be judgmental of those who are less privilege. I’ve had people who think less of me as an artist simply because I don’t “dedicate” myself to my art. Well, I would love to dedicate myself wholly to the arts, but I also need to afford to eat and pay my bills…

Re: selfishness and the arts. I think the current model of arts funding promotes this “dog eat dog” mentality. I read somewhere describing it as “polite warfare”, which IMO is on-point. Applying for grants and funding basically pits you against your peers, because there’s only so much money going around.

I guess the big question that is left at the end of this is: can we reach our goals even if we’re not part of the privileged ones?

The optimist in me thinks yes, but it involves some changes in perspectives. A few off-the-cuff observations:

  • Stop thinking of peers as competitors - we shouldn’t be applying a neoliberal mentality to the arts, instead think of ways to be more inclusive;
  • For individual artists - revise timelines and goals. Personally I acknowledge that I won’t succeed at the same rate as my more privileged peers, but it doesn’t make me any lesser of a person or artist;
  • Getting some perspective about your work and life - at the end of the day, sometimes it’s more important to foster relationships than to chase that next commissions/contract/grant.

A friend of mine did a talk around these subjects in 2016, which, while long and is focused on experimental arts, is a worthwhile read about the economics of art in general:

Particularly this quote:

Perhaps this is because what stands in our way – a very dominant, economic view of value – is so pervasive that it makes it almost impossible for people to appreciate creativity if it can’t be measured in dollar terms. The market-driven ideology that is used as the justification for many of the negative perceptions of experimental arts-related activity and cuts to public arts funding is sometimes obscured as we lurch from crisis to crisis. A market-based view of creative work tells a very limited story about its impact, just as it also reflects a poor understanding of creativity, and offers us a limited paradigm for being. In this regard, the new music sector, and all of us, are not alone.


i’m fully responsible of the choices i make and decisions i take, i’m not responsible of the reaction of the people around : there are their feelings, their judgements. i let them free to feel as they want or as they are able to.

it sounds like so many ads, and injunctions repeated over and over again

this lead me to this :

yes. but because bosses of big corps wants you to live their dreams. it makes it very difficult to know, discover and recognize what your dream is in the first place.


Not sure what you want to say exactly, but at a first read this sounds like: “I take responsibility for throwing a stone in your face, but I’m not responsible for your fractured nose”.

that is true indeed.

@samarobryn: I totally agree about the risks of applying a corporate logic to arts funding. It’s really a very tricky thing to be honest and I don’t really know what could work for that. I have a direct experience of what happens when arts get funded too much, there’s also a series of political implications with funding art, in the sense that the whole funding system quickly becomes a way to also control what is being made and what isn’t, who is being allowed to say things and who isn’t. So there’s the other side of the coin, applying a “dictatorship” logic to arts funding… but I guess I am digressing.


i’m talking about doing what feels right to me. not harming peole around intentionaly

edit : and not hurting them intentionaly either


RE: arts funding. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to it, either. Funding in general can be a political minefield. I think it also doesn’t help that for many art scenes, it can be incredibly insular and becomes more about who you know, rather than your actual work. I personally find it easier to get work out of my city than within, but that’s a depressingly common story in my area.

[Which then ties back to privilege - I’m privileged enough to be able to afford to look beyond my city; not everyone is so lucky.]

I guess my way of working around issues surrounding funding is to sidestep it completely and self-fund, but that’s not really a solution to a problem, more like an avoidance.

I’m digressing as well! However, it is a very interesting and complex topic so perhaps these digressions are bound to happen!


I know you probably didn’t mean this exclusively but I just wanted to add that most of my friends have shitty jobs and survive day to day off their shitty wages but I sure don’t consider their lives a big mess.


In which case I totally agree.

yes same here. It’s also less work :slight_smile:

yes I absolutely didn’t mean this exclusively, it was more an extreme example. I know people who have jobs they hate and all sorts of problems, and telling them to just go with their dream might feel more like a joke on them. But I also know many people who have jobs I would not choose to do (which btw. doesn’t make them shitty) and get paid really little, but are totally ok – some are even happy. There’s more to life than work and success (which is another thing that these big life improvement speeches often neglect).

I have to admit that me and my wife are both in a really lucky position with Papernoise, because most of the issues I have mentioned do not really touch us or are in a manageable range. Still it’s a lot of hard work every day and it’s hard to find the balance between choosing your own (sometimes selfish) goals, or choosing to do what’s right for everybody around me and I realize that it also takes some luck to be able to afford to make certain choices.


Super interesting topic! Been thinking a lot about this. Just going to think out loud for a moment.

I’m pretty young (26) and live in a very priviledged country. I feel like my generation is very much fostered on the idea that you should aim for your dream and that everyone can achieve whatever. (Interesting point about peers being competitors, I hate that). This often leads to a lot of hard reality checks and life lessons. Not everyone will or can live off their passion, and that’s just life. The problem as I see it is that the focus is so much centered towards achievements that has to be verified by sucsess outside ourselves. I think it’s a shame that sucsess is so often measured in sales, fame and numbers. We should tell the kids to do things that makes them happy, but also that life isn’t all fun and play. It may be a little preachy, but I don’t think it hurts with a little moral - so to promote the importance of doing helpful things for others and to combine this with your arts or whatever. I think the western world is in general a little too focused on the individual. In context I find forums like this is so fresh! And I also know there is a lot of cool organizations and groups of people doing exactly this, so it’s important not to just focus on the downsides of our state.

For me the question is often centered around how to measure sucsess in a healthy way. For example I find my work sucsessful if I had a great time creating it. Still I enjoy verification and feedback by others, and that can sometimes dictate to some extent how I feel about it later.

Many great thoughts and ideas in this thread! Difficult to comment on all aspects of it. This was just what was on the top of my mind.

Edit: want to add that I work in a caring/nursing home (of some kind) and study behaviour analysis - totally enjoying that and really want to do that for a living, with music being most of all a passion and work of heart.


Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get.


I’m a married father of two very young, very beautiful children. I work in finance - possibly the most conservative, uniform, prescribed career path that I can possibly imagine. The attorney friends I know and work with tend to lead very interesting lives, comparatively, because they have some means to do so. My role requires no particular license or degree, in general, so I’m a little more “locked-in” so to speak.

My coworkers play golf and watch sports on the weekends. They go to their beach houses during the summer and provide rather strong encouragement for the kids to succeed, and dedicate themselves to, athletics and other competitive activities. I go to shows and stick out like a sore thumb. I might as well wear a suit wherever I go. I spend nights in my basement patching modular synths after the kids go to bed. I dream of playing out somewhere but worry that I’d never be taken seriously. Unless I wore a suit.

My partner is extremely accommodating for my musical interests and other hobbies. She frequently allows me to splurge, both time and money, on these interests. I love her and am grateful for her generosity in this area. Over the last year, she chose to stay home with our children and put her career on hold. This made some sense financially but in the end it came down to never being able to get back such a precious time with our children. I realize not all parents choose to do this (edit: or are in a position to do this) and that’s totally understandable.

All this being said, I struggle because I’m in that camp that says “life is good” but I loathe almost every single day I come to work. I’m really not sure what I’m working towards other than a pay check and a distant retirement. If I had my way, I would own and operate a recording studio or mixing house of some sort but the time has come and gone for me to invest the necessary time and money here. My kids need to eat. Heck, I need to eat. Plus, I can buy almost any gear I want, within reason. Its not that big of a decision.

But there are family pressures. Sure, my wife could go back to work and I could simply claim that now is “my time” just like she had hers. And in a sense, that would be perfectly fair. But is that worth the stress from my family and hers? There will be judgment cast, I’m sure of it. Telling myself that its never too late to pursue my dream sounds like a great way to justify losing an income stream and pissing off all those that have helped us along the way - and many have helped us, especially our families. Maybe it works out in the end, maybe it doesn’t. But there is a reality to the fact that none of us are isolated from these effects. I think they are compounded because of the chosen profession: art. These feelings are attenuated if I chose another “safe” profession instead.


I’m a lurker here, so forgive my contrarian stance, but I think “follow your dream” is a toxic phrase that should be buried and forgotten.

“Follow” is a verb of passivity - it’s akin to being led, to always being one step behind

A “dream” is an ephemeral, ill-defined, fleeting thing

“Following your dream” means you are chasing some ill-defined desire. You don’t REALLY know what it is…but you’ll know it when you get there, surely…?

And yet this phrase also implies such an all-or-nothing condition (which is so odd, considering we’re talking about dreams!) Either you have either achieved your dream or you have failed.

Don’t buy it.

A better life is to live with intent, to set goals and YES 100% pursue your passions. If you work a day job and make music at night or the weekends, you are in good company. There’s no shame in that (Morton Feldman, Poulenc, and Vivaldi will sympathize).


Just 20 characters of agreement on this! That last part is very good.


Kind sir, I know your pain. I knocked around in one industry for years, consumed by a low-grade dissatisfaction that I was not making a difference. When I joined a mission-driven institution the lights went on and I realized I had been struggling with adapting myself to environments I was simply not optimized for.

I didn’t follow my dream, I just woke up to the reality that my prior idea of who I was and what I was meant to do was fatally flawed. The first half of life’s journey is discovering yourself, and then the rest of the journey is about helping others do the same in a gentle way.


i found your post moving and also it gives a lot to think about.


thank you for putting this so elegantly


Totally agree, thanks for pointing that out. Of course in my head I was not thinking about actual “dreams” or vague imaginations of a future self, I was mostly thinking about goals, and just trying to avoid the word I guess… :slight_smile:
Because “goals” also feels strange to me.
The thing is, I don’t like the idea of goals, instead I try to determine what my real, visceral passion is, and make that a daily thing. So it’s not so much about the goal, it’s about doing what I love every day.
To me there’s a big difference in it. A goal is about the destination, but – as the old saying goes – to me it’s mostly about the travel.

Before going fully self employed with Papernoise I used to work for a marketing agency. Nice people, with a very clear ethos (we were mostly doing only project for sustainable mobility), but it was sucking out my life somehow. I would work 10 or more hours and then do my Papernoise stuff at night… and when I was done with Papernoise I would make even make some music, so I know what you’re talking about. We always forget one thing: you can do that for some time, but eventually you might burn out, or you’ll just not have the energy to carry on.
This said, I am by no means saying that one should not follow a passion and do crazy stuff, not sleep at night to make music, etc. I think that if you have a strong passion, then you need to go for it! It doesn’t matter if it leads to financial success, you become famous or not, as long as it is satisfactory for you. Because I agree with what other have said, it’s a personal thing.


I am here. I have a very good idea of what my ACTUAL skills and strengths are now. Not to say I’m bad at what I do currently, I’m not at all. But every day-to-day success is an internal struggle.


Really interesting topic…thanks for sparking this conversation


It is vital to actively work toward goals and dreams but it’s equally important to honestly evaluate (and re-evaluate) what our hopes/dreams/goals are to begin with.

It’s impossible to exclude morality from the equation…your second question exposes this conflict.

If I pursue certain actions while fulfilling my dreams that are “hurtful” to others, is it worth it? How much pain or annoyance is “too much”? What is the threshold? If I defer to their preferences and suppress my dream, is that healthy?

Someone is bound to be hurt. But who even determines what is “hurtful” or unacceptable for either of us?

I have benefitted from privilege in some respects but disagree with your premise that only privileged people have an opportunity to fulfill dreams. Dreams worth pursuing take time. There is no advantage or disadvantage to any person on the planet because we all have an equal allotment of the resource.


Can you explain this more? What resource? Time? If so, we don’t - if you mean general resources, of course that’s incredibly objectionable too.


This reminds me

It is important to acknowledge creativity as a part of life rather than an elusive/tangential pursuit to veer off-course and chase down.