For those of you in the US, you know that Independence Day is coming up on July 4th, this coming Monday. Historically, that’s the day we celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the day we rose up as a people and cried out for our freedom from the British crown and over-taxation, and declared ourselves, well, independent. If you’ve taken American History you know that our first few tries at independence didn’t go so well. We were a disorganized lump of idealism, trying to rise from the ashes of a broken system to create something better, something new. The Articles of Confederation got us through the American Revolution (the part of History class that made me feel briefly patriotic), but ultimately were too weak, too loose to be the foundation of a great nation. And so it was replaced with The Constitution, which even today stands as one of the most forward-thinking, progressive blueprints for a government that ever was.
How can we relate this to our own creativity and dreams? Many Americans, and citizens of the world for that matter, are once again enslaved to a distant ruler. We are physically and mentally overtaxed by our unsatisfying work that produces a yield of less value than the things we put into it: our precious time, energy, and attention. And why? Because we need money, and we’re afraid to not have it. Because we want things, and need things, and we’re afraid of being unable to get them. Because we’re afraid that if we don’t do things The Way They Are Done we will probably fail, and not have money, and not be able to live.
Essentially, we allow ourselves to be enslaved because we are afraid of what will happen if we try to be free.
Look at it this way: do you love your job? If you do, then this post isn’t for you. But the overwhelming majority of Americans hate their jobs, and dread going to work each day. So what would drive you to give 40+ hours a week to it? And if you could choose a career, acknowledging that in our economy we do need money to survive, what would you choose? Why haven’t you chosen it already?
Probably because you are afraid you won’t succeed.
I’m not saying to quit your day job and become a painter, or an actor, or a screenwriter. I’m saying that, if you love those things, then you should do them, and become them. When people ask me what I do, I don’t say “I’m a pharmaceutical teledetailer who gets paid a mediocre wage to repeat the same thing 125+ times a day.” (Yes that is a sad truth, I know.) I tell them “I’m a writer. I’ve decided to self publish, and I’m working on building an audience, learning about marketing, etc. In the meantime, I have a day job that pays the bills…”
Am I afraid I won’t succeed? Honestly, no. Because at this point, it doesn’t matter. I’m happy just being able to put my books out there–a handful of years ago it wasn’t so easy. But I do have faith that over time I will make enough from writing and publishing my books that I’ll be able to quit my day job and write full time.
The fact that self publishing has become so easy is a testament to the American desire for freedom–there was a demand, and the market created a service. Sound too patriotic for you? While a lot of our clamoring and blustering for our freedom often comes out across as “freedom at the expense and oppression of others,” in the arts it is rarely so. In the arts, all we want is to make it easier for us to get what we need to produce our vision, be it supplies (paint, fabric, etc.), innovations (digital video and photography, word processing programs), market accessibility (Etsy, Smashwords), or services (Createspace, Lulu etc.). And, yes, would like to be able to turn enough of a profit from our work so that we can survive on it, if not prosper.
Sound familiar? As a writer, we’ve recognized that our art is trying to succeed in an industry motivated by capitalism (publishing is a business, no one will ever deny that), in an over-structured and restrictive system, where our work is judged by distant publishing royalty. So, a lot of use have declared our independence.
The day I decided to self publish? It wasn’t a rash decision. I’d tried my hand at the traditional route, and was sick of people telling me that they loved what I’d written, but didn’t know who would publish it. And I’d looked at self publishing, years ago, and found it was too much to take on as it was. But then things changed–with the advent and rise of ebooks, print-on-demand, and the overwhelming market share of Amazon.com, self published authors were not only turning a profit but making a living, becoming bestsellers, and often finding their way into the major publishing houses because of their success online.
So I’m not a pioneer. I’m not naturally fearless. But I trust my gut, and I trust that a self-determined career is the right path for me, and I trust that I can find success and happiness along that path, despite what a lot of people might say. But do you know what’s interesting? Some of my biggest supporters aren’t people in my field, or even my peers–they are older men and women, people who think what I’m doing is brave, and inspiring, given their many years tied to their own jobs that have been tolerable, but creatively unsatisfying.
We each have our own level of comfort, our own pace at which we can move forward with attaining our goals. Independence isn’t about setting a deadline or quitting your job and investing all your money in one venture. It’s not about packing up and moving halfway across the world. It’s about taking the first step, maybe the first few steps, in the direction of your dreams, and beginning to pave the way for the future you desire. It’s not about fearlessness, but about confidence–enough confidence to decide that happiness, even the possibility of happiness and a full, satisfying life, is worth it to you to face your fears, and cast them aside.
These first steps are often small, but they are powerful. And the day that you declare your indepence, your right to your own pursuit of happiness, is one that you will remember year after year.
What steps can you take this weekend to move closer to your own personal freedom? Take them. Declare your freedom.