Right now, it’s a really weird time to be a twenty-something year old. It’s during this decade in our life that self-realization takes on a prominency that we’ve never experienced before, and will probably never experience again. It’s proven that we develop a memory bump during our early adulthood, meaning that many older adults reminiscing on their past tend to recount vivid and detailed accounts of their twenties: the good, the bad, and the ugly. When we finally get there ourselves, the young, wild and free mentality we so often heard about actually feels more like an anxious, confused, and tired one. It’s so emotionally taxing to be in your twenties: while you already have a general sense of yourself from your teens, it’s in your twenties where you have to decide what you want from the world, how you’re going to do it, and what values you’re going to hold close to you while you step outside into the world of real-life, professional adulthood.
Where we see most of this identity solidification occur is within our relationships and our careers, and the two often intertwine. For creatives, this is especially stressful because their career path often presents itself in a non-linear and roundabout fashion: it’s never a straight shot to the top. I believe that creatives cherish their career so closely, almost to a protective level, because their creativity is so inherent to what makes them human. And I’m no stranger to intensely defining myself through my career path: up until I was twenty years old, no one could’ve told me I wasn’t going to be a classical musician. But I had these wonderful experiences in other fields, in multidisciplinary fields that wove together both musical and scientific interests, and I soon realized that maybe my career would be a little more layered than the traditional classical career I initially pursued.
And it was during exploration of other subjects that I discovered the true value of bringing a creative mind to any field. And nowadays, you’re probably going to be bringing your creative mind to several different fields. In today’s professional world, the gig economy is growing, meaning that people, especially people my age, are stringing together several different sources of income from different part-time “gigs” as a means of survival. This could include freelancing as an artist or writer, landing roles in shows, or even working in a restaurant: each job is part of the hustle of being a twenty-something creative, and each job brings something important to your personal and professional life.
I genuinely and deeply believe that the jobs you land that may not be your end destination are absolutely a necessary part of your professional journey. For example, art critic Jerry Saltz experienced a long period as a failed artist before he found his niche in criticism. He asserts that it was his failed artistic career that formed his criticism style, and is today considered one of the best art critics around. Even if these jobs don’t lead you towards your destined career, they can inform your art. Singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett worked as a bartender for years to pay her bills, and would write stories in her notebook about customers that would inspire her famous rambling, storytelling songs in the future. There’s something so valuable in stories like these– though these people did not start out where they exactly wanted to be in that moment, they always ended up where they belonged.
And that’s the point of your twenties, isn’t it? You take on positions from a variety of places and you stick it out, and you learn from them. You learn from the people you work with and work for, from the work you produce, from the skills you’re forced to hone. You learn that humility gets you farther than you could ever imagine, and that you’re going to run into challenges that you didn’t even know existed. You learn that every problem can be solved.
Potential is a heavy burden that weighs on you during your twenties, and I think that a lot of creatives have a specific idea of what their career needs to look like. But now that the nature of the art world, and overall professional world, is rapidly changing, we have to be flexible in our careers. Some of the most influential creative entrepreneurs of our generation, such as Alok Vaid-Menon, Arabelle Sicardi, and Fariha Róisín have known what message they want to share with the world, and taken advantage of the digital age to share their stories on social media. The purpose of self-expression is to connect with other people, to unify in our humanity. As creatives, and especially creative entrepreneurs, we need to know what message we want to share with the world, and know how to do so in a way that resonates with other people.
I stumbled into working at VAR almost as an accident. It was one of those opportunities in which I had no idea what I would be doing, but the idea of engaging in a new experience and participating in a new company drew me in. Lo and behold, I found myself working on projects that allowed me to be creative in a completely new and refreshing way. I developed a way of thinking which I carried home from work and which sparked numerous other creative projects from each and every direction. I was lucky enough to be directed towards work that not only fulfilled me, but I had a natural knack for and wouldn’t burn me out. As a result, the creative energy from this job fueled an outside creative reincarnation that I never expected.
I guess, ultimately, the three things that young creatives need to bring to the beginnings of their career journey is humility, openness to experience, and dedication. Putting aside your ego and listening to feedback from your mentors, peers, and coworkers is more important at this point in your life than ever. Remaining open to both experiences and criticism, and being able to adapt to them, is one of the most common attributes of successful people. And, of course, there’s dedication to your craft. You’re going to have draining jobs, personal challenges, and financial burdens that will seemingly take over your life at this stage. But the best thing about your talent is that, like a little affectionate lap puppy, it’s waiting faithfully at your doorstep for you to come home. To unconditionally nurture that, despite all the stress and anxiety in your life, is what makes you truly and unequivocally an artist.
Isabel Lamont is a senior at Sarah Lawrence College and serves as an admissions assistant with VAR.