Spike the Kool-Aid/Financial Flippers/How to [Really] Succeed in the Arts ... Or in Any Career

How to [Really] Succeed in the Arts ... Or in Any Career

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

How to [Really] Succeed in the Arts ... Or in Any Career

As a kid, I dreamt about being on stage. There was something that just lit me up when I was performing; and from about the age of ten on, I pursued whatever opportunities I could to get me closer to a career in the arts.

When I would see kids performing at a mall, I would want to know how they got to do that. When we would visit Disney World, I would tell my mom that being a Dapper Dan was something I would love to do. And while I never visited NYC as a kid, I definitely dreamt about performing on Broadway.

My parents always supported me and my dream to pursue a career in the arts. As a matter of fact, I can’t recall anyone ever really trying to deter me from pursuing my dream. And it was nice. I truly felt like I was on the right track. I knew what I wanted.

I do remember hearing people say that I should consider having a “backup career” or a “plan B,” and that if I could imagine myself doing anything else, to go do that instead; because “a career in the arts is really tough.”

Isn’t anything worth fighting for going to be tough?

But there was nothing else I wanted to do. And if I was going to take this career seriously, and be successful at all, I was going to have to commit to it 100%.

So, when it was time for me to start looking at colleges, I already knew that I wanted to get my BFA in Music Theater. That was never a question in my mind.

And so that’s what I did.

I went to college, got my degree, and was then released into the real world as a young, ambitious, “starving artist” - out to fulfill my lifelong dream of having a career in the arts. And to add a punchline to this trope (which I hate and will probably write about in the future), I moved to NYC with about $300 in my pocket and was on a one-way ticket (which was purchased a week prior without me even having a place to live).

And for the next 15 years, I pursued being a music theater performer. And while I was fortunate to never be a “starving” artist, I was definitely a “broke” artist.

But this never seemed to get any better.

As more time being in the profession went on, my journal entries started to get more and more angry with my financial situation. I started to get more depressed and deflated about money. And it didn’t help that I had credit card bills I wasn’t paying, collection agencies I was dodging, and student loan payments that I couldn’t make.

I had this dream. I followed this dream. I did everything I was supposed to do. But even after all this time, I still wasn’t “successful.” I figured it was because I pretty much sucked.

But this was the career I chose.

This was what I wanted, right?

THIS was the dream.

So then, what was wrong? What was wrong with me? What was standing in the way of me being successful?

Now, real quick, let me define what I mean by “success.”

As kids, we get this question a lot in school, “What does success mean to you?” And I would always answer that it simply meant being happy. I truly believed that.

But when I was a broke artist in NYC, success started to mean more than just being happy. It started to mean, “being able to pay all my bills,” “having a retirement account,” “being able to afford the classes, headshots, or any number of other things my industry told me I needed,” or simply “having the ability to buy a beer without looking at my bank account first.”

Success for me didn’t mean million-dollar mansions. It meant something entirely different. And I started to feel a difference in how I visualized success.

Because of how I started to perceive “success,” I began assuming that I just needed more money in order to achieve that new version. And the only way to make more money in the arts is to get a better paying gig.

So the cycle starts again.

I pursued more of the higher-paying performing jobs. I pursued more of the longer-term performing jobs.

If it paid more, I was at the audition.

Because THAT was going to make me successful. Right?

Then, one night in midtown, a bunch of us college friends were out. And I remember running into an alumni of my university. And THIS guy was successful. He had multiple Broadway shows under his belt, along with multiple national tours and several big regional productions. His Instagram account was the definition of success. And if you were to ever meet him and see what he wore, what he drank … you would think, “Wow. This guy has really made it.”

But then, as we’re talking and catching up, he shares this bombshell: “I’m broke.”

I’m sorry, what?!

He proceeded to share how much credit card debt he had and how he “had” to take the bigger paying jobs (the ones I was so desperate to be a part of) in order to keep up with his payments [and his lifestyle].

Hmm. Not what I thought success was.

So here are two music theater performers. One has been on Broadway and done all of these big shows. The other hasn’t. And yet, they are both … Broke.

My brain didn’t make the connection at the time. I sloughed it off and just kinda went back to the grind. But later, I would realize that this is very common within the entertainment industry (as well as some others). As a matter of fact, I don’t think I personally know any Broadway performers who don’t (or didn’t, because Broadway shows do end) have a second job.

It took several more years for me to do it, but I finally started to connect all the dots. You see, I couldn’t explain it at the time, but I was feeling so extremely limited by my career. I loved what I did. But yet, I was never able to make enough for me to live a “successful” life. So I had accepted and simply adopted the trope that I would forever be a “starving artist” simply because I chose a career I loved over one that paid me more money.

Basically, I was a victim of my career choice.

But then, I started to connect some more dots.

My wife and I started to get our finances in order in January of 2018 and my whole world unlocked. For the first time, I was able to not only understand my money and where it was going, but I could now also prioritize it - and by doing that, I could now prioritize my time.

See, the true currency in life is time. So when we start to understand how to prioritize our money, we are quite literally learning how to prioritize our time.

And THIS is the secret to succeeding in the arts, or in any career. Because we can’t predict the timeline for our success.

Just yesterday, I was looking back over a book that was literally entitled “How to Succeed in the Arts.” And there is not one mention of needing to understand how to manage your money in that book. In fact, the only time the word “budget” is brought up is in trying to understand how much money is in a Broadway budget.

I’m sorry, but this is wrong. You’re missing a very critical component.

See, we know that a career in the arts is financially unpredictable. And after having experienced being laid off in the corporate world for eight months due to poor infrastructure, I’m also going to say that this applies to other industries, as well.

But regardless, being able to afford pursuing your dreams … that isn’t free.

It demands more of your time, and therefore, more of your money. The narrative is that you should “sacrifice” (which, I see as simply making a choice) simply because you’re passionate about what you’re wanting to do.

Because that’s the biz. That’s what it takes.

And so, we assume that we have to “suffer” in order to legitimize our most passionate pursuit.

But you don’t have to suffer. We were just never taught this stuff.

And we’re still not taught this stuff. After 16 years of private education, I never once was taught about managing my money. In fact, the only money talk I got was during a college dance class where the teacher talked to us about which type of contract we wanted to get because it provided the most money and stability. (Me now finding that ironic with what I know.)

In truth, the arts and other careers alike require a solid financial awareness in order to really focus on what we love to do. Because then we aren’t distracted, like I was, with assumptions that we aren’t enough. Achieving success in any profession first involves recognizing (and acknowledging) our own value.

So, as you continue on your journey to success, remember these three tips:

  • Value Your Time: Understand that time is your most precious asset. Allocate it wisely to activities that truly propel you toward your goals.
  • Value Your Experience: Embrace the experiences, both good and bad, as valuable lessons that enrich your journey. Each mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow.
  • Value Yourself: Prioritize your self-worth, protect it, and invest your time in activities that align with your passion and your version of success.

Keep in mind: success isn't measured by material wealth alone; it's about leading a fulfilling life doing what you love. And by learning how to manage your finances, you'll free up your time and energy to focus on what truly matters.

So, go and pursue your dreams with confidence; because contrary to popular belief, the path to success isn't paved with broken dreams and empty pockets. It's paved with the wisdom to value your time, your experience, and, above all, yourself.

Just make sure you are setting yourself up for a more fulfilling and prosperous pursuit by having a plan for your money.

Stay Curious,



Kyle Fowler

Founder of Financial Flippers

The personal finance world is packed with TONS of information. And while it's not all bad, it's not all good. I work hard to make sure I am sharing helpful content that keeps you on track while still providing different perspectives. If you ever have questions, want to share ideas for other topics, or want to know more, shoot me an email: kyle@financialflippers.com

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