revolution – and – my experience with the nasty cycle

start a revolution fine art print

Yesterday I wrote about the myth of conscious consumerism in response to video featuring the philosopher Slavoj Zizek. In the video, Zizek rails against the cycle that conscious consuming creates: we earn, we buy, we think we’re doing good, nothing ever changes.

While there might be good being done – farmers earn a few pennies more, children wear new shoes, girls get to go school – the circumstances that make that “good” necessary don’t change.

I do think that a return to healthy respect for the value (I’m talking real dollars here) of art, innovation, and craft in the most broad sense is one way to promote actual change. I do think that buying into – and buying from – the handmade movement is an actualization of this change.

But, as Abbey Christine said on Facebook, “I think that a DIY ethic does have tremendous power to it, but is much less revolutionary (in it’s current form) than we might like to think.

Why isn’t it very revolutionary?

  • We spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back.
  • We market to each other and not outside our community.
  • We focus on making pretty things and not solving problems.
  • We make decisions that impede our dreams, reduce our spending power, and maintain the status quo more than change it.
  • We stay in the nasty cycle.

Next month, I’m turning 28. I have reached a lot of goals in the last year or so. I’ve created a revolution in my own life and I’m hope that I can help you do the same – therefore starting to change the system. Still I can’t help but wonder where I would be now if I hadn’t wasted 4 years as part of this nasty cycle.

After college, I worked at one of the big box book stores. It began as a summer job but morphed into a full-time job when I realized that living outside of the system was kind of scary. I gave up going to graduate school to work for $8 an hour as a supervisor. I became a manager less than a year later and accepted a salary of $28,000 per year working 50-60 hour weeks.

I don’t tell you this so that you feel bad for me. I tell you this because I want to demonstrate just how easy it is to NOT be revolutionary.

I took big ideas, grand plans, and a lot of spunk and put them on the shelf for a regular pay check.

The gravitational pull of the nasty cycle was so great that I couldn’t pull the trigger on getting that graduate degree I had always wanted. Or quitting and volunteering for a year. Or accepting an even lower paying job at a non-profit.

By the time I finally quit, my brain didn’t know how to work anymore. I had lost the ability to be an artist and a thinker. I had lost the power to be a dreamer.

It took me more than 6 months to find that in myself again. It took another year to start to break free from the trappings of the nasty cycle.

Now, everyday, I’m privileged to create my art & design my life outside of preconceptions. My own revolution – while ongoing – has been a success. And every day, I strive to push my tiny, personal revolution into a more expansive front.

No, our handmade revolution is not nearly as revolutionary as we like to think.

It will take each of us creating a revolution in ourselves to reach that goal. It means mindfully earning in additional to mindfully spending. It means not taking substitutes when substitutes are easier to find and so much more “normal.”

Revolution means giving yourself permission to practice your “art” outside of the nasty cycle.

It means giving yourself permission to discover a new way of living and a new way of solving problems.

An artist is someone who brings humanity to a problem, who changes someone else for the better, who does work that can’t be written down in a manual. Art is not about oil painting, it’s about bringing creativity and insight to work, instead of choosing to be a compliant cog.
Seth Godin

If you want to be an artist, be revolutionary.

{start a revolution print by manvsink}


I’m off to BlogHer with Megan tomorrow so you won’t see me around these parts. If you’re going to be in NYC at the conference, tweet me so that we can meet up! If you won’t be there, follow all the action on Twitter & Facebook.

18 thoughts on “revolution – and – my experience with the nasty cycle

  1. Great post.

    I feel like I have exchanged the last 7 years since I graduated from college for a nice paycheck. The last two years have been the worst and looking on the positive side of the job I currently hold…it has forced me to change my life and how I make money. It has made me realize that less money is ok if I am happier.

    I am making plans and saving to quit my job and focus full time on my creative business….just 62 more days! It’s scary and exciting. I don’t want to be bankrupt, but I am done having a decent paycheck. I need more than that.

    1. Hey Gina,

      I think – and this needs to be a follow up post – that the regular paycheck is a myth. It holds you back. It’s okay to have not have “make a lot of money” a goal. But at the same time, it’s also okay to have that goal, AND “regular paycheck” holds people back from that goal.

      It’s not something to fear – it’s something to embrace.

  2. Great post Tara. It’s so neat to hear people’s stories about how they wound up where they are…I have had a very parallel experience and now I finally feel alive again in my personal revolution!

  3. Tara, I so appreciate your insights. I’m naturally a glass half empty kinda girl and I always feel this sense of “I CAN do this!” after reading one of your posts. Thank you, thank you!

  4. I sold my soul for a killer health insurance plan. 😉

    Just kidding. I didn’t really sell my soul to get it, but I do have awesome health insurance, and if anything will ever keep me working for “the man,” that’s it. Fortunately, I actually *like* my day job: flexible hours, decent pay, work I usually enjoy doing, and hardly ever any overtime.

    I haven’t ruled out eventually taking the leap into being a full-time entrepreneur of some sort, but right now I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I have the security that comes from a regular paycheck and health insurance, but I still have the time and energy for more fun, creative pursuits like making jewelry and music.

    And honestly, I’ll probably always have a foot firmly planted within “the system,” and not entirely out of a sense of fear, either. I have a graduate degree in library science, and I’m incredibly passionate about the purpose that libraries serve in a community. I *always* want to be a part of that. I don’t think want to be an auditor forever, but I do love my part-time librarian gig (I’m writing this comment as I sit at the reference desk!). And I adore the idea of working either as a public library director or a school librarian one day.

    This is getting long-winded so I’ll wrap it up with this: While I absolutely believe that you shouldn’t stay at a job that makes you miserable just because you feel you “should” have a regular paycheck, there’s also no point in trying to avoid “the system” if you’re what you’re passionate about (in my case, libraries) only exists within that framework and can allow you to genuinely improve the lives of others.

  5. Some of these could be my own quotes! Although, right after college, I did run away to follow my dreams to Japan for two years, but after coming back and getting my Masters, I exchanged a lot of my passion for the paycheck and the insurance. As the only source of income right now while my husband finishes graduate school and stays home with our 4.5 month-old son, I feel so bound to my full-time design job—both for the regular pay check and for the insurance.

    However, I long to be home. As a graphic designer (don’t get me wrong, my job is really great), I know I could be doing 75% of the work in my agency from home. The salaried position is an in-office position, though, so I’m required to spend as many of my 40 hours a week at my desk as I can.

    My six week maternity leave made me realize that somewhere between stepping off the plane after a 13+ hour flight home from Japan and giving birth six years later, I lost my self-confidence. I needed that “regular paycheck” to make it in the “real world,” didn’t I? Don’t I? Isn’t that what I should be striving for?

    If it is, I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied. I have the opportunity to be creative where I am, but I want even more variety. It really is a nasty cycle, and we’re still trying to take the steps in the direction of the exit.

  6. What an awesome post!

    You know what? You can buy health insurance yourself. It’s not that bad if you get a high deductible. And unless you spend more than $5,000 at the Doctor’s each year a high deductible is the way to go.

    BUT – you can also be an artist while working for “the man”. I don’t mean literally, I mean you can change the game inside the system and do meaningful work. It takes more effort, but you can do it.

    1. Haile, you managed to sum up what I was getting at in my post in two words: “meaningful work.”

      We shouldn’t make a decision to work within or outside the system based on anything but that: figuring out where our talents and passions lie and figuring out how we can use them to improve the world around us, regardless of whether it means working for someone else or for yourself.

      I stand to improve the world around me more as a librarian than as a jewelry designer. The fact that librarianship is within the system and provides a regular paycheck is incidental, really. But I also don’t see it as a reason to abandon making jewelry altogether. I enjoy it, and I use the money I earn from it to support local/independent businesses, as well as donate to some worthy causes. I feel like if I chose just one profession, I’d feel incomplete.

  7. Tara, I am so glad you are asking the hard question about the nasty cycle. Here and in yesterday’s post. But I think you are asking it in a bit one-sided way: what does it mean for us?
    As I understand Zizek he is pointing exactly at that as being a problem. That we always think from our own perspective; that it is hard to get out of your own shell and look from the other side.

    So I ask you: what does that mean for an average consumer who truly cannot afford to pay a fair price for a handmade object? Do we price our products so that they are available to them? Do we advertise to them? How do you present your product that is really priced out of their range? How do you give them the means (not the charity, but actual meaningful way) to afford and appreciate your product? In essence how do you spread your market reach so that you can fight the large corporations?

    All I want to say that it is not necessary to have a material product to sell to make the world better. You need is an insight into your own behavior and a firm hand with your own urges. One might say a little bit of old fashioned puritanism, but thoroughly modernized and turned to “soulful searching for meaning”.

    Thanks for holding up the banner which we can flock to. :)

    1. Hey Adaleta –

      My arguments are almost always one-sided! But – what I tried to say with this post and was not clear about is that I WAS that consumer that couldn’t afford to pay for fairly priced handmade items. My thoughts here are always for consumers and not business owners – although many biz owners take value from them.

      I was part of the nasty cycle of NEEDING to consume goods that fed the system instead of changing it. And it was only by allowing myself a personal revolution – by allowing myself to value my own “art,” which is not at all handmade goods or crafts, that I found the means to be the consumer I wanted to be to start making real change happen.

      My point is that we have these feelings of “I can’t afford this” or “I’m not good enough to earn this” but that comes from being beat down by the nasty cycle. We all have to break free to really revolutionize the way we consume.

      And while I agree with you that we need a “firm hand with our own urges,” putting a stop to consumption – whether it be goods or services – is going to put us in a tighter spot than we are now. We need to revolutionize the supply chain and that starts by understanding and respecting whatever place you hold on that chain.

  8. Oh – one more thing. Just because you work for yourself does not mean that you are immune to the nasty cycle. In fact, you have to constantly push yourself to artist status, it’s not automatic. Quitting your regular pay check may be liberating, but it’s a baby step compared to what you have in front of you.

    1. Hi Haile –

      I think when a lot of people “quit their day job” they actually become MORE a part of the nasty cycle. I agree that being an “artist” as Godin defines it is a constant push. If you’re not feeling the push or actively pushing, you’re not an artist – period.

      Finding value (social, personal, emotional, and monetary) in your art – whether in a traditional job or in your own business – is where the cycle starts to get broken.

  9. It is so nice to see my work at the top of such an interesting post. Boy oh boy does this topic get my blood flowing!

    When I started riding a bicycle, I started my own personal revolution. It allowed me to stop using such a huge amount of money to get around. As I became more and more aware of the ruling power held over us by the U.S. banking system, I sought to reduce my involvement in the broken system.

    Living simply and being self reliant, these are the best ways to start a revolution. When you consume, you power a system that has become corrupt and serves to oppress the people. The lower class can no longer compete in the system, because the deck has been stacked against them.

    We live under laws that say you cannot own a piece of property outright. This means you have to pay the government to have a home, which is not what the people who founded this country intended.

    Until some more people in this country wake up, you need to start your own revolution.

  10. i truly believe that being part of the “cycle” is lonely! our nation values individualism and doing what you can for yourself. (ahhh capitalism with a capital C) whether that manifests itself in buying for yourself, creating for yourself or whatever. that is what insurance is based on…protecting yourself! i think the only way to get out of the cycle or at least the way our country thinks about things is to get involved with community. i don’t mean just hanging out, i mean pooling resources, talents and efforts. (very much what you do, just virtually) than and only than can we begin to think outside of individualism and see us for what we are…people who need each other. little villages. i think that is why it can feel like the cycle isn’t broken even if you are doing something creative and something that you love. if you are sharing your life with others in community you are each bringing something to the table that is needed and valued by others. bringing with it a sense of togetherness and reliance on each other.

    finding like minded community is the tough part. that is where my husband and i are right now. living in south florida is like living in individual land! we are searching though…and we will find it. i think you are on to something with being creative and i totally understand what you are saying about feeling like working day in and day out for a paycheck can turn your brain to mush and it is hard to get that back. being around like minded people actually feeds creativity (if they are also that way:) it is a win win…finding them is just the tricky part!

  11. Thanks again Tara for making me examine the important things I push to the back of my mind because sometimes they’re just too hard to deal with. I have to admit – I am terrified to take the plunge and give up my “real” job even though it’s the source of all my frustration. I feel like I don’t have enough time (and money!) to do all the meaningful creative work that’s swimming around in my head. Despite my accomplishments, there’s this little part that still doubts myself and my abilities to both realize my goals and work to make this world a better place.

    At some point though, you just have to do it. Or not do it and continuously kick yourself for not trying.

    Thanks again for such moving and inspiring posts!

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