This is uncomfortable.
Every time I’ve written to you about overcoming an obstacle – it’s been from the other side of it. In some form or another, I’ve already hit the milestone: gotten into the big festival, put down the drink, and proved myself.
This time is different. This time, I’m still in. Deep.
I hate talking about money.
Artists don’t really talk about it. I’m always curious, wondering how my friends do it. Often I ask. Side gigs? Inheritance? Hooking?
I’ve always tried to live in a space of grateful ignorance. I’m thankful to have these shoes, this desk, this apartment. I will keep thanking and thanking until I get a text update from Chase Bank telling me I’m $14.37 away from my account over-drafting, and then I freak out.
Here’s the truth: I’ve never been 100% financially independent.
My parents have helped me along the way for most of my adult life, and now that I’m reaching my late 20’s – it’s overwhelming. I worry about it when I go to bed at night, and wake up in the morning. I watch my friends learning to handle their own finances, and I feel envious.
When I first started playing music I did my best to keep my overhead as low as possible. I lived with siblings or dirt-cheap apartments and played several nights a week. Then I started touring 7 months of the year, kept everything in storage, and couch surfed between trips. It was rough at times, but doable.
Now I’m an artist living in one of the most expensive cities in the country. Oops!
It probably seems really, really insane to move to New York City without any real plan or financial know-how. Probably because it was. I didn’t exactly get into this business as a result of “logic” and “reason”.
I picked up a part-time job babysitting when I moved here. I made decent money, but rarely tracked it enough to have any real handle on what I was making vs. spending. I told myself the story that I would always be a starving artist until I just wasn’t anymore. Deep down I believed some label or manager would come along and rescue me with cash-money and prizes, or else I’d just marry a rich dude.
I never really thought I’d take the steps towards becoming financially savvy. I didn’t think I could. When you’ve lived in a bad habit for so long, at some point you forget it’s a choice you made, and start attributing it to who you are.
I grew up in an upper-middle class home and never really wanted for anything material. We took nice vacations, had nice clothes, and I always understood on some level that I would always be taken care of.
At the same time, I watched each month as my mother stuffed credit card bills into my drawers, where my father couldn’t find them. We always waited until after he’d gone to bed to bring shopping bags into the house.
I wasn’t exactly primed for the best spending habits – but it’s one thing to be cognizant of that and do something to change it – and another to use it as an excuse. For years, I’d be standing in the checkout line holding a $5 bottle of juice, my parent’s “in case of emergencies” credit card in hand, and excuse myself as a I swiped just this one time.
Each month my mom called to ask about the credit card bill. I’d swear the world over I’d be more careful – and then do it all over again. My guilt started seeping and poisoning our relationship; each time I saw her calling, I thought “Oh crap – I fucked up again” and avoid speaking to her for days. Like sneaking in shopping bags or hiding bills in drawers, I acted no different in avoiding her phone calls. I stuck my head in the sand hoping something would change.
But nothing did. My mom got cancer, and hearing about her mounting hospital bills, I hit my limit. I knew nobody would save me but ME. I called my mom, sobbing, telling her something needed to change – and I couldn’t live in the dark anymore. I needed to take responsibility for myself.
Last year I realized I could make huge changes in my life through simple, daily tiny victories. I was living in a state of chaos in my bedroom/workspace – but had always been a “messy” person. I put that aside – and each morning I woke up and set the goal of making my bed. Each time I walked into my room and saw the bed neatly made, it made me happy.
Eventually I found time throughout the day to pick up three little things at a time. Without ever really thinking it through, I went from being a person who lived in constant chaos to one that craves the reward of coming home to a clean, organized space.
I didn’t like feeling like I couldn’t deal with life without at least a glass or two of wine each night, but I couldn’t stop on my own. So I set a small goal – go to one AA meeting. At each meeting, I made the commitment not to drink THAT day. I just focused on what was immediately in front of me, and didn’t worry about the rest. A year and half later, I’m still not drinking.
Even though these big changes made me feel great, my finances still felt insurmountable. They’ve been, without a doubt, my biggest source of insecurity.
So I got to work by applying the same principles. (1) Admit I have a problem. (2) Find a community. I started a support group for girlfriends to work through Barbara Stanny’s “Overcoming Underearning.” Each week we’d hop on the phone to discuss our fears, discoveries and goals.
I also got a mentor. I hired my first financial advisor. Like me, she’s involved in the arts – and works primarily with actors and musicians on commission.
I finally sat down and looked at my monthly expenses vs. income – and the amount I’d have to make to be completely, 100% financially independent from my mom. It won’t happen all at once; but it was a step in the right direction.
I started booking higher paying gigs, took on a few guitar students and extra babysitting jobs so I could stay in New York and continue writing. The story I carried for so long was that anything that wasn’t making my own music was cheating on my dream. Truth is, it meant living in a financial nightmare.
So that’s where I’m at. Looking at the numbers can be scary. When they don’t look great the temptation is to beat myself up. That doesn’t get me anywhere. Celebrating every tiny victory and trying to act differently does.
It’s easy for me to compare my insides to other artist’s outsides. I say, “Oh, she’s on that big fancy tour and must be raking in the cash!” I forget: every last dollar goes to the band, the promo, the label, the sound guy, the agent. Even my friends with record deals and publishing contracts are in some way in debt and trying to navigate the system. We’re all still trying to figure out how to pay our bills and do what we love.
I have no idea what’s going on with other artists, and it doesn’t fucking matter. There’s no thinking myself out of this one. All that matters is what I do.
My mantra for today is that I’m doing what’s uncomfortable, and that makes me a winner. It’s like the first time I made my bed or put down that drink and walked into a meeting. Each time it felt a little strange – but I showed up. It meant forgetting all the stories about who I was, and what I was capable of. I felt the fear, and did it anyways.
I’ve made it this far by being comfortable with discomfort. I’m in, and I’m doing it.
It’s scary, but I know all the best challenges start with fear.
This challenge means growing into the woman who is excited by running her own business, and kick-ass at making money. A woman who uses that money to do good in the world. THAT woman has got plans way too big to let something as silly as fear slow her pace.