Check Your Respect

I’ve never understood how people can cheer for adults playing professional sports and still form their mouths to question why someone would pursue the creative arts professionally. Athletes literally play a game for a living, but we question dancers? Artists? Writers?

Has capitalism gotten us so twisted that we only covet careers that bring us riches?

Maybe it’s not for me to understand. But, so it’s clear, in my house we respect the Arts as a profession.

My great uncle, Bernard Addison, was a professional jazz musician. He, like many musicians, made a living playing music. That was his real job. Because you don’t recognize his name like you might Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong, means little. Do you know many doctors beyond your own? Doubtful. Yet, many physicians are out there curing and caring for folks every day. Fame has nothing to do with success.

I am a professional writer. J.K. Rowling I’m not. But with six books under my belt, I think it’s fair to say I could quit my “day” job if I wanted. In time! Despite the number of folks who may not have heard of me, my books are in bookstores and libraries across the nation. Their existence proves my ability to actually make money from this discipline. And I think both my agent and editor would be quite perplexed by those who don’t see writing as a viable career. As would my many author friends who rely on writing as their sole income.

Side Note: Of the Arts, writing seems to be the only one that everyone waves off as easy. Anyone with that belief, come holler at me for a little lesson in “Fear of the Blank Page.” Healthy fear. Respectful fear. But still, fear. If you’re absent of that, good luck writing for a living.

But I digress.

Here’s the crux of my annoyance with people’s utter disrespect for the professional arts:

My teen daughter wants to be a professional Ballet dancer, one day. This is something she’s made clear was her aspiration since about age 10. It is neither a passing fancy or a frivolous dream that her father and I are indulging until she settles on a “real” career.  The reaction people have when they hear that usually verges immediately on – poor dear, let me tell you why that’s such a bad idea.  Or – it’s such a long shot, I hope she has a back up plan.

Okay. Here’s what you should not do when talking to her or me about her desired career:

  • Tell her how hard it is

She knows this. Have you ever danced on your toes for six hours a day all summer while your friends sleep in? Well, she has. Pursuing Ballet is a grind. Technique is key and Ballet teachers are dedicated to the body form being classically correct. When she’s not studying for school or sneaking in a little social time for friends, she’s at dance. She and our entire family sacrifice for her to study Ballet. She knows hard.

  • Remind her how competitive it is

Is pursuing any job not? Are there not often hundreds of applicants seeking a single open position in a company? Ballet is no different. There are hundreds of Ballet companies out there. Just because you may know of only the bigs – American Ballet Company or New York City Ballet – doesn’t mean the others don’t exist. If she can’t find a single position within the many Ballet companies here in the U.S. or abroad – EVER- that would be an amazing feat.

  • Go on about how little dancers make

If she wanted to be rich she would have never chosen Ballet. If she’s okay with a life with little to no frills, then you should be okay with it too.

  • Justify your comments as if you’re just trying to make sure she knows what she’s in for

You’re assuming neither she, I or her father understand what’s involved with pursuing a career where subjectivity reigns. That’s insulting. You’re assuming she’s not doing her own homework by talking to her teachers or reading resources on life in that profession. You’re assuming your comments will somehow deter what’s in her heart.

My daughter is a beautiful dancer with a mother who continues to actively navigate the subjectivity of publishing. It’s not easy, but it’s damned sure not impossible. Don’t think we don’t have conversations about this all the time. She has a mentor who is clear on the rejection ahead. But also, a staunch cheerleader who knows what it’s like to have Art in you that you’re compelled to put out in the world.

Understand, we do this because we have to. Art is breathing for the artist. Please stop smothering us with your fears and concerns. Negative energy is the artist’s natural enemy. We have enough self doubt to fill a stadium. Don’t push yours on us.

Root for us.

Support our work.

Tell others about the artists you know.

We put beauty into the world. That’s never a bad thing.

18 Responses to Check Your Respect

  1. Tracey says:

    **Standing ovation**

  2. olugbemisola says:


  3. Troy Johnson says:

    Welcome to my world. Imagine the reaction when you tell people, when asked “what you do,” that you sell books, on a website, written for our about people of African descent.

    Paula, I started as page for you on my website: would you mind sening me a bio? Also are there any videos of you that you like on the web that I can use as well?

    I also think we do ourselves by emphasizing STEM over liberal arts as well. I have a graduate degree in engineering so I’m all for STEM. But when our best and brightest work for Facebook we have a problem.

    • Paula says:

      Hi Troy. Thanks, I’ll get a bio over to you. No videos though. I’m just getting back into the thick of things book-wise, so I haven’t done much in the way of visits, signings or book trailers.

      I’m glad to know so many are co-signing this blog. I’m just tired of correcting people when they say their “real” job is XYZ as if a job in the Arts is not.

  4. I loved this Paula. Thank you.

    • paulachy says:

      Hi Sundee! I just included your Brendan Buckley in an MG giveaway. I love when the universe does its crazy thing. I haven’t talked to you in ages!

  5. Erin Smith says:

    I loved this!!!!

  6. Wendy Wahman says:

    Thank you! Applauding loudly and sharing widely.

  7. Most excellent post. Love love love.

  8. Ms. Yingling says:

    I think there are many of us who were encouraged to pursue difficult fields but are bitter because it didn’t work out. We wish someone had said to us “You know, teaching Latin may be your passion, but it’s super hard to get a job in it. Maybe consider something else,” so we feel we should warn younger people. I try not to, for all of the very good reasons you mentioned, but when I talk to a 20-year-old history major, my heart just bleeds. Just read So Done, and it’s interesting to see the personal connection you have to it.

  9. I totally respect that we want to save a young person heart ache. But, every single person has to find their path. And it’s not for us to say what will make a person happy. I also look at it like this – as adults we’re wise to the hardships and we want to help young folks avoid them. But one person’s hardship is another’s lifestyle. And if you’re lucky enough you’ll have a few variations of a career – no need for it to be a single track. I think that’s what annoys me most, that folks act as if my daughter expects she’ll dance into her 40’s or 50’s. If she does it for 5, 10 or 15 years and then moves on, at least she’ll have had the career she wanted for that part of her life. Then who knows what’s next. So Done, like my Del Rio Bay books before it, connects to the things I’m most passionate about. And all those things always end up being the same thing – ensuring certain kids are seen.

  10. This is such a wonderful post. I am a visual art teacher and visual artist, and I relate to every word of this post. You just wrote what is in my heart, all of the time. My son is going into Philosophy and World Religion in college, and I am just so happy he has found something he loves. I know I have inspired young men and women to become art teachers and artists, and I would never tell them how hard it is to get a job because that is so self-defeating, and it undermines the dream. If you want something badly in life, you will find a way. I feel like that is life’s greatest gift, to find joy in making, doing, thinking, creating, or service to others. Thank you.

    • paulachy says:

      I’m grateful for those this post touched and for those who are giving other examples where people feel the need to give unsolicited advice. We all share one thing in common – we or our children are pursuing what they love. That’s all that should matter.

  11. Iyanna Bucey says:

    I enjoyed reading this because it reminds me of the responses and reactions I used to get (and sometimes still do) about going to school to become a teacher. People rarely pass up the opportunity to ask me “why in the world” I would want to teach or to remind me that there is “no money in being a teacher”. The honest truth is that I know those things already. Yes, I could become a doctor, lawyer, engineer, anything. But I LOVE the idea of teaching and I love children. I truly believe that the more passionate you are about your job, the better you will perform it, so I would rather be a truly passionate and dedicated teacher, than a money-seeking something else.

  12. I am absolutely very passionate about The Arts! I love the feelings that overtake me as the music plays, the dancer sways, and what the masterpiece portrays. I commend you and your husband on your perseverance and your daughter on her hard work and dedication.

    You posed an interesting question when you asked, “Has capitalism gotten us so twisted that we only covet careers that bring us riches?” That can go either way depending what side you see yourself on. You can say, No from a standpoint that the lucrative career path chosen is because you are very passionate about it and you want to ensure that your future, your children’s children future is set. As you may or may not know, struggling to make ends meet financially is very frustrating. Now with the same question, the answer yes, is because unfortunately, we live in a society where financial gain is only good for the one receiving it. I’m on top you stay at the bottom mindset. That is a terrible mental space to live in. I myself believe that we are blessed to be a blessing!

    Here is my opinion on your what not to do: How hard and competitive it is, goes hand in hand. Athlete’s (I’m only using them for example because you did) get the same speech from family, friends, coaches, outsiders, etc. They are told how intense the training is and how the competition is fierce they have to be better than the next person. With each level, there is greater intensity. I’m certain that the level your beautiful daughter is training at now will have to increase, so when you hear how hard it is, first, take it as a compliment, better yet, as motivation (because only the strong can take and overcome challenges while striving for perfection) and second It Is Hard! Not from experience, but with any profession it requires an understanding of how hard it is, however with hard work and dedication your dreams are attainable. Your third point I’ll just end it with this, passion over profit!

    Stay blessed!

    • paulachy says:

      The younger we teach our kids that profit is likely far and few between for many other professions, the easier it will be for them to follow their passion. Chasing money may be the good ol’ American way of capitalism but they didn’t create the phrases “you can’t take it with you” and “money can’t buy you love” for nothing.

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