I’ve been thinking a lot about my financial goals lately, and where I see myself in a year or five.
You see, the reason I jumped into the working world prior to finishing an all-consuming degree course was simply for the sake of my finances. I have always yearned for freedom – something I found scholastic education to hinder. My parents never believed in financially aiding their children, I just don’t come from that kind of family. I grew up observing my father; a self-taught and self-employed musician whose sleepless nights had resulted in a rewarding career. He disciplined me, perhaps far too much, and insisted that all I acquire in life must be a result of my own hard work and nobody else’s. I grew up listening to him compose music, watching him jump on the next plane to perform his compositions overseas. As an eight year old, I’d end a school day by frequenting one gorgeous musical hall after another, dozing away in red velvet seating after a long day of studies, as I listened to him play along world-renowned musicians. He taught himself to tune pianos, build a strong client base and earned the title of Malta’s best piano tuner. This is what I grew up admiring; independence, artistry, hard work, freedom to follow your passions, and self-starters. The artists in my family all earned their well-deserved success at their own accord. My grandfather taught himself to paint as beautifully as he did, in his shabby little studio situated on the third floor of his and my grandmother’s townhouse. My uncle too, boasted a reputation as one of Malta’s greatest guitarists, and all thanks to himself. No fancy schools, no hefty fees.
Perhaps it is our bloodline, but I pretty much always knew I would end up dabbling in a creative career path. In many ways, it is one I am creating for myself. With that said, I acknowledge the privileges I’ve had in being able to surround myself with artistry from early childhood – it was greatly inspiring. But the Vuković family? We all mostly kept our creations to ourselves. My father taught me to play the piano, yes, but aside from that? Nobody taught me to write, or draw, or photograph. Malta’s art education is already limited as is – and I couldn’t, and cannot, afford a fancy degree overseas that will likely only teach me what I am teaching myself everyday. And I’ve come to realise that the ability to teach oneself is truly a gift, a skill not many can take up.
That was the mindset I was raised with. If you want something, you go ahead and create it for yourself. In my former years, I thought the mentality my family bestowed upon me was almost lonely. We did not help one another – barely support in any form. Independence is something I’ve long known. My parents didn’t believe in saving money for your child’s future, paying for tuition fees or extra-curricular activities. Success is hard-earned, they would say. Nothing is gifted to you. I remember approaching my father once, as an eleven year old with the intent of attending an art course. My father scoffed in response. He retorted, “Why? You can teach yourself to paint!” and he was not wrong – I mean, these words came from the very mouth of a man who he himself was an excellent, self-taught painter. He was also the brother, son and grandson of other exceptional self-taught painters. And I do believe this now, because I picked up a paintbrush and practiced and voila, I can say I paint decently well myself!
I believe that being in the right creative headspace goes hand in hand with feeling financially at ease. In fact, as JoAnneh Nagler wrote, artists struggle especially when money is at its lowest – because we’re sensitive creatures and feel things intensely. Financial concerns distract us, they no longer enable us to open up to the emotional extent needed to create.
“We can bellyache all we want about the hours a job may take from our art, but the truth is, suffering and struggling sucks up way more hours than a self-sustaining job ever does. Supporting ourselves gives us a real and genuine chance with our art: It nourishes the space around us so there’s plenty of breathing room to invent art.” – JoAnneh Nagler, How to Be an Artist
And so, when people ask me why I won’t soon enrol in a three-year degree course in an artistic field? Well, there you have it! Because I never felt less inspired than when I studied art, ironically. Picture splurging on art supplies, fabrics, expensive design programs and all that with no time to actually earn back any of the money you’re forking out. And on top of that? Call me cocky for my honesty, but I’ve learnt most of the same things independently, with little to no help.
I love working. I absolutely do. And that is my one true comfort – that the one thing that brings me the most joy in this lifetime, is the one thing that will allow me to sustain myself and make a decent living. I do come across a fair share of individuals who scroll through my instagram page and proceed to question my finances. In a way, I cannot blame them. I choose my clothing wisely, I occasionally splurge my money on overseas trips, and I share bottles of wine with friends at fancy-looking locations. However, I am sometimes told that I must be very rich and overly-privileged. This perplexes me. In many ways I am privileged, as most of us are. But in order to acquire all that I have? I wake up at 7.30am and head to bed shortly before 3am, writing and producing content for most of the day’s duration. My work does not yet pay particularly well, either. I still cannot afford to pay up my regrettable student loan in full, rent out anything more than a garage space, fork out all necessary healthcare costs or splurge on the lens upgrade I could very well benefit from, but that’s okay. Those comments, however, they baffle me – it’s almost as though the idea of actually working for what you acquire is nothing but a fantasy if you’re my age!
Instagram often hammers us with the notion of perfection; these images we scroll through – the unrealistically expensive champagne bottles lying against a luxurious background and a content creator’s own pair of loubs – they’re hardly ever as real as we naively perceive them to be. I too, as an individual who knows all too well what great extent social media enthusiasts will go to to share a satisfactory photo, often feel pressured by the idea of keeping up with all that. And thing is, my photos are also not an effortless insight into my everyday life. The photos I post are all I creatively plan them out to be, while my writing is far more honest and revealing. So I implore you to realise that the fancy imagery, frequent overseas trips and unaffordable poolside locations shared on my Instagram stories come at a cost – literally. They are the result of incessant work and sleepless nights, of constant sacrifices to just keep learning and growing creatively. And the biggest sacrifice of all? The personal relationships I struggle to juggle! I’m as much of a spender as I am a saver, stuck between my love for tasteful clothing and locations, and the impending future goals I can’t go a day without thinking about and working towards. We all have our spending priorities, but truthfully? I don’t live an exuberant, picture perfect life led by superabundant wealth as some have suggested – nor do I aspire to. More importantly, I don’t take any of this for granted, and you shouldn’t either.