Where are you right this moment in your creative career? Do you feel like there should be something more to your life? Do you have an incomplete feeling, like somehow there’s something you should be doing … but you don’t know what it is? Or have you arrived at a place where you thought you would be happy and satisfied with your career, but you still feel like there’s something else you need to do?

If you feel this way, then perhaps you are unsure of your part in some grand scheme of things… or maybe you were never revealed the big picture of where you stand in the natural lifecycle of an artist, and you’re stuck in a phase that you didn’t realize existed.

Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People describes the natural evolution of a person. He says we all have essentially three major phases in life. Here they are:

  1. Dependence

  2. Independence

  3. Interdependence

The first two are pretty straightforward. The third may leave a big question mark above your heads. Let’s get down to explaining them.

Phase 1: The Dependent Artist

At an early age, we depend on our primary caregivers such as parents or guardians to provide our necessities. As we progress through life, we will learn to take care of our own basic needs. We hit a big milestone as teenagers when we get that first car. What a sense of freedom and independence!

But we are still dependent on quite a few things. We may live at home, so we still depend on our parents for housing. We depend on our employer for a paycheck. We depend on the school to provide education so that we can get a good job, and so on. We chafe at the bit, looking forward to the day when we will be free of having to be so dependent.

After graduating college, we may find that we are still dependent on quite a few things. As artists, we may get a job at a design firm, or a creative agency. We may even, through the years, achieve a creative director position, or head up an art gallery. We might teach at a school. We get a steady paycheck. If the only paycheck we receive is from the place where we work, then we are still dependent on a single source for all our income.

In fact, many people go through their entire lives dependent. After retirement, they might have a meager income from a retirement plan or take a job part time. They are still dependent on that company or entity for their income.

Phase 2: The Independent Artist

Let’s say you are the fiercely independent type. At a relatively early age, you learned what you needed to do to be a successful artist, and started a business. More learning occurred as you ran the business…you had ups and downs, but you are still surviving.

The dependency level has definitely gone down, since you don’t rely on a single company for one source of income, but a number of sources. This might be in the form of an independent gallery artist that has a group of clients, or a freelance designer that has a number of people that call on you. You may lose a client or two, but you know how to get more, and you do.

You are your own boss. You are sufficiently self-motivated to wake up in the morning and do what you need to do in order to get clients, do your work, and make a profit.

But the only downside is… things can get a bit lonely.  You might occasionally go out with a client or attend a gallery opening or networking event, but most of the time, you are the only person in your studio for hours on end. While you may like this, some people may refer to you as reclusive, or a hermit. And while you like your independence and your privacy, there’s a deep feeling of isolation that you somehow can’t quite shake.

Many of us stop there, thinking that’s all there is to our creative lives. Well, there’s a whole other phase that we may not know about.

Phase 3: The Interdependent Artist

The interdependent artist has already achieved independence, meaning they don’t rely on a single source of income. They don’t necessarily need anybody else to survive, so they are independent financially.

However, they voluntarily seek relationships where they depend on people, and are in turn depended upon. They seek to give generously to the lives of others, not needing anything in return. This creates a very special gift economy, where the giver is truly giving a gift. Anything gotten in return is graciously accepted, and while not absolutely needed, contributes to the giving relationship.

The interdependent artist is also active socially, gives to charitable causes, and genuinely cares for others.

They wake up each day excited and energized more than if they just lived for themselves… because they live for others.

You Don’t Have to Wait

The good news is, you don’t necessarily have to wait for independence to become interdependent. While you may still depend on others for income as an artist, you can still create systems where you are interdependent on other people in giving relationships.

In fact, you may find that when you put others first and give to them generously, then you will inevitably find your own purse jingling with coins a short time later.

We live in a time where so much more is transparent than it was before… it’s become more difficult for selfish people to pull shyster tactics on people to get them to buy in to their schemes. The day is upon us where your personality and character are all up on the internet for all the world to see. If they see that you live your life in a kind and generous way, then you will very likely have no end of fans and followers.

Ideas on helping you become the interdependent artist you were meant to be:

  • Practice your best smile and use it whenever you see somebody.
  • Serve as a mentor to developing artists.
  • Refer to people by name when you speak to them.
  • Contribute financially or materially to a charity of your choice.
  • Give art as gifts to friends and family members.
  • Teach at a community development center or library on how people can be more creative.

The interdependent artist is the pinnacle of what we should aspire to; this person is a cornerstone of society, a paragon of inspiration to others, and somebody that you have every right and potential to be.

Where are you in your creative career’s lifecycle? Are you dependent and feeling like there’s something more out there? Or have you achieved true interdependence and have some tips for us to share? Please let us know in the comments below.