The Starving Artist is Finally Dying

Updated: Oct 22

How to transform either/or thinking and unconscious limiting beliefs into sovereign creative success.

Is having a conscience a business liability?

A copywriter on LinkedIn asked this question earlier today in the context of turning down work opportunities with ethically questionable companies. But the question is relevant to the future of business across all industries.

We creative entrepreneurs tend to take pride in our conscientiousness. We want to solve the world’s toughest problems through innovation, experimentation, and audience feedback—we want to serve, not exploit.

These are all good things. But to avoid the conversation of cost and risk assessment is to deny that we also want to get paid to serve. So, although I know a part of you would rather not, we’re going to explore the possibility that your insistence on integrity and altruism could be costing your business money, and what to do about it if it is.

The Starving Artist Archetype & Either/Or Thinking

I grew up steeped in the simultaneously self-deprecating and self-aggrandizing shadow of creativity which has found little to no worldly use. I watched my parents ransom their creativity to the gods of survival and I felt for their loss.

When I graduated high school, it seemed that my only choices were to sell my soul early on to avoid ending up like my parents later or to flee that system altogether and survive on scraps to retain my creative spirit. I chose the latter.

I took the starving artist archetype to a literal extreme. Living with no regular income, sometimes out of a car and others with nothing more than a backpack and a blanket, I was often hungry. In contrast to the price of my soul, food and shelter were small sacrifices I was willing to make.

The little money I did make came from my creative endeavors. I was always making and selling things, from music projects to jewelry-making to leatherworking, but I never thought of myself as a business owner during those years. With no aspirations to move online, grow my brand, or make more money, I set up my wares on street corners and let customers come to me. I clung to the only version of freedom I knew—owning nothing and being no one.

So repulsed by the soul-sucking, deceptive rat race that I was expected to join to be considered a valued member of society that I chose exile willingly, I wanted nothing to do with manipulating others to get them to buy, and I did not consent to be manipulated as a consumer.

For my integrity's sake, I threw away what most people will eat each other to obtain—money and power.

But, as much as it might look like it, this story does not constitute proof that conscience is a financial liability. Here is why.

It was not my stubborn adherence to my conscience that caused my poverty but my limited perception of options. Because of my upbringing, I assumed that freedom and spiritual rightness came at the cost of money, security, and power.

Unconsciously locked into polarized either/or thinking, I did not see the endless creative potential that I do now for synthesis between integrity and profitability.

The Starving Artist vs. Big Bad Business

Whether you've gone to the extremes that I did or not, I see the starving artist archetype and either/or thinking hijack creative businesses all the time. It comes through in what you are willing or not willing to do to get the exposure your business requires to run. It is visible in your pricing, marketing, and messaging, and expressed through your content.

Unconscious identification with the starving artist archetype diametrically opposes you to the exploitative big business archetype. Whatever large corporations do to achieve success, you must do the opposite or else face the severe punishment of your inner critic (your angry conscience).

One big real-life problem with this polarized perception is that creative business owners feel they must somehow sell without selling. An internal war of values ensues, and many creative entrepreneurs flounder in the shallow end of their market for a while before either

  • Quitting, and further reinforcing unconscious identification with the Starving Artist

  • Or “selling out” to obtain social and financial success.

Either/or thinking leads to all-or-nothing results.

But beyond every duality, there is a singular source and a co-creative potential future.

If all-or-nothing results and a die-hard starving artist complex are costing your creative business success, here is what I wish someone could have told me.

  • You can always have both/and.

  • It is never either/or.

  • Your perception and choices directly determine your results.

The Sovereign Creative

The Starving Artist is a starving archetype. As the creative industries grow at exponential speed online, the realization that this trope is no longer relevant sweeps through the collective.

YouTubers are making $10k a month talking about everything from creative entrepreneurship to paranormal phenomena to make-up tutorials and cake recipes. Visual artists are printing their artwork on everything and running successful e-commerce businesses. Some writers are making six figures every thirty days with blog posts.

Those enjoying success now were the first to initiate the still-in-progress downfall of the starving artist archetype in the collective unconscious. They prove that both/and is a viable business model when it comes to balancing financial success with passion, integrity, and mission.

A new archetype emerges to make sense of this viral phenomenon—the Sovereign Creative.

To finish off the Starving Artist and give rise to the Sovereign Creative in your psyche,

  1. Identify and distinguish the behavior of the Starving Artist from your natural state.

  2. Practice discerning the “both/and” dimension of options in your daily choice-making.

  3. Aim to make your choices with conscious internal unanimity about their rightness and an earnest willingness to take full responsibility for their consequences. New avenues of expansion will open.

As a Sovereign Creative, you decide what success means for you, not in reaction to what it means to others, but in alignment with a new internal structure made of your highest dreams and values AND your lowest human need to survive, connected by the evolutionary desire to thrive.

You possess the power to create the type of abundance that runs on psychological integrity and authentic creativity. You have the opportunity to forge a new business paradigm alongside and in collaboration with your fellow creatives in which innovative solutions to bring integrity and commerce into balance are forthcoming.

Your conscience is not a liability. But neglecting to do the inner work to integrate it with the need to survive and desire to thrive is.

Key Takeaways

  • Financial martyrdom is no longer required to retain your conscience and creative spirit.

  • Sacrificing your conscientious creativity is no longer required to retain financial security.

  • Breaking through in your creative business and sustaining success may challenge you to face your unconscious patterns of perception and establish personal sovereignty.

What are the biggest obstacles keeping you from creative business success?

Tell me below in the comments or send me a message with your thoughts. Conversations help me write better content that more precisely serves your growth.

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