Your Art is Worth Money, And Brains Are Little Assholes

May 15, 2023

Advice for folks with sneaky self-esteem & this nagging feeling that you will be laughed out of the f*cking room

I’ve got some uplifting advice today, and it’s these twenty-eight words:

Please, for the love of overpriced Aperol Spritzes worldwide, take your self-doubts, shove ‘em into a sausage, and ship ‘em out to sea before they drown you.

In the 3,000 years since I’ve been—oh god, I’m gonna say it—a “blogger,” which then became an “online entrepreneur” (gag), which has now been rebranded as a “creator,” which is only marginally better and STILL GRATES ON MY KIDNEYS to say out loud because it makes you sound like a toddler with some crayon artwork, I can assure you of this profound truth:

If you want to create a rich & fulfilling creative career.

If you want to set up a life of pleasure and adventure and deep satisfaction where you can go on plane trips and read books and hike in the woods and take your kids to gasp at the world.

If you want to bring your work with you to Idaho to see your mom and visit your aunt and then take off for a month to Ireland to photograph the ocean, and squish the land between your toes, and dry off in front of a roaring fire with a whiskey and a stocky barman named Callum, and then go outside and look around at ancient castles and 800-year-old yew trees and feel like you are alive

Then you cannot be a coward. You must learn how to stand up to your own brain.

Because, you know what brains do? Awful, terrible things. Your brain tells you you’re fat. Your brain tells you you’re dumb. Your brain tells you your work’s not good enough. That whatever you put out will be disappointing garbage; that no one will want what you’ve made; that you’re a delusional muppet; that you could never charge for that; that you’ll be awake at three o’clock in the morning, hanging your sweaty, undeserving neck over your computer, shamefully sending people refunds by the light of a flickering Coke machine in a Motel 6.

(Motel 6 makes it into every nightmare, am I right?)

Your brain will try to convince you of ALL THE THINGS YOU AREN’T. That you aren’t witty enough, young enough, smart enough, cool enough, brave enough, important enough. Your brain will tell you you’re an obtuse, fungus-filled udder for even thinking you could write, draw, speak, paint, photograph, start a Substack…and actually make money with your ideas. Your brain will gaslight you & abuse you at every turn. Who do you think you are? it’ll say. Nobody’s going to pay money for that. You should really go back to doing what you know works: everything that you hate.

You’re trying really hard to just be happy and grateful for what you’ve got—which, to be clear, amounts to a bowl of cereal and an old box of #10 window envelopes. You musn’t be greedy, your brain will advise: you must stop acting like you are so special. You aren’t special. So, why can’t you just be satisfied?

Brains sabotage the most beautiful ideas.

So, when you ask me: how can I do work I love—while also maybe traveling more and enjoying my life and learning the bagpipes and doing the kinds of creative projects I dream about?

I’ll tell you what the first question is:

Can you do what is necessary?

Can you silence your brain long enough to actually attempt something great?

This is not the same as doing what feels good. There’s a lot of talk about that, but I’m not interested in pursuing kumbaya but living like a pauper.

Being Selfish Forever—that’s the name of this column—is about maximizing pleasure and adventure and, critically, financial security. Yes to travel. Yes to experiences. Yes to being independent and free and excited by your own existence again. BUT ALSO—yes to mature achievements, and intellectual pursuits, and retirement accounts, and excellent health insurance, and maybe even an investment property in Maine that you rent out and also stay in whenever you feel like. (And also as many West Elm vases that can fit onto one marble-topped pedestal coffee table.)

Selfish Forever isn’t about chasing juvenile whims: this is about being an adult who’s decided to have their cake and eat it, too, because the modern world has given us options, and it’s time to stop listening to the demagogue inside your brain, and start analyzing what those options really are.

Art is worth money. Your ideas are worth money. Your creativity is a very real product in the modern economy.

A comforting and/or disturbing fact: 80% of the people who are successful are actually mediocre two-bits. But, they’re great at one thing: execution. They follow the steps without overthinking it, and as a result? They’re more successful than someone sitting in their living room with a salami sandwich in their hand. Not because they’re brilliant, but because they’re there. They aren’t afraid to take up space. It’s a game of odds. This is the frustrating flipside of the internet: mediocre people find more success because mediocre people aren’t perfectionists. It’s the people who really care that get the short end of the stick, because while they’re overthinking their every step, someone else is actually taking steps.

Can you do what is necessary?

What is necessary is the work—regardless of what you think about it. Regardless of how harshly you judge what you make. Regardless of your own opinion of as to whether it’s any good.

In a world that endlessly encourages us all to trust ourselves, maybe the real thing we need is a new kind of trust.

Not the kind of illusory, saccharine-filled unicorn trust that most vapid internet cheerleaders pump you with—”you’re great! you’re magic! wow, look at your tits!”—but rather, the kind of deep, profound trust that comes from showing up to do the work every day, without fail, in solidarity with yourself, in order to honor what you actually want…instead of what you’ve convinced yourself is an acceptable substitute for the life you almost had, but didn’t.

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