On choosing art over STEM

When I use Twitter for the powers of good over evil–“evil” meaning Beyonce gif retweets and personal rants about sexism when I should be working– I stumble upon some extremely useful and scarily-pertinent-to-my-own-life articles. The most recent one that caught me off guard something fierce was this one from Femsplain, which discusses a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time: am I contributing enough if I choose a creative career over a more science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM)-focused one?

You readers are scoffing at me right now. “Haley, are you serious? Mozart, Picasso, and Meryl Streep are all artists and have made some of the greatest contributions to the world ever through their art. Whatchu smokin’?”–and I get it. Of course artists have always been, and will continue to be, vital to society and the human experience. Of course these people (and many others) have changed the world through their art.

But here’s the thing.

Creativity, as a person who I currently admire put it, is not something that can be forced and is not something that is ever-flowing. Creativity isn’t there 8 hours a day turning a profit. And even when it strikes, it is not always striking gold. One can create continuously and may still never have their creations seen. Or, they may be seen by a few people, but not many. Even even if they are seen, they may not help the creator live by making them money. Oftentimes, art’s impact is determined by the random placement of the right eyes on it. Art that is just as meaningful or impactful can be overlooked simply because it wasn’t provided with this privilege.

Conversely, in a world that is pushing for STEM jobs to be taken, one can find oneself building products or infrastructure that dramatically change their community or the world. That same person might be managing millions of dollars in people and stakes. They may be making millions of dollars a year because of this. They will be seen as an innovator because their “creations”–however uncreative–have a lasting, functional impact. They will be seen as useful because there are figures tied to their name.

This begs the question: is life about making an impact on as many people as possible? Or is it about doing something–anything–that impacts at least ONE person in a positive way?

Though my path is a series of awkwardly-placed stepping stones towards a creative life, I like to think that I have chosen the life of an artist nonetheless. My accolades, my income, and my recognition will not be guaranteed once I officially strike out on my own. But when that time comes, I’m willing to give it a shot anyway. I take care of myself well enough to afford a roof over my head, groceries, and–okay–new pole gear from time to time. But I’m starting to get the feeling that I’m willing to risk some of that, even if I impact just one of you.

How do we feel about this? For those of us who STEM doesn’t sing to, do you sometimes get scared or intimidated? Is it worth it to risk everything to live the life you love, regardless of what it is that you love?

-H.