The Creative Conundrum: Pursue Your Art or Get a “Real Job”

Every creative has found themselves at the same career crossroads. One path leads where their heart desires. The other leads to "real" jobs. Mike Sager has stood there, and he reflects on why he dropped out of Georgetown Law School to live the creative life.

I could have been a lawyer.

I could have been a guy who wakes up early every morning and shaves and wears a tie and commutes; a guy with a regular pay check and cushy benefits who argues for a living—instead of a guy who works at home in his sweats, filling blank pages with words.

This is what I remind myself. . .

Whenever another one of the countless story ideas I’ve submitted over the past forty years is unceremoniously rejected, “Thanks but no thanks.”

Whenever I’m chasing a client for a check—some multimillion-dollar corporation with a newsstand circ of ten million, which uses my work immediately but takes nine months to pay.

Whenever I’m making rushed, last minute changes to a story I finished months ago because the editor in chief has finally gotten around to reading it. (They call this a top edit. I always wonder: Does that mean I’m the bottom?)

I could have been a lawyer. I could have been a lawyer. I could have been a lawyer. Instead of a guy who creates.


I guess I always wanted to be an artist. I suffered the early afflictions of being a kid who was loved too much. I felt special. I wanted other people to know. I figured out after a while that it isn’t enough just to tell them. You have to do something. You have to demonstrate. You have to create something that leaves an impression.

When I was in middle school, I thought it was music. I had long hair and a knockoff Les Paul electric guitar. I wrote songs and I sang. I remember taking an aptitude test, bubbling in any choice that seemed to indicate my innate musicality. Some people said I was a pretty good lead guitarist. I definitely met more girls. But I couldn’t remember the chords to the songs—I had them written down in a notebook on top of my amp. Neither could I read nor transpose music very well—like spelling and remembering multiplication tables, the mathematical, memorization stuff just wouldn’t stick. And frankly, despite endless pleasant hours of practice, my fingers weren’t long or agile enough to spider along the fretboard and make the sounds I was hearing in my head. I wanted to be special, but no matter how hard I worked, this wasn’t my milieu. (Someone made that pretty clear when they unplugged my amp during a solo at the school talent show.)...more