Starving Artist No More Blog

042: You're Not a Tree

Nov 14, 2023
Starving Artist No More | Jennifer Jill Araya
042: You're Not a Tree

Hello, thriving artists, and welcome to Episode 42 of the Starving Artist No More podcast.  I’m your host, Jennifer Jill Araya. I am an artist business owner myself, and I am passionate about helping artists and creatives just like you and me build creative businesses that work, that pay them what they’re worth and that give them the opportunity to be their creative best selves. I’m so glad you’re here for today’s discussion of facing change in your artistic work.

And speaking of change, it’s hard to believe it, but when this episode is being originally released, on November 14, 2023, we are just 6.5 weeks out from the new year! Change is coming, whether we like it or not. In just 6.5 short weeks, I’m going to need to write 2024 on my checks instead of 2023. Change.

That means that right now, in advance of the new year’s arrival, is the perfect time for you to think about your goals for the coming year. It’s the perfect time to figure out what you what to do and where you want to be within your creative business over the next twelve months, and how you’re going to get there. It’s time to plan and strategize. After all, a goal without a plan is just a wish. Unless you have that plan, your wish is not actually an achievable target.

With that in mind, I am offering a free goal-setting workshop for creative entrepreneurs on Tuesday, December 5, 2023. This workshop is titled “Dream Big: Goal-Setting for Creative Entrepreneurs,” and that is exactly what we’re going to talk about – how to dream big for your coming year of creative work, and how to set strategically sound, achievable goals to make those dreams your reality. It’s completely free. All you have to do is to sign up for it ahead of time. Just visit the events page of my website,, and you can register. I hope you’ll join us and learn how you can take your creative dreams and do the strategy and planning work necessary to make those dreams happen.

And, if you’re listening to this podcast way in the future and December 5, 2023 is already long past, never fear! That events page on my website is always going to be kept up-to-date with any workshops, seminars, or programs I have going on within the Starving Artist No More community. Who knows, maybe I have exactly the event you’ve been looking for coming up soon! Just check out my website for all the details. That link again is

Now that you know that important bit of news, let’s turn to the main topic of today’s discussion: change. Man, change is hard! Even though I love welcoming new and exciting developments into my life, change is still hard, even when it’s good change. Getting used to a new normal or a new mode of being isn’t easy. Figuring out how to navigate a new landscape in my life is never going to be a process I love, and if you’re like most people, you are probably right there with me. There’s no doubt about it. At times, change is hard and scary and difficult.

But it can also be a wonderful thing. Like I mentioned at the top of the episode, the gorgeous fall colors are proof that change is beautiful. And in truth, there is no growth without change. If you don’t change, you’ll stay stuck – stagnant – while the world around you does change and grow and evolve. If you don’t allow yourself to change, the rest of the world will pass you by.

As I’ve said before many times in previous podcast episodes, change is a direction, not a destination. When you think about changing in your artistic work, don’t think about it as some elusive “other place” where you suddenly have all that you could have dreamed of and that you’ll get to “someday.” No, change is not a destination. It is a direction. It is a conscious decision to take one step after another to build the life that you want for yourself and your creative work, a life that you are both living right now as you take those steps, and that you will enjoy for years to come. Change is a process. It’s a direction that you choose for yourself and that you consciously work toward.

So, if change is a direction, not a destination, what direction is the right change direction for you? Of course, in a medium as general as this one, a podcast episode that’s designed to be helpful for all artists and creatives, regardless of your specific creative industry, I can’t give you any specific guidance. I can’t tell you that you need to do X and Y and Z to be changing positively within your creative work.

Frankly, even if I could do tell you things, that kind of advice would be coming from me, not from you, and so you wouldn’t have ownership over those action items. In truth, me giving you specific steps to take wouldn’t be as helpful to you as what I am about to give you, which is ideas of how to think about choosing the right direction of change for you and your creative work.

So how can you think about change? My favorite way to think about change is in terms of growth of my skills and abilities. When it comes to changing within your creative business, changing in the direction of ongoing artistic growth is always going to be a positive direction of change.

All the way back in Episode 16 of this podcast, I talked about the Six Components of a Thriving Creative Business, the six elements of your business to focus on if you want to build a thriving creative business that fulfills you personally, creatively, and financially. And one of those six components is a plan – a set process – to nurture your own artistic growth.

There’s a saying in the life sciences that change is nature’s only constant. And it’s true. That things will change is the one single thing in life that you can completely count on. Change is inevitable. It has always happened, and it will always happen. We can’t get away from it, no matter where we look.

Our creative worlds are no exception to this inevitability of change. Every creative industry changes over time. There is not a single artistic field that is the same today as it was 5 years ago, or 20 years ago, or 100 years ago. If you think about the classical music being written today, as compared to that being written 200 years ago, it’s undeniable that they are different! Art is a product of its time and of the experiences of its creator, and so the characteristics of the art being created will change and evolve as time passes. If you do not allow yourself to grow and change creatively as time passes, your creative industry will pass you by.

My primary creative medium is audiobook narration, and the audiobook industry is one of massive growth and change. I narrated my first audiobook in early 2018, and if I look at what it means to narrate an audiobook now versus what it meant to narrate an audiobook back in 2018, the industry is so different! As one tiny little example, full-cast audiobooks were exceedingly rare in 2018, and now they are incredibly common. In that way and in many others, the creative industry of audiobooks has evolved in the past five years.

And that’s just over a five year period! I was an avid audiobook listener as a child, and I can say definitively that the style of the audiobooks I listened to twenty and thirty years ago bears almost no resemblance to the audiobooks I narrate today. For one thing, almost every audiobook recorded thirty years ago was an abridged version of the print book, and today, not a single one of my over 400 audiobook titles was abridged. We always record the full thing today! Things have changed.

If I weren’t embracing change and growth in my narration skills, I would not continue to be hired as an audiobook narrator. And this kind of change is necessary regardless of where you are in your artistic career. If you’re brand new in your creative industry, you need to allow yourself to change and grow artistically so that you can meet your industry where it is right now. You need to learn enough and gain the skills necessary to create what the market is asking for right now. But if you’re a veteran in your creative industry, you need to change just as much! You might have come of age in your artistic work when the styles and preferences in your industry were very different than they are today. And unless you change and grow in your skills as time passes, you won’t continue to be hired. If you’re not continually refreshing your creative abilities, your style and skills will lose relevance as time passes.

On a pragmatic level, making sure that you are continually growing and evolving as an artist and as a creative will allow you to have a career one year, five years, ten years from now. Changing will keep your work relevant and will keep bringing business your way. If you refuse to embrace change, your creative career will wither and die from lack of nourishment.

But embracing the change of ongoing artistic growth is not just helpful for the practical purpose of getting hired. Ongoing growth also keeps your work fresh and energized for your own enjoyment.

You are an artist. You have a reason that you chose to make money from your creativity, rather than from some other method. Being a creative entrepreneur is hard enough that I think I can safely say that you wouldn’t do this if you didn’t have a passion and a drive for the creative work. And allowing yourself to grow in that creative work is what will keep you interested and passionate in that work over time.

You’re not an artist so you can do the same thing every day without any variation. If that’s what you wanted for your work hours, you could go work in a factory and not have to deal with any of the heartache and struggles that come from being an artist in this world. You’re an artist because you like to innovate and discover and explore with your work hours, constantly trying new things and pushing the boundaries of where your skills and your art can take you.

Allow yourself to be excited about the opportunities available to you.  Don’t shy away from them because the change they might bring is scary. Yes, it may be scary, but think of the wonderful new world that new opportunities offer to you! Give yourself permission to be excited about the possibilities. Don’t get stuck where you are. Allow yourself to grow as an artist.

I can hear you saying to me, “Ok, I’ll buy that I need to grow as an artist. But how do I do that? When all of my time is filled with juggling my creative projects and my business admin tasks and my personal commitments, how do I find time or money to devote to my own artistic growth?”

The short answer is that you make it a priority. Devoting time to ongoing artistic growth is just as important as your current artistic project and as your business administrative tasks, because that ongoing artistic growth is what will allow you to get the next project, and the next, and the next. I always say that you get what you schedule, and scheduling in growth activities and opportunities is one way to ensure they happen.

When it comes to exactly what those activities are, the sky’s the limit! Ongoing growth activities can range from paid opportunities, like coaching and workshops and seminars and retreats, to completely free things, like checking an art coffee table book out from your local public library and spending an hour studying the paintings and allowing your own creativity to be inspired by what you see. It can be something within your creative industry, such as an audiobook narrator listening to award-winning audiobooks for creative insight, or it can be something completely separate from your creative industry, such as an audiobook narrator spending the day in an art museum soaking in visual masterpieces. Or it could be something completely separate from any creative industry at all, such as a hike in the woods where you are intentionally noticing the creativity and innovation on display in nature.

Your business cannot thrive – and by extension, you cannot thrive – without the change that comes with ongoing artistic growth. Change is what allows you to flourish.

And yet, so often when I’m working with a creative to give them the supportive mindset and practical skills they need to thrive, fear of change gets in the way. And I get it. I may intellectually embrace everything I’ve said so far 100%, completely buying into the statement that change can be beautiful and recognizing that change is necessary for me to keep getting hired and for me to maintain my passion in my creative work, and I can simultaneously sometimes allow fear to stop me in my tracks.

I already shared that I narrated my first audiobook in 2018. But I did my first voiceover work all the way back in 2008. As a part-time job in college, I narrated client training videos for a local web design company, and I loved it. There were certainly things about that job that I didn’t like, but the voiceover part I loved. And at that time, I looked into what it would take for me to make a career as a voiceover artist. That’s how much I enjoyed it, that I was thinking about making it my career even while I attending a conservatory to study classical music! I had been an avid audiobook listener since I was a child, and the thought that I could possibly make audiobooks and voiceover work my career was tantalizing.

But at that time, there were some really big roadblocks to me making a career as an audiobook narrator. Home studios weren’t yet very common, and I didn’t live in one of the audiobook production hotspots, meaning I would have needed to make a lot of changes to make audiobooks my career at that point. For a lot of reasons, I said no. But one of the reasons, perhaps the biggest reason, was that I was afraid. It took me another ten years to return to that dream and decide that I was no longer going to let fear stop me.

Now, I am thankful for the incredible 10-year journey I had between 2008 and 2018. During that time I worked as a freelance musician on voice and cello, as a chamber musician, as a symphony musician, as a music teacher, both privately and in the classroom, as a seamstress, as an artisan showing my work at craft fairs and art shows. I gained a wealth of experience during those ten years that make me who I am today. My journey to my current work was long and circuitous, and I don’t regret that.

But I also know that my path to audiobook narration could have been a much smoother, straighter experience had I allowed myself to embrace the unknown and proceed forward through my fear.

When we see change approaching us, fear will usually make its presence known. It causes us to resist change in certain areas. But sometimes, those areas are where our greatest growth – and eventually our greatest strength – can be.

When you feel yourself being resistant to change, dig deeper and figure out why you are resistant to change. It may be an opportunity hiding in plain sight!

A recent Medium article captures this scary potential of change beautifully. The author, Khushboo, writes, We often “forget that change isn’t a thing, person, or situation. It is energy – pure, potential energy that is waiting to be harnessed. And since it is a potential, there is a chance for it to both positively and negatively impact us. The choice of what we choose to do with it rests with us. It is here where our perspective comes into the picture. How do we look at it? Do we perceive it to be a challenge or do we see it as a threat to our comfort?”

If you are in a situation right now in which change feels like a threat, allow me to challenge you to work through that fear and to embrace change despite the fear. I have a lovely suspicion that you’ll be delighted by the positive growth that results.

To this point, I’ve been addressing situations when you know you need to change but are resisting that change for some reason. What happens when you’re in a situation where you want change but feel stuck?

There’s a saying here that I think fits quite well, and it’s something I said to my daughter all the time, enough that now that she’s an adult, she’ll say to me occasionally. And it’s this: You’re not a tree. You don’t have to bloom where you’re planted. You can move.

If you don’t like the situation in which you find yourself, take steps to change that situation. Move. You don’t have to bloom in that situation. You can create a new situation for yourself and bloom there instead.

And I know this makes it seem like I think that change is easy. I know it’s not. And I know that sometimes, it can feel like you don’t have any good options to make your situation better. I’ve been in those situations, and I know how difficult it can feel. But I promise you, there is something you can do to change your situation, even if those early changes are purely mindset changes that don’t actually do anything to change the external environment and instead only change your internal perception of that environment. You are never without options.

There’s an old fable that if you plunge a frog into boiling water, it will immediately jump out. It will recognize that this isn’t a situation that is healthy for it, and it’ll do what it needs to do to leave. But if you put that same frog into room temperature water and slowly heat it up to boiling, the frog won’t notice and will slowly cook to death.

It’s a gruesome story, but it teaches a powerful lesson. Don't let yourself be the frog in the simmering water. Notice when the circumstances around you aren’t conducive to your long term creative growth, and make the changes needed. Have the courage to get out of the "not good but not awful" situation and make changes to create for yourself a "great!" situation

If, for example, you are staring down a blank project schedule and don’t know how you’re going to pay your rent or utility bills this month, give yourself a moment to recognize that your situation is a really awful one. But don’t stay in that place of inaction and fear. After you give yourself a moment to acknowledge the awful, do something. Take a step in the direction of change. Bruce Lee once said, “To hell with circumstances. I create opportunities.”

If you’re in a situation like that, where you know you can’t thrive, create opportunities for yourself. Double down on your marketing and networking efforts. Use the open time in your calendar to really develop your skills in an area of weakness. Work to create opportunities for yourself, whatever that looks like. For an audiobook narrator, that might mean recording and publishing a public domain audiobook. For a musician, that might look like organizing and hosting a chamber music concert with some of your musician colleagues. For an author, that might look like releasing a series of short stories on a Substack newsletter to grow your audience of readers who might be interested in buying your longer books. For an actor, that might mean organizing and presenting an improv night with some of your actor colleagues. Create opportunities for yourself. And if those new and self-created opportunities aren’t bringing money into your bank account quickly enough, be willing to find a side source of income that can pay the bills  while you build or rebuild your creative career so that it can again support and fulfill you financially.

You’re not a tree. If you don’t like the situation around you, you aren’t stuck there. You can take steps to change it into a situation in which you can bloom and thrive. I know you can do it.

 Thank you for being here for this episode of the Starving Artist No More podcast. I hope today’s discussion encouraged you to embrace change, even if it feels scary – especially if it feels scary! Change truly can be a beautiful thing. If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode, please consider leaving me a rating or review, and feel free to share it with your friends and creative colleagues. Sharing is caring! If you have any questions for me about my work as a creative entrepreneurship coach, or if you have topic suggestions for future episodes, please reach out to me via my website, I always love to hear from you. As always, a huge thanks to my husband, Arturo Araya, who is the audio engineer for this podcast. And thank you for spending this time with me today. I know how precious time is to artists, and I will never take your presence here for granted.

As you go through the coming weeks of autumn, I hope that you will allow the changing leaves to remind you that change can be beautiful. Change in your creative work is not a set destination but is instead a direction of positive growth and development. That growth is what allows you to stay relevant in your creative industry so that you and your work remain relevant and hirable as time passes. And that growth is what allows you to stay passionate and interested in your work over the years, keeping your creativity fresh and energized. Change is scary, but the fear that change sometimes evokes is often a clue to an area of incredible growth and potential for us, so sometimes digging into the fear is actually the best option. And through it all, don’t be a frog sitting in deadly simmering water. Don’t be a tree, stuck wherever you happen to be. Take steps to change your difficult situation into one in which you can thrive and flourish. You don’t have to bloom where you're planted. Make changes and give yourself permission to bloom where you want to be. I can’t wait to see what you create.


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