Before I share this story with you, it’s worth noting that not all things that you love to do will be guaranteed to generate income. Yet if you happen to absolutely love doing something, so much that you can’t believe someone would pay you for it, and then people start to pay you for it (enabling you to work less at your "day" job and do more of what you love), that can be a very beautiful thing.
I speak from experience on this. I was amazed to discover that my passion for dance (which I began to finally pursue formally as a 28 year old doctor) led to all kinds of opportunities, some of which paid shockingly well. A few years in, after my salsa and flamenco dance "career" led me to spend several years dancing and living in Los Cabos, further leading me to all sorts of other epiphanies about life, I wrote a book (Live a Life You Love: 7 Steps to a Healthier, Happier, More Passionate You ) about it.
I also found myself coaching others into living their own uniquely amazing lives, and being paid to stand on stage and tell the story of my rather unorthodox – and apparently quite inspirational – career course. Did I study dance because I planned to earn significant income from it? No, of course not, I danced because I loved it more than anything. Since I was a young girl, though, I had always dreamed of dancing professionally, even though my parents wouldn’t pay for dance lessons. Something inside me must have known what awaited me.
Now one of my favorite passions is collecting stories of others who have created surprising results by doing something that comes effortlessly to them, something they absolutely love and would do whether they were paid or not. I was in New York this past spring, visiting my sister Laila. She’s another of these success stories, as she turned her love for music – initially met with great resistance from our parents – into a multiple award-winning international career, including recent stints working and performing with Sting.(See www.LailaBiali.com )
That weekend, I met her husband’s cousin Gwyneth. As we idly chit-chatted, Gwyneth casually mentioned the story of her coffee cup art. I immediately shouted "What!? You have to tell me about this!" and grabbed from my purse the little notebook I reserve for documenting such occasions.
An artist who historically focuses on oils and canvas, Gwyneth told me that in 2007 she started drawing on her used coffee cups while passing time in meetings, such as her regular attendance at her daughter’s school’s PTA.
"It was actually a way for me to focus and listen during the meeting," she said.
In her visually gorgeous blog at www.gwynethsfullbrew.com , she writes:
"Sitting still and listening at meetings, my hands needed to move constantly and without really being aware of it, my paper coffee cups were covered with drawings. These drawings intrigued me and I followed the thread. The cup form is the same each time, so I gave myself complete permission to draw anything I liked. This way, with pens at the ready, and an inexhaustible supply of something to draw on, I have managed to stay in a highly generative place."
"A stint of jury duty in the City some months later led to the elaboration of my technique with art pen and brush pens. I now save the cups from the drinks I buy and occasionally collect them from other artists with whom I meet for tea or coffee around town. I wash and dry them and record on the bottom the date, place and occasion, as well as the drink that was consumed, thus capturing the social moment just passed."
It started out as nothing more than a fun way to pass the time, but eventually Gwyneth’s cup habit began to draw attention. Serious attention. By the time I met her, she and her cups already had representation from an art dealer (I almost fell over when she told me what a single cup went for), and she had had two exhibitions.
She now has her most prominent exhibition of all, going on right now in New York’s Flatiron Building ,an iconic landmark on 23rd Street where 5th Avenue and Broadway cross. She’s even part of the exhibition, drawing on cups inside the window Tuesdays – Saturdays 11 am – 2 pm. The exhibition has just been extended through February 2012.
I love this kind of story so much. You would think, being an artist that specialized in more traditional art, that that would be where her "big break" would come from. Yet I continually have found life to be so much more creative and surprising, as it obviously is in this story.
Top dollar paid for a beautiful work of oil on canvas? Pretty typical. Top dollar paid for whimsical drawings on a coffee cup? Magical. Some might have a hard time understanding it, and might even scoff about the value of this kind of art, but all I care about is that Gwyneth loves her "upcycling" art, and the people who buy her cups love having them. And they really are gorgeous.
I encourage you to go for it, whatever it is. Find and make time to do what you love, no matter how late in life it seems or how potentially frivolous. Even if you never make a cent and all you have to show for your own art is the joy of doing, it was worth it. And if life surprises you with a living from it? Wonderful.
Do you have a story to share about something you love to do suprisingly turning into a form of income? I’d love to know – tell us your story in the comments below!