Puritan Guilt

A long time ago, in my thirties (:-)), I dated an artist called Mr. Fire-man. He was a really fabulous painter, and very dedicated to the artistic lifestyle. He was like magic–even though he didn’t always have a reliable source of income, he always had a place to sleep and food to eat.

It was a lifestyle that I found very attractive: bohemian and free. There was a kind of a romance to it, although in retrospect, it’s likely that the romance of the lifestyle was tied up in the romance of the, well, romance.

We broke up after about six months, but continue to remain friends (Hi, Davey!). One thing that relationship taught me is that I need a certain amount of financial stability in my life. I need to know where my next month’s rent is coming from. I like to be able to go to the grocery store and not count pennies. After I became a parent, the need to create stable, steady income became even greater–I now had someone who depended 100% on me for his food, shelter, and well-being (a house that is under financial pressure creates an atmosphere of stress).

So, unsure if I’d be successful or not, I started a business. And things are going well. I’m not getting rich, but I can pay all my bills, and I have a little put aside for emergencies. I’m not in debt. I’m saving a bit for my retirement, and for Michael’s post-secondary schooling. I even have a bit of cash for treats–a new pair of shoes, taking Michael for a sushi dinner.

Yay, me, right? What’s the problem?


The more successful I become, the guiltier I feel. I feel guilty just for being successful, first of all–as artists, being successful often equates to “selling out.” Is that me? I ask myself. Am I a sellout?

I am also still surrounded by artists that are, especially in these tough times of cutbacks, struggling, and that adds to my feeling of guilt. How dare I be a success when others around me are struggling so much, and even, in some cases, failing?

Children in Africa are starving, and I just bought red shoes, not because I really needed shoes, but because I wanted them.

Where does my Puritan Guilt come from? Likely my childhood, but I’m less interested in exploring its roots as I am with resolving it. I am working on some new business ideas, and I hope that they take me and my income up and up.

I’m really interested in hearing whether other artists out there struggle with these same feelings and issues. Finances and money seem like one of those topics that are taboo–we must not speak about them–but I’m tired of that. I think it’s time we had an open and honest discussion about money and success as an artist.

Now, go!

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Rebecca Coleman

Social Media Marketing Strategist, Blogger, Author, Teacher, Trainer. Passionate foodie, mom to Michael, fueled by Americanos. I love my bike. Soon-to-be cookbook author. Localvore with a wanderlust.

Comments 11

  1. Ah “GUILT” not only for the “puritan”… Guilt knows no boundaries, frontiers and/or heritage.

    Success is measured in many ways and we humans thrive, (at least I believe this to be true), on rewards. Rewards are great motivators!

    The better we do the more we reward ourselves and this can extend to others.

    Finances and success are intertwined. Ego also plays a huge part in success; and really nobody likes to lose money or fail to have a success.

    Success can be measured by artistic achievement that equates to $$$$ and that implies finances.

    We can’t, by and large, live by “eat-ing” our art – (even though some do).

    We can’t go to the theatre, the opera, the symphony, the art gallery, without shoes on our feet – (even though some have).

    We can however shout out loud when we are successful; financially stable or even better – more than stable.

    Success breeds success; it is a super self-esteem booster.

    Rebecca, “Shout Out” more about your RED shoes, they are indicative of your success; and, if you have something to spare – share it with the starving Children in Canada and Africa!

    Good luck with your new business ideas – I for one can’t wait to hear about them!



    PS: Try losing the “Puritan Guilt” – buy your son a matching pair of red shoes, (maybe a different style tho.)

  2. I had a great conversation recently with my good friend (and local NDP candidate) Jessica about this. It is her contention that women in this part of the world and in this day and age are most often choosing between two possible personal outcomes in big life decisions: guilt or resentment. And most of them, says she, are choosing resentment, and letting that fester for years. I can’t disagree with this, I see so many of my female friends lingering in jobs they hate, relationships they’re clearly not getting as much out of as they’re putting in, not realizing the things I know they dream about. Jess maintains that the healthiest route is to take the path you know you deserve, go with the guilt, get it over with quickly, and enjoy those things that are rightfully yours. The more you do it, the easier it gets.

    Go with the guilt. Makes sense to me.

  3. Rebecca, success breeds success because it inspires. The fact that you are managing to be successful (and financially viable as a small business owner) in the arts in this city at this time does NOT make me jealous or want to throw rotten tomatoes at you. Rather the opposite. It tells me that it can be done, so keep trying. The only kind of success I have a problem with is the kind that comes at other people’s expense. Your business is based on helping others become more successful. This is wonderful! (And, as an aside, your and Simon’s encouragement to start an e-newsletter over a year ago for my art career is paying off. In October I sold 4 large pieces of art to three different newsletter readers. Do I feel guilty? No way! Resentful? Nope. Thrilled? Feeling like anything is possible? Yes! Yes!)

  4. Hi Rebecca,

    How timely as this has been on my mind of late. Today, I wrote myself a pay cheque or rather an owner’s draw as I’m a sole proprietor. Within minutes, I helped a friend update her resume to get a “pay the bills joe job” as a major gig had suddenly fallen through. The guilt was enormous.

    But then I thought about something my parents told me years ago – take care of yourself and your family first and your ability to help others will follow. I saw this time and again growing up and the “help” often wasn’t financial. So, with that thought in mind I pushed the guilt aside (not easy to do) and took care of my own coffers. Without doubt, I will help someone else this week and I’m happy to do so. I’ve seen you make these same sorts of gifts to the theatre community and I remind you of the good work you do even if it doesn’t have a monetary ;abel. Remember the value is still there.


  5. Good open and honest poste, Rebecca and a topic that more people face than we ever talk about.

    Having gone from being an artist in the more defined way of putting it to some years as an arts administrator and now as a graphic designer (and other things), I’ve often felt the strange pull of guilt.

    I often heard my artist friends complain about arts administrators as people who get paid way better but are “useless” and I always felt that unfair, especially when I became one. 🙂 Not all artists feel this way and if they are at all openminded they will know better. At the base of it, for me, is that we chose what we do. Some art pays better than others. Though I wish for all artists to make more money, feeling jealous of someone like you or me who does work that supports artists is just plain stupid and if an artist chooses to feel that way, that’s their problem. They aren’t self-aware enough to realize it and if an artist isn’t self-aware, they probably aren’t a very good artist.

    For you to feel guilty makes no sense. Of course, turning off something from years of conditioning is not easy just because it makes no sense. Barring years of pychotherapy to get to the bottom of it (ha ha), I think just celebrating your success is the best thing you can do. You work so hard and have built a really solid business. SCREAM it to the sky. 🙂

  6. Hi Rebecca – A few years ago I tried to encourage someone who was lamenting about wanting to make art. She responded that she didn’t have the luxury of time to do it. At the time it made me feel guilty because her response made me wonder is this how the general public views practicing artists? I had not thought of my creative process as a luxury – yes, what I do is a pleasure but it takes a lot of focused hard work to make it. I take risks, and both my successes and failures, which are a part of my creative process, are done in a public way. When someone in the arts has success I want to celebrate it because to work in the arts and have success is plain hard work!! Embrace your success – you worked hard for it!! I agree with Robin’s comment “success breeds success because it inspires”.

  7. Thanks for all your awesome comments.
    I would argue, Michelle, that an artist is an artist, and that the drive to be creative and produce art comes from inside, and no matter what your life is like, if you are an artist, you will figure out a way to produce your art.
    I don’t think the creative process is a luxury (although I totally get that non-artists might see it that way)–I think it’s a need. Even if we are not currently making a living from our art, we all need a creative outlet, or we’d probably die. Spiritually, at least.

  8. Congratulations on all your success. Currently I have to do non-creative work to make money but I’m moving towards losing the day-job and (in the meantime) am learning to enjoy the process as much as the end result.

    I personally see where I’ve come from and where I’m going as a huge success. It makes sense that we sometimes have guilt around that, mainly because there are some people who start to treat us differently (or what-have-you) and sometimes distance from those people is called for.

    Onward and upward!

  9. Hi Rebecca,

    As I read your post, Marianne Williamson’s quote came to mind:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?

    “Actually, who are you not to be?

    “You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.

    “It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    —Marianne Williamson

    And, I also thought about some work I did at a retreat this past weekend. Unconscious fears came up, such as, “If I am more successful than my parents, I am making them wrong,” and “If I am more successful than my husband, I am undermining his manhood (his need to be the provider).”

    It’s interesting how deep these fears of success can hide! And yet, all of that stems from a scarcity mindset: That if I am successful, then I am taking away from someone else’s chances for success.

    I’m working really hard to change my belief, and believe more in the abundance of the universe. My success does not mean someone else will automatically have less. My success helps and inspires others to succeed!


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