Why the Good of Today are the Homeless of Tomorrow

There’s a disturbing trend going on, and I don’t think you realize how it much it will affect your creative career.

Most (digital) creatives, including me, have a distorted view on how creating good work leads to equally good pay. That’s a myth as real as Santa Claus, the story of the Bible and other famous fairy tales.

Good work doesn’t give you good pay. Anymore.

Here’s what I think is the reality, based on the experience of me and my peers :


You do shit work = you get no pay.


Good work = shit pay.


Excellent work = good pay.


Remarkable, one of a kind, blow me away till I piss all over me in excitement = excellent pay.


This is not a formula that I have pulled out of my ass. This is what I see all around me :

Creative people, whether they are entrepreneurs, freelancers or authors, who struggle to make ends meet doing good work, getting shit pay.

They have good people skills, good connections and they create good work and yet they struggle. The best of them make a full time-living from their creative career, but they don’t know where the money’s gonna come for the next six months of rent. I consider myself to be part of that group, and I hate it. I have more and more clients, but I wouldn’t say I make a killing.

Now I’m still fairly young, but in the future ?

A struggling creative in his 50s or 60s ? N-i-g-h-t-m-a-r-e.

Good work gives you “meh” pay, and will lead to a poor life in the future, sooner or later.

Probably sooner.

But why is that happening ?

One word : technology.

With cheap outsource-able labor and robots on the rise, more and more creative work becomes a commodity. You don’t need to hire the costly dude around your street to get good work, you hire a kid in Bangalore, India who’s got access to the internet and the skills you need.

Intense, global competition leads to more better work at lower prices. Being good therefor is a ride down the spiral of cheap-ass existence. Every decent creative can copy almost any style for a fraction of the cost.

What people pay for in the future is not skill (that’s the price of admission). They pay for flair and meaning.


Example :

This is a cover  (no affiliate link) done by superstar Shepard Fairey for an ex-Door member who self-publishes his own book. Honestly, I could have created that cover myself based on skill alone, but my name doesn’t yet have the superstar brand power of Shepard Fairey. That’s why he probably made more for one cover than I’ll do for months. The author didn’t pay for skill, he paid for name.

Or how about Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian graphic designer dominating NYC.

That city’s notorious for being stuffed with struggling creatives who can barely pay their rent.

But Stefan is drowning in high paid work and is busy with turning it down.

Price range ?

 Up to 96,000 $ for a CD cover, as famously showcased by a story between him and Jay Z.

Let me repeat that : ninety six thousand dollars for a single CD cover. Wowzee in my housie.

That’s what most creative people don’t even earn in a year.

I can even give you a personal example :

My mother once taught at a prestigious Art University. She, like her colleagues, had to negotiate hard to get good pay. The University claimed they didn’t have enough money anymore. But when a Scandinavian hot-shot artist with brand name recognition came, the -we-don’t-have-money  motto quickly turned to 10,000 $ in monthly pay, plus 500,000 $ “bonus” for art projects. Magic !

Granted, these peeps are superstars in their own right, but they showcase my thoughts.

In my city Berlin, a so-called cultural creative center of Europe,

97% of artists can’t live from their work, while the other 3% not only survive but thrive.

(according to the Berlin Artist Society.)

And the middle-class of creatives ? A dying breed.

You’re either stuck in the majority of sucky (no pay) – to good (bad pay) range,

or in the excellent / remarkable 3% part (good to excellent pay).

And you know what ? It’s a global phenomenon that’s only going to get worse.

The good of today are the homeless of tomorrow.

So, if you are only doing good good work, how fast can you stop ?

And if you stop, how can you make sure you’ll thrive instead ?

Read on.

How to thrive as a creative in the future

I don’t want to paint the future black. Bleak challenges lead to extraordinary possibilities.

The following are not actual facts. I’m not a star thriving yet, so I have no business talking about facts. But I did increase my revenue steadily over the last three years, and this is what I think can be the path to a thriving future as a creative.


Own your spot in the world. Generalized-good-for-all creators are the roadkill of tomorrow.

You want to have a distinctive style that people can only link to you, and want to hire you for.

You can offer many services now and even make decent money  for now, but it’s not sustainable. You have to own your unique style sooner or later, a specific set of trademarks that make people say “That style is totally (insert your name here).

The brand consistency gives you grrreat work and pay.

My trademarks ? Bold, modern / futuristic design, illustration and storytelling = a futurist visual artist. Still working on that.

Skill won’t save you, meaning will. If all you offer is competence, I can get it for cheaper from somewhere around the globe. Remember when I talked about Shepard Fairey and the book cover ? I could have created it, but I don’t have the meaning and reputation he enjoys.

The author’s going to say : See this cover ? It’s done by Shepard Fairey, and insiders’ mouths will fall down like dungeon doors. If you know Fairey, you know his meaning behind the work,and the meaning creates powerful connections between work and people.

Prestige and reputation will shoot through the roof.


Make your network your retirement backup.

Forget about the government taking care of you – with the ever-repeating financial crisis and

corruption and mismanagement on the global level, you have to rely on yourself. All power to the individual.

Your network, which you grow by approaching like-minded movers-and-shakers, is going to be your financial well. Ye$$$.

How ? By following this motto :  I massage your back and you massage mine.

I personally approach one to two new people every week, and I help my own folks by recommending

services and people – creating an equally mutual microcosmos.

The more my network grows, the more money I make. Fact.


And last but not least :

Your career has to be the most important thing in your life. At least for now.

I see people who luv the creative life style, just as much as they luv their friends, family, partying

and a hundred other things. With that attitude, you’ll end up in the creative meat grinder.

I personally put my career before friends and family, which means I spent more time on my creation process than I’m spending with my so-called “close” ones.

If you want to be exceptional at your creative craft to thrive in the future, something’s gotta give.

Don’t call it sacrifice, call it prioritization.


Conclusion :

You have to get rid of the notion “do good work, and you get good pay.”

Do good work now and you’ll end up as a homeless or social welfare patient in the future.

Living in a shed with five kids, sipping sugary soda through your rotten teeth. And too broke to care.

IF you are a freedom lover like me, and you can only work and live on your own terms, you have to go big or don’t bother at all. It’s black or white in creative career realm, because in the grey, you won’t survive anymore.

If you like this post, share the message with the creative peeps you care about.

  • http://pjrvs.com/ Paul Jarvis

    I think I assume I’ll make little to no money on every creative endeavour because I’ve been a musician longer than anything else. And everyone knows that the industry doesn’t reward good music, it rewards marketable music. So any monetary gains are simply a bonus for good work I do.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Yeah, I think the indie music industry is the hardest challenge of them all. We are so used as a society to simply download music. You need an extraordinary style and bond to your audience to make a living, and give it your all, doing a couple of different merch and projects, just like Amanda Palmer. But if there’s a will, there’s a way.

  • http://www.digitalphotoanddesign.com/ Colleen Conger @ DigiPD

    You know, Mars, before I met you I never knew how awesome being a creative could be. Good God man, you’re work is a tsunami of fresh air here in my little home office in rural Mississippi (United States.)

    And it’s because of you, and your Outstander book, that I started (and am still working on) being different and making my own mark in my newly discovered creative place.

    And yes, you’re exactly right about who you know. It seems here recently that I’ve gotten more work from people I’ve developed real and true relationships with (who also value my creativity) and that’s what “cranks my tractor.”

    Keep on doin’ and creatin’ Mars. Your fellow creatives NEED you!

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      thanx for that, Colleen, I’m working hard on being on the top level – that’s not only where you thrive but make the most impact as well.

  • http://www.fatlossmentality.com/ Jason (Fat Loss Mentality)

    Well done Mars for another solid article. Keep going, you have an interesting way with words as well as with illustrating…

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      shit, just solid ? I have to level up my game, Jason ;)

  • http://twitter.com/nomadicmystic Ivan Campuzano

    go big or go home, I’m going big…thanks mars :)

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      me too, man. I don’t want to be old and poor.

  • http://www.lauryndoll.com/ Lauryn Doll

    I really like this post, namely because this is the attitude I’ve been leaning toward for a while. I’ve spent the past few years as a marketer turned creative, realizing that creativity pays the bills – especially highly-impassioned, deeply cultivated creativity that goes deeper than “You need to buy this!” and “It’s on sale!”

    You need to thoroughly know the experience you’re bringing to the table, study the masters, be the apprentice under the masters, then learn to steal great ideas and re-create them with your own flair.

    It doesn’t matter what – or who – you are. If you’re not kicking ass and taking names with your work – whether you’re an administrative assistant, prostitute or rap artist – then you won’t be memorable and you’ll forever float in the gray area.

    It’s times like these – and articles like these as well – that I remember the goal is to stop diluting the product to the point where I’m no longer black or white. The goal is to have a sharp contrast that demands love or hate as opposed to the droll indifference found in the Creative’s 50 Shades of Grey.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      YEss, it’s about perception about you and the work you do.
      I think you should be hungry to improve every single day and never be content with your work, not just because it sounds inspirational, but because it allow you to be thriving creative instead of a homeless one, heh.

      Thanx for stopping by, Lauryn ;)

  • http://daviddoolin.com/ Dave Doolin

    Mars, I firmly believe even highly technical skills such as programming, and possibly even software development, are going the same direction, albeit much more slowly. My opinion isn’t shared by a lot of people, but I can’t see any skill set will be immune.

    As a software developer, I think continuously about not only which skills I need to maintain, which to develop, but also about what story am I telling with how I employ those skills to create software. True, I’m making bank right now, but even 3-4 years ago, the demand for developers was soft, and I expect it will be soft again, maybe sooner than later. I want that not to matter to me.

    You’re on the right road, man.

  • Nancy Hamilton

    Love the way you think & communicate. Glad I found you through Natalie Sisson. Keep up the great work.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      thanks Nancy.

      I always try to push the way I communicate my ideas ;)

  • Abhishek

    great post Mars. I completely agree with you on doing excellent work over just good work. Ive been writing non fiction books and conducting sessions for students in schools and colleges here in Mumbai. Earlier I would spend most of my time time chasing clients and getting more projects.

    But I realize after reading a few of your posts, that if I create a good network of life long customers, I create a self sustaining business model for my creative work. Also I can spend this time valuable extra time creating more extra-ordinarily amazing creative work. Thank you for showing me that. And I sure think your writing is unique as hell Mars. It is fresh. It is on your face. It makes perfect sense. Do keep up the good work:) Will be following your work online now.

    • http://www.marsdorian.com/ Mars Dorian

      Hey Abhishek,

      thanx for telling me your background ! I luv it when I hear those stories.

      Right now – I’m spending my time only on two things :
      1) creating more (kick-ass) work.
      2) Connecting with people.

      That’s it. I don’t even do promotions – that only works in the beginning, and it’s unsustainable (and not fun) in the longterm.

      The better my work, and the more I grow my network, the more money I make.
      It’s simple, but not easy.

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