I can’t tell you how many designers I know who are existing from paycheck to paycheck and doing work they are ashamed of.
It’s a strange thing, really, because even though they might design graphics or magazine layouts or couture clothing or whatever, the same skill sets apply to designing anything, including an ideal lifestyle.
Consider this: to be a good designer is to be a good problem solver. When a designer creates a graphic, they are creating it so that something can be explained. For some reason that graphic needs to exist because there is a concept that can be most easily conveyed to the target audience by that kind of graphic done just so.
If this is not the case, that graphic should not exist, and a graphic designer is not necessary. Perhaps a typeface designer, to help make the characters more legible? Or a layout designer, who will be able to design the page in such a way that the important parts are the focus? Or hell, maybe the problem is best solved by designing a runway show and then doing a photography feature from the show.
The bottom line is that problem solving is in the designer’s blood (or should be; if it isn’t, then a new profession might be a good choice), and therefore there’s absolutely no excuse for any designer to be living a life they don’t enjoy to the fullest.
That’s right, I said it. If you are a designer and you are not where you want to be, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and stop making excuses. No one is going to tell you how to live your life the way you want, because everyone wants something different. No one can tell you how to get there, either, and that’s why you’re going to be so good at this: being creative people, designers are the perfect kind of person to innovate in order to get to where they want to be.
One of the big differences between designers and artists (and there are many differences) is that designers tend to have a bit more rational, real-worldness to them. No disrespect to artists, of course, but generally the fine arts tend to be more hopeful and idealistic, while the design world is a haven for the more practical creatives.
This is a huge benefit when it comes to shaping the world around you so that your will is made manifest. It’s one thing to be able to conceive of how things could be, but another all together to be able to act upon that goal in a practical way. Designers are absolutely built for this. It’s how we’re put together. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
So take a good long look at yourself and the world around you. Do some mental sketching of how things could and should be, and then start laying down your framework for changing it.
The only person standing in your way is you. Like in the design world, you can borrow liberally from other designers around you, but make sure that your final product is customized for you, because living someone else’s dream can be just as bad as never pursuing your own.
Update: December 11, 2016
I would add to this that I believe artists are actually practical in a different way — that they are often subject to different business realities doesn’t mean they haven’t come up with amazingly impactful ways to influence and change things. I think I was trying to comment on the fact that designers often have to play ball with clients and work with people, while artists are more capable of producing work that is straight-up them and their ideas, but it came across the wrong way, I think.
I do still feel that art, design, business, playing guitar, writing a book, are all things that tap into similar things; it feels like I’m accessing the same part of my brain whenever I’m creating something, whatever medium I happen to be using.