Philippine labor

[OPINION] Chasing passions has always been for the privileged

Andrea Rivera
[OPINION] Chasing passions has always been for the privileged


'[T]here’s a sense of dejection when I remember that a lot of my favorite artists are born out of generational wealth'

I no longer remember the last time I had proper rest. Since the pandemic began, maybe even before that, everything I did was all about survival. Now that I have barely any time left for the useless things I enjoy, I am now starting to understand what it really means to slowly lose myself. And by “useless things,” I mean “things that are not profitable.”

I was only a month away from regularization when I quit my job in advertising, an industry that revolves around capitalizing on insecurities and discontent. Besides having my cynicism driven to dizzying levels, I was tired of not being compensated properly while having the little creative energy left in me sucked dry to sell things I didn’t believe in.

I now work in a job that pays relatively better, however at the cost of being on-call and never knowing when I can stop working. I’ve fully accepted that it’s going to be another 6-12 months of waiting for leave benefits and security of tenure – a frustrating tango of anxiety and paranoia. With the sorry state of the job market for those of us foolish enough to pursue creative jobs, I’ll take what little stability I can get.

In an ideal world, I could just not show up for work and make time for self-imposed sabbaticals and mental health days. I would finally get off social media and stop worrying about a broken system I am powerless to change. I could hole up in a fancy cabin somewhere and finish writing a novel, learn three different languages, or rediscover musical hobbies I stopped pursuing when I was 10. No longer would I care about being creative for the sake of companies that have the power to replace me the next day. I could read all the books, watch all the movies, take all the pictures, and listen to all the music that I want. If I get bored, I could just take a part-time job in some library or coffee shop and be content with earning below my market value.

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But this isn’t an ideal world; this is the Philippines. I’m not wealthy enough to stop thinking about survival. I keep telling myself to write or create anything to not lose myself completely to the system, but there’s a sense of dejection when I remember that a lot of my favorite artists are born out of generational wealth. These artists can churn out one great song, album, book, film, or artwork after another because they have the privilege to do so. They can even get a whole marketing team to craft a product that appeals to people like me — the ones stuck on the sidelines.

I could tell myself to “just get started,” but it’s hard to focus on being creative when my rent is due the next week and I’m still waiting for my payslip that’s been delayed for days. There are those who have to rely on luck and skill to get a big break, and then there are those who can easily get their foot in the door on Day One. Other than that, I envy the privileged for having the luxury of time. When you’re rich, you can cultivate your passions while you’re still young and relevant. When you’re not, well, good luck with that. You’ll have years of youth taken from you because your focus was always on earning a livable wage. You’ll sacrifice your well-being and connections with the outside world for your art because that’s where you pour your precious time into that’s originally reserved for rest. If you reach success, you’ll get applauded for being the underdog while having the damage in your life dismissed as “part of the grind.” People talk about the starving artist’s journey, but not about how the system would only give an inch of the spotlight once the medals have been won.

I’m not calling myself a representative of underrepresented artists, mostly because I’m aware of my own middle-class comfort and I don’t consider myself creative enough to be an artist. I’m also not telling you to stop recognizing those TV-worthy success stories that are sickeningly sweet in their melodrama. I am simply telling you to look through the lens of privilege and remember that not all those success stories are achieved through mere talent and grit.

I am one of those ready to quietly accept a life of self-sufficiency and relative obscurity despite being told I have potential. I am one of those that, according to Virginia Woolf, have “nothing but brains and character at their command” and can barely take part in making history. This time, I hope to shake up the narrative. I want others like me, artists or not, to know that we have the power to leave a mark too no matter how minuscule and unrecognizable. We can still tell our stories of suffering even if the window for us is barely cracked open. We can still tell our useless stories, even if our main reason for waking up is to make sure that we can survive another day.

In a world that values usefulness, sometimes we need to be a bit useless too. –

Andrea Rivera is a content writer based in Quezon City. You can follow her on Twitter @andreyeaah.