Lessons learned from running a Patreon
You shouldn't launch a Patreon, they say, at the beginning of your creative career. Otherwise, you might shoulder the pressure to create before you've developed work habits that you can sustain & a healthy sense of your worth as an artist.
By the time this warning reached my ears, I could only nod in affirmation. Fresh out of college, I launched a Patreon last fall.
I launched a Patreon to generate income from creative content while offering it for free; to lighten my dependence on part-time jobs, inviting people to express their support of my career financially.
As people began to support my page, I juggled excitement & gratitude with a hidden need to prove I deserved this support. In other words, I was insecure. And insecurity leads to burn-out.
For months, I felt constantly behind & overwhelmed by the amount of content I'd promised to produce. Working five, sometimes six days at the bakery, tutoring privately, and practicing for recording projects & gigs, I'd write late at night and into the mornings. I threw myself into creative work.
For one, it was an escape from realities I struggled to face head-on.
For another, as an Asian-American from the Bay Area who attended Carnegie Mellon University, I was secretly proud of over-working. The very weight of my exhaustion seemed to prove I was steadily rising towards "worthiness" — the kind of worthiness no one could question, not even myself, because I'd have the numbers & content to show for it.
At the peak of my unhealthy work habits, I noticed for the first time that someone unsubscribed from my Patreon. After months of insecurities, this seemed to prove everything I dreaded.
It stung fiercely. But I finally admitted that my work habits weren't working for me, and began to choose healthier ones.
Then, others unsubscribed. For my own well-being, I had to dismantle the seeming evidence that with each loss, I failed — that my creative work didn’t deserve financial support, and everyone else was "just being nice."
I had to accept that when money is involved, so many factors converge. The financial decisions of others can’t be taken personally, not if you want to protect your mental & emotional well-being.
However, this lesson couldn’t dispel the discouragement that often followed when I posted on social media to promote my work. Each time, I'd post hoping someone would see the worth of my creative work & decide to support it financially.
If no one did, the disappointment could be crushing. It could close my heart to the encouragement of everyone already supporting my work, financially or otherwise.
I’ve had to unlearn what I thought I already unlearned — being a creative is not about money, not about numbers. It's not about the judgment of others, even in prestigious places. Their perspectives can be guiding, but not definitive.
Most of all, I've had to unlearn the notion that since my creative work comes from who I am & how I exist in the world, it is who I am & how I exist in the world.
It’s an insidiously gray area. Again and again, I've confused one for the other.
As I celebrate the generosity of more than thirty people supporting my page, I've had to ward off the thought that numbers define my worth as a creative.
In doing so, I've found these insights helpful:
Intuition can lead my creative practice. This approach may not be efficient, but it is freeing. It is respecting my humanity and my need for boundaries. It is healing from years of over-working to “prove myself.”
I can acknowledge a hunger for validation without needing it to come from others. I grew up believing validation came from anyone collectively admired, or simply enough people. After all those years, this belief won’t disappear overnight.
My work is worthy because it comes from who I am & what I believe. The roots of insecurities go deep & take time to heal. Over time, the words “I am enough” become less of a cliché & more of a belief.
This platform is a privilege. Not all artists have direct access to a broader community & financial resources. Having a Patreon is not a race to be won, a plant you coax desperately into growing taller, taller, because your reputation & worth are at stake. Yes, it is dizzyingly vulnerable to invite others to support your work financially. And it’s important to cherish what a privilege it is.
It isn't wrong to self-promote. There’s a tinge of guilt that wants to accompany every social media post promoting my work. Not only does it feel selfish, but everything else in the world can seem more important — or at least more interesting.
But while my creative work stems from a desire to be seen, it’s also driven by the belief that this is how I connect most authentically to the world. It’s a belief so powerful, I’ve closed one door after another to follow this path, transgressing every box of “success” that so many of my peers have checked. It’s the belief that the courage, vulnerability, & resilience it takes is bringing me closer to others, and challenging me to become more of myself.