2 Years ago to the day, I drove to work for the last time.
As I walked in and found my desk, it felt like I was seeing everything for the first time. Only... it was actually for the last time.
I had sat there so many times, feeling completely miserable.
I used to see my phone as a source of anxiety.
I used to see my chair as a prison.
The whirling of the printer nearby and the chatter from offices around me were like hurricanes of chaos.
Imminent deadlines and outrageous client requests were endless. Anyone who has worked at an architectural firm or any sort of design industry knows that it's like herding cats.
But this day...was different.
None of those things bothered me. It was my last day at my job.
It suddenly didn't feel like an endless prison of despair. I saw everything with the fresh eyes of a free woman. I actually realized how much I would miss certain things.
My coworkers and bosses for one thing... they were some of the kindest, most passionate and caring individuals I've ever met. They were the the ray of light in the dark tunnel before my last day. I loved talking to them and listening to them talk about their projects as well. They were constantly thriving for greatness, innovation, and creativity. I really loved being part of a team like that.
That's the thing about happiness, it's all about perspective.
It took me until my last day there to realize that it wasn't all bad. That it was actually an amazing work environment.
But feeling drowned under the pressure of the daily grind blinded me before that point.
I was, most assuredly, completely miserable working for someone else.
It was only 30 days before that I had driven to work with a huge weight on my shoulders.
After my coffee routine, I sat there staring at my desk. My heart was pounding as I scheduled a meeting with my bosses later that day.
It turns out in that moment, they knew I was going to quit, because no one schedules a mysterious meeting for the end of the day on Friday without the intention of quitting.
I'm not one for confrontation or letting people down, which is exactly how I saw the situation. Pure hell for someone like me! My anxiety was through the roof.
Thankfully, my bosses were the kindest souls, and completely understood.
As I handed them my resignation, we talked about my future goals of being a full time photographer and artist, and when we parted that day, I drove home feeling a cocktail of emotions.
I had given them a month's notice, to make sure they had enough time to find a replacement.
That month went by incredibly fast.
At the time I was also a full-time photographer, specializing in weddings. I had grown my photography business since about 2008, very slowly. I was a self-taught photographer, but absolutely loved the challenges. The summer I quit, I photographed 10 weddings and 6 elopements, along with countless families and events. By the time I quit my job, I was able to be fully financially independent, relying on the income from my own business. I was starting to have my photography work published in magazines and online publications, and event planners were coming to me to connect me with their clients.
One of my proudest moments was when a gay wedding I photographed was published in The Knot, the leading wedding inspiration magazine in the country. Photographing gay couples was a passion for me, as I have identified as bisexual and wanted to do anything to promote the beauty of love in all forms.
By then I had also been streaming on Twitch, sharing my painting and artwork with the world. I was actually selling some paintings and had started to grow a following, and I was growing aware that painting was my greatest joy.
All of this, along with my (now ex) husband's encouragement compelled me to quit my job to pursue my dream of being a full-time artist. It wasn't without trepidation, but I somehow knew I could do it. There had already been so many times in my life when I overcame the odds and made a dream come true. After several years of school, multiple jobs, working full time, all while building up my own businesses, I was no stranger to the hustle that is required to make a dream into reality.
(I'm not going to give money advice, but I will say this one thing: To anyone reading who is considering pursuing art full time, please do not quit your job until you are financially stable. Yes it requires taking a risk, knowing that after that point your entire success - or failure - rests on your shoulders. But give yourself a fighting chance. I honestly don't suggest quitting until you have at LEAST 6 months of rent/bills/emergency money saved up, in case you literally make NO money from your art. The bigger the cushion the better.)
I don't necessarily have an innate business sense, but I know enough to get by. Sure, it would have helped to have some sort of crash course in taxes and advertising and other useful business tools, but I'm a learn-by-doing person. And I've learned a lot.
There is nothing more fulfilling than waking up knowing you can dedicate the entire day to pursuing your passion, without the shackles of a job where you work for someone else.
I have never been so grateful as I am these days. Yet this freedom does not come without layers of complication.
I've become hyper self-aware. I scrutinize every single hour of my day, wondering if I'm doing enough to stay in business in the long-term. I look at every hour as a chance for improvement. My mind never, ever, ever (ever) rests.
That sort of pressure can be just as crushing as miserably working for someone else.
What I've learned is that it's all about balance.
In any artistic self-employment endeavor, it's not just about how much you work. It's about the quality of that work, and how you balance it with non-work related activities, such as cooking, exercise, socializing, and just pure relaxation and alone time.
There's not a formula for success, but I know one thing: If you work 100% of the time, and let the worry of work consume you completely, you will fail.
It doesn't necessarily happen from the business side of things, but it boils up inside you until you are nothing but a hollow shell of a person who is constantly tired, overwhelmed, and finally, your foundation crumbles. Your foundation is made up of your physical and emotional self. Without a strong foundation, you have no way to hold your dreams aloft.
I've crumbled a few times. Each time there is an incredible sense of fear, loss, and self doubt.
The only way I've been able to build myself back up is to step back. Take a day "off." My days off usually involve coffee, sketching, cooking really fucking good food, music, and being completely and utterly alone. I don't even open my email. Ok... maybe only for a few minutes. But then I swear I "unplug." Ok well not entirely.. I enjoy browsing on instagram for a few hours...
You get the idea. Do what you love. Do not work 24 hours a day just because there are 24 hours in a day.
Your personal experiences, your emotional response to your world, are what fuels your art. If you work and worry 24/7, guess what sort of fuel you have for your art?
As an artist, "work" includes: reading, walking, going, doing, seeing, trying, tasting, hearing, feeling. Don't forget to breathe.
Well that's enough rambling for today.
2 years of "freedom" and I still barely know anything.
I do hope that if anyone reading this wants to be a full time artist (or currently is but is struggling), you know you are not alone, and please don't hesitate to ask questions or contact me :)
It's a bumpy road but we can walk it together.