Every day we are bombarded with images and messages telling us to follow our dreams, warning us to never get stuck in a job that is meaningless to us. I’ll admit it, I eat it up. They’ve gotten me, hook line and sinker. I’ve always feared living a mediocre life on the 9-5 grind. A trajectory that loops work, eating and sleeping over and over again. Binge watching TV night after night as you morph into the couch, too tired to exert energy into your passions because work has drained you. Beaten commuter paths and white walled cubicles that feel like jail cells.
If you’re anything like me, you’ve constantly mulled over this notion. Are you in a job that’s meaningful to you? I’ve had lots of jobs in the past, with many giving me a fair amount of fulfillment and purpose. As we grow, we sometimes no longer fit into our surroundings and must seek new environments. Other times, we are pushed out.
In between every job, I’ve gone through a period where I’ve considered doing art and fitness full time. However, the almighty dollar beckons and a job with benefits and reliable income always won the battle. I was lucky enough to score a corporate job for several years that awarded me a great work/life balance. I had plenty of support from my coworkers, work from home benefits, and fulfillment through my job duties. I loved the job so much, I rarely ever even considered trying to do art full time.
One day, my coworkers and I were called into a conference room for a surprise meeting. Attendance spanned wide, as every single team in our department was called in. I joked, “Uh oh guys, we might be getting the boot!” and went on to joke with my friends as we waited for the meeting to begin.
The head of our department raised her hand to speak. It was immediately clear from her face that this would not be a routine meeting. I ate my prior words. You could feel the heartbreak in her voice as she told us that our entire office department would be relocating to a new state… and our jobs would be going with it. One woman dropped to the floor. Every single one of us had just had our jobs ripped out from underneath us. Wide red eyes, and tearful hugs dominoed through the room as we all tried to digest what had just happened.
The pit in my stomach was powerful and pressing. What the hell was I going to do now? I had finally gotten to a point in life where I felt balanced and happy. That reality had just come to a crashing close and there was nothing I could do about it. Surprisingly, I felt a new emotion creeping up through my body. Relief. ….Relief? How could I possibly be feeling relief after being told I was cut from a job I loved? I would spend the next several months exploring the reason why.
Ironically enough, my coworker (Courtney) had just gotten done showing me motivational video an hour before we were all called into that meeting. The message was clear, “You’ve got to jump”. Inspiration and encouragement to be brave enough to follow what you love. It was a beautiful video with a strong message. However- I met him with resistance, telling him I was happy enough doing my corporate job with art on the side. At the time it was true. 2 hours later, I realized that my corporate comforts were not as stable as they seemed. I was comfortable, but I wasn’t working for my own dream.
I would need to rebuild a foundation now. But, where would I build it? Was I going to restart from the ground up in a new corporate office working for “The Man”? Or, would I brave the unknown and figure out how to make my passions work for me?…
The next few months were filled with lists of pros and cons. Research on new jobs. Struggling to find a new place to fit where my strengths and interests could be utilized. Why does job searching need to feel so DAUNTING? Oof, there certainly didn’t seem to be anything out there that promised the corporate comforts that made my prior office job so appealing. Artist jobs were practically nonexistent. The jobs that interested me the most came at $11 an hour and shifts on nights and weekends. Could I just create my own business and figure out how to survive on my own without a real job? There were so many more questions than answers. I opted to try my luck with art to see what happened.
I rolled up my sleeves and hit the ground running, searching for any prospective client I could find and had some success! The orders started to come in. At one point, I was spending so much time working to complete my orders that I started losing weight from not having time to eat. I would get painful calluses on my fingers from using my pencils so much. I learned quickly that this would not be as easy or “dreamy” as I thought. Yes, I was getting orders and I was working. However, a typical color portrait was taking me between 30-50 hours to complete at an asking price of $150. You do the math on how that works out hourly. Even if I worked myself to the ground and was lucky enough to score tons of orders, there would still never be enough time to create enough portraits to make a living salary.
Having a job in the corporate world brings with it different types of freedoms that working for yourself does not have. You can go home and hang up your coat at the end of the day and spend some time unwinding by enjoying your passions. When your passions become your work, it does not eliminate the need for the WORK portion. In fact, there is a newfound pressure to perform your passion well. When you have clients, their satisfaction is on the line. You have to be able to deliver!
Discouraged by my attempts at finding an artistic career path that would work for me, I changed my approach…again. I started searching for corporate jobs that would award me work from home benefits and a new office I could learn to love. I loved my prior job so much, I knew it was possible to enjoy what you do even if you weren’t directly performing your passions. I had burnt out so much from trying to turn my art into work that I actually lacked desire to create any artwork at all for a couple months.
Finally, I had found a job that looked like a good fit. A great location, a job description that looked entertaining enough and a potential for work from home benefits. I decided I would stop at nothing to ensure that job was mine. I prepped for that interview so hard there would be no way anyone else could be more prepared. I waited for MONTHS to see if I would get this new “dream job” I had applied for. Finally, the day came when the call came in. I had gotten the job. In addition, it paid 10K a year more than my last job. This was an epic win.
I had landed a position that was a clear step forward with a substantial increase in pay. The weighted stress I felt from trying to make my art my income slowly started to subside. Once the pressure was off, I began to enjoy creating artwork again. I was starting to settle in, but the path was different than I expected. Although I was enjoying the financial stability of an office job in a low stress environment, the feeling that there was more to life for me became more apparent than ever. I was now working on a team that primarily was remote, and the comradery I cherished so dearly at my prior job was practically nonexistent here. After a miscommunication in the interview, I learned I would not share the same work from home privileges as the rest of my team. Empty office days felt… empty. I needed my art back to give me a sense of purpose.
With a steady income back under my feet, I was able to stop and re-evaluate what I’d like my future to look like. Through the process I learned doing art full time was a possibility, but would bring forth plenty of stressors if I became dependent on it for my sole income. Instead of rocketing straight out of the gate, I formulated a different approach. I began building a stronger artistic foundation, spending more time on building my skills and creating original artwork for my own enjoyment. I told myself I was going to take a full year off from marketing portraits and would instead work on building the foundation. If I was to be successful, I would need to think out of the box. Portrait orders would not be enough to make it on their own, so I would have to explore some new avenues.
With the pressure off, building the business started to flow smooth and steadily. It hardly felt like work anymore and I enjoyed learning about how to become a successful entrepreneur. I had a corporate job that allowed me enough work/life balance to feel I was ready to handle both an art career AND a “real world” job. Within a year, I had arrived at a pivotal moment in my artistic journey. I was ready to make it official.
I had a client base that was starting to span past friends and family. Orders were being requested from the other side of the country, and I had to be prepared to treat this as something other than a hobby. It was time to jump into the tax world and register my business with the government.
Enter: Lights and Darks. My small business was born on October 1st of last year. Taking the plunge to create a Tax ID was one of the scariest tasks I have ever endured. The process itself only took about 10 minutes, but the commitment felt like I was signing my life away.
I was official now, which meant I had surrendered to the notion that I would make my dream a reality. I would learn taxes and legalities and they would no longer hold me back. The small voice within spent so many years whispering “but what if you fail?” in the back of my head. But, the day had finally come where a larger voice came through and said, “but what if you SUCCEED?”
Lights and Darks has been open for 6 months now. I’ve experienced tremendous growth since that day in October that I decided to commit. Every day it seems a new opportunity comes to light. My corporate full time job is still the backbone of my finances, but my business is consistently growing each month. Each day I move a step closer to a life filled with more art and less white noise.
In the next blog, I will share some of my secrets on how I successfully created my own business. Taxes and legalities are so daunting, it’s enough to shy anyone away from pursuing their dreams. Hopefully I can shed some light on the experience and share a few useful tips! By no means am I one of those “Rags to Riches” stories where a person gets rich overnight. I am still on my quest to make it work, but the journey feels successful. After all, the journey is always the true destination to begin with!
Thanks for tuning in on this journey. Please feel free to drop a line in the comments! I would love to connect with you all and would love any feedback you might have.