Hi friends, an alternate title to this post could be “6 Years On – My journey from Lawyer to Artist”. I had actually planned on doing such a post around last year at the 5 year mark, but well, life happened, and I didn’t.
This is going to be a rambly post, a post with no structure, just my thoughts on what it’s been like. I think one post is too short a canvas to really do it justice, but I’ll try.
I want to start by saying that it’s the best career decision I’ve made. I highly recommend changing your career path if and when you want to. It won’t be easy (the reasons for why it’s tough might be different from what you think – as I found out), but it’s totally worth it.
I’m often asked – how did you make the switch? My short answer is that I just left my job, and started working for myself. But you know that’s over-simplifying the process to a fault. It wasn’t that seamless. I think the biggest hurdle that I had to cross was one of “identity“.
It’s been a long path to getting comfortable with thinking of myself as a full time creative professional. I still shy away from the phrase “artist”, as I feel I’m way too pragmatic for that label. That’s nonsense, of course. But popular culture has painted an image of what an artist should look like, and I’m quite diametrically the opposite of that (I love structure, I can’t live without my planner, I hate the romanticism of depression or tragic life events). I’m too non-hipster to call myself an “artist” without cringing.
But, I’ve done some of the work along the way. In the early days, I dreaded the question “So, what do you do?”. It used to be so EASY to say I’m a lawyer. Done. No further questions asked. But if you’re an artist, you’re open to far more scrutiny or interest. “I’m an illustrator”. “But what do you do exactly?” “I have an online shop when I sell my artwork.” “Oh can I see it?” OR “Oh are you working on a new piece?” “I’m always working on new projects.” And on it goes. Nobody had ever asked me what kind of law I practised, or at the most, would be satisfied with the answer “corporate law”. I wasn’t asked if I did M&A or private equity or finance or tax or any of that. Nobody wanted to know what was the last transaction I worked on. I don’t know, I think with traditional careers, people are more comfortable with painting a picture of people in those roles in their minds. But with a non-traditional career, it’s not that straight forward. They don’t know what to make of me from “Illustrator” or “Graphic Designer”. They need more to validate me.
That used to annoy me a LOT. I’m not going to lie. It sometimes felt like I was being interviewed for a job! How ridiculous. Especially whenever I met certain people. But I have to say that most were just curious and interested, as it’s not something they hear about every day. BUT it still made me feel like a bit of a specimen and that I guess goes hand in hand with doing something that’s not mainstream.
The next major thing that I’ve “processed” over these years is my own workflow. I have a much better sense of what I need to do next now, than I did 4 years ago. In the first couple of years, it felt like I was always trying to play catch up (to be honest it still feels that way a lot of the times – I was supposed to have changed the theme of this website at the start of 2020, but it’s still not done as of October 2020!), but later a sense of rhythm and pace set in. What used to take me 8 hours to do in the early days, now takes me 4 hours. I have more paid help from my Accountant, so I don’t feel as panicky about taxes and government forms as I did in the early days – but there is still panic and stress, it doesn’t go away, friends! At least not 6 years down the line. May be in 6 more?
I have also learnt many things about how I work best. Not filling up my task list to the brim. Resting and letting ideas “gestate” is crucial to creativity. Having a routine when it comes to actually creating is helpful. Exercise and a good diet is vital. Having hobbies outside of work is important. Having people to talk to and working on relationships is important. Staying away from negative stories and people who drain me of my energy is more important than anything else. One interaction with a draining person can cost me up to a week in productive work. Introducing new art supplies and taking a class every now and then. Scheduling regular breaks is important to fuel up.
The first 4 years felt far more chaotic than now. I felt like things could change any instant. I think I was still in a phase of not being able to believe that I get to do something that is so fun to me – daily as my job. It feels far more like a “part of life” now, and I’m a calmer person as a result.
I also think quitting social media has contributed to this feeling of calmness. I don’t feel like I need to cater to every trend that pops up. Not that I actually did it, but just that I’d have it at the back of my mind that I needed to. Far fewer things at the back of my mind now.
What I’m trying to say is – things settle down. You get used to the change. You transition your own thoughts and processes to adapt to your new career. It happens in the background and you may not even take note of it until one day you feel totally “normal” in your new life.
In the early days, I dreaded the question “So, what do you do?”.