I was organizing some photos on my hard drive the other day when I came across this picture of me from my engineering days. Hard hat, fire resistant coveralls, and a full gas mask – ready to inspect a distillation column in a chemical plant in Baton Rouge. I've posted it before, but it cracks me up, so you get to see it again:
Every time I see this photo, I am SOOOOO THANKFUL that I’m an artist now. BEYOND thankful, honestly. So thankful that sometimes I think I should frame it and hang it in my studio so that I have a daily reminder of how thankful I should be.
Because the girl in that photo was miserable. Really, truly, miserable.
For starters, this is what it looks like when I’m on the job now:
Big improvement, right? But that’s just gravy. Even when I’m stuck inside in my unfinished dungeon of a basement studio, I still feel blessed.
I realized the other day that I’ve actually been doing this art thing for a living now longer than I was an engineer. My job has become so much like eating and breathing that I don’t normally give it much thought – it’s just ME, it’s what I do.
But less than ten years ago I was a ball of stress, agonizing constantly about what I could do for a living that would make me happy, or at least less miserable. I went through a phase where I was going to go back to school for physical therapy, another where I was going to be an accountant (oh my, it’s embarrassing to even admit that), and another where I was convinced being an art teacher was the way to go. Art was my thing, even back then, but it took me a long time to decide that I was going to hang it all up and paint for a living – mainly because I was afraid.
See, I’m a closet security freak. I used to make a lot of “safe” decisions. I picked the sensible school, the sensible major, the sensible job, the sensible place to live, and figured since I was minimizing risk, everything would turn out well and life would be great. BIG surprise when I found out that the sensible job in the sensible place was pretty much awful! All of the sudden the floor dropped out from under me, and my perfectly planned life seemed like a big mistake.
Since then, Nate and I have both quit our jobs and moved around a lot, just trying things out. Some things worked for us, some didn’t. Some choices we made were kind of dumb and we laugh at them now (buying a house in Highlands Ranch – I’m talking to you!). Some things were wonderful surprises (moving down to Evergreen when we thought we’d be up in the mountains forever). Sometimes it was scary, a lot of times it’s stressful, and it’s always completely ambiguous this way - there is no road map when you decide to strike out on your own. And I’m not gonna lie, the art paycheck is lower than the corporate one was. Essentially, nothing is all that secure for us anymore, but I love it.
I love that I get to wake up, spend time laughing with my kids, then spend the hours while they are at school doing what I love. I love the process of creation. I love that even the business side of my art is an ever evolving process. I love that I don’t have all the answers. I love that sometimes, I can go hike to a crazy beautiful place with some good friends, laugh the whole time, do a painting, and call it work (okay, I confess - I usually feel sort of guilty on those days). And while Nate might not always love his job as much as I love mine (lawyers, accountants, and contracts, oh my!!), I think he loves the challenge of creating a business too. It’s a constantly moving target – always a challenge.
It’s not for everyone – this sort of job takes a lot of self-discipline and motivation, and pretty thick skin. Well, REALLY thick skin, actually. But in the end, I've gone from a very sensible, structured life, to something that resembles constant chaos – a beautiful mess, if you will. I’m never caught up, there are no guarantees, and sometimes I have to work really hard to stay positive when things are slow. But I think it’s good. No regrets.
I look at some of my blog posts about taking the leap from years ago, and I want to tell my younger self that it worked out okay. That it might not be how she envisioned it, but it works, and that she shouldn't be so freaked out about everything. That she should just breathe, and try to be more authentic.
Back then, this was my favorite quote, and I think it still is. It’s how I try to live my life:
"What we have is based upon moment-to-moment choices of what we do. In each of those moments, we choose.
We either take a risk and move toward what we want, or we play it safe and choose comfort. Most of the people, most of the time, choose comfort.
In the end, people either have excuses or experiences; reasons or results; buts or brilliance.
They either have what they wanted or they have a detailed list of all the rational reasons why not."
I found this one more recently, and it speaks to my inner security freak:
"Too many people are thinking of security instead of opportunity. They seem more afraid of life than death."
- James F. Byrnes
So, there it is. I took that leap a while ago and it’s all right. It really is. And if you’re thinking of doing the same thing (or you already have), I hope you’re in for an awesome, wild ride.