Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Taking the Leap - Revisited (YET AGAIN)

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." 
~ Anonymous

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.


  1. Stacey, loved reading your story and am so happy that you took the risk you did.

  2. A great post Stacey, much of which resonates very strongly with me. The need to be our authentic self pretty much nails it.

  3. Great post! I admire you leaving your 'safe' life for the one you love! You should be so proud.

  4. Good read, I have to keep reminding myself good art and artists take risks.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  5. Thanks for another interesting blog post. You really need to do more of them.

  6. Thanks for the supportive comments everyone!

    Steve, yes - I should probably attempt to blog more often than every three months! Time goes by too quickly :)

  7. Thanks for the inspiration, Stacey.
    Taking that leap into the abyss, not knowing how it will end up, is terrifying. I'm still clinging to the ledge, trying to wrap up my responsibilities so I can go for it. Because it feels inevitable now, just a matter of clearing the obstacles out if the way.

  8. Well said, Stacey. I am also out of the J.O.B. world and living the life I want. Yay for beautiful chaos!

  9. You're welcome Toria - good luck with your journey! I think wrapping up responsibilities is good preparation - clearing the way so you'll end up where you want to be!

    Thanks Jarmila - it's so nice to be free, isn't it?? :)

  10. Thanks Stacey for reminding me of those "corporate" days of sitting in my office just dreaming of someday do what we are now doing. I need to be reminded from time to time that from whence we came and you wrote it so elegantly here. I want to share a quote I have up in my studio that helps me: "Far better to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failures, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in gray twilight that knows not victory or defeat." Teddy Roosevelt.
    Thanks Stace!!

  11. Thanks Jake - that's a great quote!! We're pretty lucky, huh? :)

  12. Stacey, I started reading your blog posts some years ago and owe you a big, big "thank you", because it is you who has inspired me to leave my job as an Engineer and started painting full time. I am studying in an Atelier for almost two years now, and selling my watercolor in the same time. It would never have happened if not for your initial blog post of "taking the leap". I feel so much similarities between our experience -- born in a Chinese family of engineers I chose physics as a safe bet for future employment, went through grad school, and constantly felt miserable on my job. For a while I was contemplating what I could do to make a living that makes mr less miserable, and funny I have considered going back to school for psychotherapy major and accounting as well! (I guess that's probably because math felt not so difficult for me and it seemed a very safe bet at the time... ;-P See -- you are not alone.) I'm glad I stumbled upon your blog one night, and was inspired by it so much that I finally gathered enough courage to follow suit. I am feeling incredibly happy and hopeful every day. Even though I'm still often stressed about the uncertainty of future, I count my blessings of being able to do what I love. I just want to take this opportunity to say, "Thank you Stacey!)

  13. Arena Shawn - thank you so much for your comment, it's always so nice to hear from people who have been reading for a while and take away something positive from one of my posts. Best of luck with your painting - you are doing some beautiful watercolors, and it is apparent that you love what you do. Happy painting!!

  14. Wonderful post! I am still living the 'safe and miserable ' life but the wisper in my ear from the art world is beginning to yell. I cannot hold out much longer. I need to leap!