In over my head – changing careers.

Relatively recently I had a minor existential crisis. I’d gone to Loughborough to study illustration – good idea if you want to be an artist, supposedly – where University ate me up and spat me out into what was arguably one of the worst times to get a job, any job.

I was getting precisely nowhere applying for all the jobs I could find. Full-time illustration jobs are not commonplace; the more realistic option was self-employment.

“This is better anyway,” I thought, optimistically “I can be my own boss! How hard can it be?”

Very fucking hard, it turns out.

I actually didn’t do too badly. Living with my accommodating parents on the outskirts of London took a lot of the pressure off. Under these relaxed living conditions, I was able to live off the sporadic payment of freelancing, but not knowing where the next money was coming from was difficult.

People would scoff at the assumption that I worked in my pyjamas, didn’t get up ‘til 11am and dossed about until lunch. The truth was I never stopped working. Working from home is a blessing and a curse; the comfort is completely outweighed by the guilt, because any waking moment at home is potentially time to work. People would also assume this was a sweet deal because ‘drawing is fun’. Drawing is fun, but actually being a practising artist for a living isn’t all drawing, and it didn’t make me good at networking or self-promotion or marketing or finances or taxes.

Where the fuck do you even start?

Every day, getting the Game Face on, and cold-calling businesses and selling my skills to convince them they needed my ‘product’. Mailing freebies and promos to companies, attending events and trying to maintain rapport with people. Drawing up contracts and agreements with the businesses that had been impressed, and learning the etiquette of talking payment, negotiating money and deadlines.

This was all assuming that projects ran smoothly. Keeping my blood pressure down when dealing with people who wanted my work but thought it outrageous that I should be paid for it was a job in itself, but that’s another rant story.

My job became my life. Not just because I couldn’t plan ahead for activities because I never knew how money would be looking, but also because I didn’t have set work hours I ended up just working round the clock. Working round the clock and still not being able to move out or do normal things became exhausting, obsessive and depressing.

I read about these inspirational people, who work their standard day job all day and work on their craft all night, and I was struggling to keep on top of it all even without a day job to distract me. Hats off to these people, because I certainly don’t have the level-headedness or dedication to manipulate my work:life ratio that way. I admire the people who can chase the dream and make it work within a balanced lifestyle. I really do.

I feel like I worked balls to the wall to succeed in what I wanted to do and it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. Working for myself made me feel trapped instead of free. In the end, happiness won out, and working all day and all night didn’t make me happy. It made me feel immeasurably insecure.

I freelanced for a long time and I knew I wasn’t coping long before I did anything about it, and there are lots of reasons for that. It was embarrassing, for one, to tell people that I was wrong and I actually can’t do this. When you harp on and on about being something and then mumble about how you’re not actually, it does bad things for your self-esteem.

I believe we’re brought up in a culture where we are all told we can be whatever we want to be, and I don’t think that’s true. It’s exceptional people who have the full package of skills and the willingness to work their bollocks off, and by its very nature we can’t all be exceptional. I was told over and over again that I could have it all as long as I wanted it enough. But wanting it isn’t enough.

It was an uncomfortable decision to let it go and it took over six months to even consciously consider it as an option. It also posed more problems than it solved; I’d been an aspiring artist my entire life, I couldn’t even imagine writing my CV for anything else, let alone actually doing anything else!

I now have a new job in a completely unrelated field and on a day-to-day basis I am happier now I have a routine job that I don’t have to worry about. The prospect of money coming in, being able to move out soon, not doing my own taxes all comes as an enormous relief.

I’ve had mixed responses to all this from people in my life. People who are actually closest to me range from quiet relief to loud and proud, because they knew how miserable I was under the pressure. Some people have barely even bothered to hide their disappointment. I guess I should take it as a compliment; it must come from their (misplaced) belief in me, but I can’t say that scathing text messages telling me my decisions are “bullshit” are particularly helpful.

Having said that, I do welcome debate! What do you think? Anyone struggling with self-inflicted or external pressure that’s making the original path a difficult one to walk?

14 thoughts on “In over my head – changing careers.

  1. At the end of the day, you have to eat! I don’t always love my job, and I’d like to write full time, but, the reality is I am 1.lazy 2. not particularly talented. I think your work is amazing and I don’t think taking a regular job means giving up on your dreams, lots of people in creative fields slog it out for years and take regular jobs out of necessity until they get that lucky break. I think you are really talented your blog is my favourite on WordPress but if trying to freelance was making you unhappy then what is the point.

    1. That was definitely the fear and I was turned off completely by art for a four months after I made the decision. Hopefully the fun stuff- the blog and the portraits- can thrive now :)

  2. I’ve been having my own existential crisis since the new year. I realised I no longer had theee three/four years of the uni dream (I’ve absolutely loved it), but three/four months. To be honest I think most of my anxieties are a result of evaluating my success in terms of other peoples’.

    1. It’s so hard not to compare yourself to others isn’t it, I’m terrible for it. What makes it worse is how undeniably pointless it is to do so! Try to focus on everything you’ve learnt and move back after uni with a positive spring in your step. A positive outlook, even if you have to force it to begin with, goes a long way for state of mind.

  3. I enjoyed reading your post Carla, not only because it’s relatable, but also because it was writen so well. Being a keen (although not of late) blogger I enjoy a well written piece, and this was just that.
    I have never got as far as you did on your – not to sound like Simon Cowell – “journey”, in fact I never even decided what I wanted my destination to be. You at least had a self laid path with a goal, which in itself, is a accomplishment. Most people float through excistance with no dreams or goals, never deciding what the want, but you had the guts to do what you wanted, how you wanted. As you’ve said it hasn’t paid off, but with the will and determination that you’ve shown you possess, I’m sure they’ll be good things.

    I have never felt more like Oprah.

    1. Thanks a lot Louis :) I do have to remind myself to not be a Negative Nellie (!) and focus on the positives that have come out of the whole experience; I certainly learnt a lot. Now I’m not arting commercially my blog and portrait work should improve too, so that’s good! Link me to your blog, I’d love to check it out.
      P.s. So damn jealous of your travels!!!

  4. Hi Carla! It sounds as if you’ve made A Very Good Decision! I work part time in a boring, pays-the-rent job and this has given me the flexibility to build up work doing what I want to do and love doing… I am sure you’ll go back to the illustration when the time is right and regardless of how you spend your days/nights, you *ARE* and artist and that’s that!

    1. I admire your ability to juggle your day job and your dream job, how on earth do you do it? WHEN DO YOU SLEEP! Thanks for your kind words, it’s comments like that that make me feel much better about things.

  5. Well written piece Carla. The point about our generation being told we can be whatever we want is something I’ve thought a lot about too. We all grew up with this sense of entitlement that just isn’t there in other parts of the world. You might find this an interesting read too:
    And good luck with the new job!

    1. That was an interesting read. There’s so much humble-bragging around, and, you’re right, this sense of entitlement; it’s hard not to get swept away by it. I know that simply identifying as an illustrator was enough to propel me through months of crap where I was actually pretty miserable, and I didn’t even realise that was the driving force. I believe there’s a lot of fun to be had in feeling very chilled 90% of the time! ;) Thanks for commenting.

  6. I think this is an amazing post for more than one reason.
    I personally believe that there is far too much stigmatism attached to jobs and careers. I’m personally from the camp that believes that as long as you are happy and can support yourself, then it doesn’t really matter what it is that you are doing.
    There’s also the thought that you don’t really want to mix your job and your hobby, as you’ll eventually become bored by it.

    Each to their own!

    1. Hi Scott, thanks for commenting. You should definitely read the link Will posted above, I think it’d appeal to you too. I’m definitely moving over to your camp. I thought for a long time it was crucial to utilise my education in a very literal way, but now I’m realising that as long as you’re happy and can live an independent life, then who’s to judge? :)

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