Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Breaking Through to the Other Side

It's been two years and seven months since I "quit my day job" to pursue my art full-time. As frightening as this was then, I've never once questioned my decision and I've never once looked back. I have enjoyed sharing the trials and tribulations of my adventure and hearing how it has inspired others to do the same, so when artist extraordinaire Greg Spalenka (partner in crime to the lovely Roxana Villa) asked me to be a part of his latest collaborative blogging project, I jumped at the opportunity.

The theme of today's event is Breaking Through to the Other Side, with myself and five others answering the question: What inspired you to create a career outside the confines of the corporate world?

Below is my story, and at the end of the post you'll find links to five other inspirational adventures.

Having chosen Graphic Design as my career path, I always felt lucky to have been able to turn a 'hobby' into a job. I truly loved it and still do today. So for me, deciding to break free from the corporate confines wasn't about not loving what I doing, but about not loving who I was doing it for. I'm sure both of those things ring true for almost everyone reading this. It's one thing to love your job and it's another to love your boss, co-workers and clients. It seems the two rarely meet.

When I quit my day job, I wasn't planning on a career change. I left to pursue graphic design on my own, as so many designers long for and plenty eventually do. I spent most of my 11-year professional career dreaming of the possibility, about 5 years half-assedly planning for it and the last 2 hard-core preparing for it. I had dreams and I had plans, but I spent the majority of my time being too scared to act on them. It's really easy to get comfortable, even if you're unhappy. The stability of a full-time job, a weekly paycheck and health insurance more than makes up for misery in many cases, especially the older we get.

I spent the last 3 years of my professional career in a very successful position with top name clients, great exposure and tons of flexibility. I also worked for a down-right rotten bitch. I know that's kind of horrible to say and I don't throw around insults lightly, but sometimes they are deserved. She made me miserable. I was emotionally and physically sick which in turn made me a down-right rotten bitch at times. Amazing how we let a job do that to us, isn't it?

I guess you could say those years eventually broke me, but this was a good a thing. As horrible as that time was, I wouldn't be where I am now without it. No matter how strong my desire was to break free and do my own thing, if I had been even just 1% more comfortable there then I was, I would have been 99% less likely to ever leave.

I used to ask myself, what's the worst that can happen? Not necessarily the best question because honestly, a lot can happen. You can fail, you can have no luck trying to return to the corporate world, you can go broke and lose everything. Worst case scenario, but a reality. Did I ever really think that would happen to me? No. I had tremendous faith in my motivation and resourcefulness. I also had a great background to stand on and a lot of talent (I can toot my own horn, right?). Still, it was terrifying.

Ultimately it came down to all the cliches — a leap of faith, trusting that life would find a way and believing that I was mentally and physically strong enough to do whatever I had to do to make it happen. I honestly believe not everyone is cut out to successfully work for themselves. You definitely need a certain personality, character and mindset, but it's amazing what strength you can muster up when you want something bad enough.

The details of everything following my decision to 'break free' could fill five blog posts (but you can read a little here), so I'll save the majority for another time and simply sum up the last two and half years of my life. Was leaving the corporate world the right decision for me? Without a doubt. If I had a dirtier mouth I'd even throw the f-word in there. Has it been easy? Of course not. I've never worked harder, and I think that's just a standard when you work for yourself, but I will say it has been easier than I may have guessed.

What can I attribute my success to? That I'm not entirely sure. The fact that I have multiple things I can do to make money may be the answer. Aside from the graphic design I first left to pursue, I have my jewelry (which many of you know quickly became my new full-time job rather than the design) and I also have photography. I can pick up jobs in any of those areas when I need to, giving me far more options and opportunities than if I just had one specialty. Over a decade of business experience and networking is definitely another answer. You have to know people and you have to be savvy. I believe a lot of that only comes with experience. Lastly I fall back on my strength and motivation. I never stop, I can't. There's no time to be lazy and there's no room to slack, though I will admit to napping occasionally :)

In closing I'll say that I'm certainly no motivational speaker. This is simply the story of someone who was fed up, took a chance, worked her ass off and got pretty lucky. I can only hope someone else will find inspiration in it. Now I'll get cheesy and spout more cliches — take a chance, you only live once and life is way too short. Happiness is a moral obligation, so make it happen for yourself.

xo ~ nicole

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For more inspirational stories of Breaking Through to the Other Side, follow these links:

Artist As Brand
Maria Brophy
Persist: The Blog
Miss Mindy
Working Artist Journal


Ashley said...

Can I just say, You Rock? Well there I did. You are fab and you deserve every bit of success and happiness the world can offer. Much Love!

Zhivana Designs said...

Very inspiring! Your blog is fabulous and I can't think of anyone who works harder or is more deserving of all the success you've enjoyed!

Amy F said...

what a great post!

Peter Clothier said...

Hello, Nicole. Odd, isn't it, how much the stories reflect each other, yet how different they are. The "downright rotten bitch," in my case, was a Carmelite priest--the Academic Vice President I refer to in my own entry. It's been twenty-five years of freedom for me, and I'm still grateful to him. Glad to hear you feel the same. Cheers, PC

Unknown said...

Wonderful to meet you Nicole.. you said all the things I couldn't find the words for-- shall I paint or draw it for you? (it might not be pretty!- ha ha) --But the enlightment would be, to realize you CAN 'get out.' to be strong- and go for it! I love your work- and am glad we now know eachother...
:)-kindly, Miss Mindy

Greg Spalenka said...

Making that final call to go it alone can be daunting. It reminds me of when I was a kid climbing up the ladder to the top of the high dive for the first time. From the ground looking up it does not look so high, but when at the top that perception appears very different! Yikes. I recall seeing many kids climbing back down! After that first jump you can't get enough of it! Ha!
You have been an amazing model of what success can look like. Thank you for the inspiration.



alexkeller said...

i wonder sometimes what my life would have been like had i pursued graphic design instead of graduating with just my BBA and not both degrees. i'm kinda wondering right now what my newest consulting gig will lead to ...
just wanted to say - you go!

Maria Brophy said...

One commonality between all of us who have left jobs working for others to live our dream lives: We've never regretted it!

And I, too, worked with difficult people who eventually pushed me out of their mundane world and into the beautiful one I live now.

I guess we can thank those "down-right rotten" b's, huh?!