We often hear stories about people who change their careers for something completely unrelated and become extremely successful in their new areas. One of my favorite examples is the business entrepreneur Sara Blakely. Sara got a degree in law but was not able to pass the LSAT test. She spent seven years selling fax machines door to door until she finally invented Spanx and today her company is worthy one billion dollars. In numerous interviews, she looks to her past and explains how being repeatedly rejected and learning to deal with failure set her up for success. I also like Steve Jobs’ journey. In a very famous speech at Stanford University, he explains why dropping college and enrolling on a random calligraphy course was essential for the success of Apple later on. Even being fired from the company he founded contributed for his success, as he used this time to start other creative companies like Pixar, today a multi billion animation company.
I’m fascinated by this kind of journey because I’ve been in a career transition as well. Although I graduated and worked as an Architect, it’s been 5 years since I decided to become an artist. During this period I worked at a coffee shop, clothes store, department store and finally at an art studio. In 5 years I got some praise but also I heard multiple times I was wasting my talent. The fact that I served coffee at Starbucks for 2 years was a source of much controversy. Why would an architect with a masters degree decide to serve coffee? How would this contribute in any way for the development of an art career?
Deep inside me I knew I was learning from this experience but since I couldn’t see the outcome, many times I got anxious or frustrated during my journey. Looking back, I can finally see things coming together and the more I work, the more everything makes sense.
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.Steve Jobs
Here are 4 points to help you in your career transition:
1. Focus on what you can control
When I decided to become an artist, I got a part time job at Starbucks, and started classes at the Alberta University of the Arts. Every morning I wore an apron and served coffee, all afternoons and evenings I was drawing or studying. I had big dreams and was full of creativity and motivation. I couldn’t see clearly where I would reach, but I was happy and focused.
The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my lifeSteve Jobs
People around me couldn’t understand. I remember introducing myself to a new person saying ” I’m studying arts” and some friend discreetly would add “but she has a masters degree in architecture!”. I used to get upset at these reactions because I thought my friends were embarrassed from my choices. Today I understand it was not their fault. If I couldn’t see clearly the future, why would I expect other people to be able to see? This was beyond my control. In these past 5 years I learned to focus on what I can control, that means, what I want to study, how many hours I can dedicate to my practice, how I respond when I face a challenge. People’s reactions to my choices are beyond my control. I choose to don’t get upset anymore.
2. Keep track of your progress
I spent my whole first year exploring the city with a sketchbook and a black marker. In the beginning I used my phone to take pictures of my work and the environment around me. After a while, I noticed other artists presented their work in a more clean way. I got a scanner and stopped sharing pictures that were not art related. All my drawings were based on the reality around me and I was afraid of colors.
Studying colors was the biggest change of all. I went from simple black and white sketches to very colorful compositions. The architectural style gave way to experiments. Acrylic paintings, pastel drawings, watercolors, pointillism, chalk markers. Animals became my favorite theme because they could be so colorful. I learned a lot. Working at Starbucks made a huge impact in my art. Since I was constantly drawing chalkboards for them, I brought the black background to my paintings and also started learning about typography. The experience of working in this huge company also taught me many business lessons, the most important of all was understanding what a vision is and why I should have one if I wanted to grow.
In the beginning of 2018 I developed my own vision, I want to make the world more interesting. Everything that contributes to my vision is given priority, anything that doesn’t help me achieve the vision is abandoned. Many times I discarded artworks because I didn’t think they were interesting enough. The vision should be something huge and abstract, not a simple goal. I’ve been following this vision since then.
Looking to the past I noticed I didn’t have a consistent style. I was all over the place. I decided to experiment again until I could find “my style”. I also wanted to understand the meaning of “interesting” for me. At this point I already knew I wanted to work with limited colors, mix them with some black and white and use more patterns. First I got inspired by fashion illustration and later for art for kids. I tried digital drawing, unexpected colors, printmaking, stamps and stencils. Experimenting and going out of my comfort zone was essential to discover what I liked or not.
Much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later onSteve Jobs
I finally understood what I consider interesting. My whole life I loved to read and I have read lots of books. Many years ago I even had a blog about books and movies, I used to analyse how people tell a story. I discovered the most interesting thing for me is storytelling. All my illustrations should be part of a story or be the story on itself. The techniques and style has been compressed to just follow the story. This is what I’m working on now.
3. Looking back to move forward
Keeping track of my own art, constantly reviewing it and comparing with other art I like was essential to identify opportunities for growth. I archive my drawings and the process to arrive at the final piece. Stephen King expresses this idea much better than I when he speaks about writing. The same could be applied to any form of art:
“You have to read widely, constantly refining (and redefining) your own work as you do so. It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little (or not at all in some cases) should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written, but I know it’s true. If I had a nickel for every person who ever told me he/she wanted to become a writer but “didn’t have time to read,” I could buy myself a pretty good steak dinner. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Reading is the creative center of a writer’s life. I take a book with me everywhere I go, and find there are all sorts of opportunities to dip in …
In 2015 I simply copied the reality around me, without thinking so much. The exercise of studying other people’s art and process lead me to improve my own process and make it much deeper. Today I define my theme and start with some loose sketches and simple written notes. As I get to the first concept, I study what other artists did, as well as explore my own memories. When I feel I have a stronger visual base, I advance on my drawings and add more details, while I transform my written notes into a text. The process is a collaboration between memories, references, drawings and thinking. For me, an idea is a person climbing a narrow gap between two buildings. It departs from the pavement, made from my memories and references. It puts the feet on the wall of the first building, my drawings. Get some impulse and put a feet on the second building, my writing. It keeps climbing dangerously with the support of both building, writing and drawing, never losing sight from the floor, my memories and references. Will the idea trip and fall back to my mind? Or will it reach the top? Can my ideas fly?
4. Be excited about what you don’t know
Understanding there is so much to learn is the best way to discover new techniques and approaches to solve problems. My career changed in some unexpected ways, one discovery led to another and I’ve seen myself walking on paths I’ve never imagined before.
Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know.Sara Blakely
Improvement can only exist if I’m willing to see new ways of doing things. As we plant the seeds of our destiny, we imagine and plan where we are going to reach but so many discoveries on the way lead us to unexpected paths. The circle of choices is open but it’s my mind that closes its border. I’m the one who creates this invisible ceiling and says – here is where it stops. What if I could see there is no end?
Changing the mindset is the most interesting way to grow and discover value in our own experiences. Imagine how many combinations you can make with each piece of the knowledge you already have.
Good story ideas seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky: two previously unrelated ideas come together and make something new under the sun. Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
Today I feel I’m combining everything, there was no right or wrong path. Skills from all my previous jobs, ideas from all my hobbies, memories from all my travels, slowly all my life experience is getting compressed and molded into new matter and transformed in illustrations. The unexpected is great. The mystery and vastness of the future are fascinating for me.
Do you wonder what the future holds? Do you ever wonder where you will be in 5 years? If I could look through the crystal ball, I would visualize an immense maze of ways and possibilities. The maze of our destiny is so vast it simply doesn’t have an end. It’s infinite. Walking on the roads of my destiny, every single day I discover new possibilities, every single moment I can make a new choice.
All these experiences together brought me where I am now. Working with large companies and learning about business helped me understand how I should guide my own career. Being open, trying with different art supplies, techniques and ideas helped me improve the quality of my artwork. The love for reading made me understand how a good story is important for me. Being excited about the future motivates me everyday.
Would you like to see your career growing in ways you never imagined before? Here is what I see so far:
- Focus on what you can control
- Keep track of your progress
- Look back to move forward
- Be excited about what you don’t know
I hope you enjoyed reading this post! Leave a comment or share, I would love to know how you are approaching your own career growth. Thanks for your visit!