Earlier this month, a reader emailed me, asking for advice. The more of her letter I read, the more it felt like an interview about life. I decided to share some of my answers with you because sometimes, no matter how well we plan and prepare, we still hit roadblocks. As John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
We are all born with a purpose. Sometimes, it takes a lifetime to figure out what that purpose is. And in some cases, years of trial and error and soul searching are necessary. As humans, we all take a unique path through life based on our decisions and experiences. This path is often full of signs and people who are willing to help us along the way. I think that making to-do lists and writing out specific goals on a regular basis is also quite helpful. Once you’ve determined exactly what it is that you want to do with your life, the pieces start to fall into place.
From the time I was young, I knew I wanted to be an artist but I was also naturally good at school. Once I finished high school, I decided that a degree in fine art was not for me and went to school for business and marketing instead. Once that was complete, I still didn’t feel fulfilled. I knew at that time that it didn’t matter how much time and effort it took; I wanted to be a graphic designer for a living. I spent two years in a program working harder than I ever had but I was excited during every second of the process. When you’re fulfilled, hard work doesn’t seem like work at all. The passion will pull you through.
I was lucky that I landed an internship during my second year of school at a local ad agency and got hired once I graduated. Since April, I’ve been freelancing full time under my own business. Every day is a challenge, but in those challenges, you learn something new about yourself and the world around you.
We all start out in different places and sometimes, it feels like the people surrounding us have an edge because of money, natural talent, specialized schooling or a prominent family name. Thankfully, it’s not where you start; it’s where you end up. Some of the most successful people have started out with absolutely nothing. They didn’t let their circumstances hold them back though; just look at Oprah.
I went to public schools, community college, worked retail jobs and and at one point, had many roommates. I always knew that my circumstances were temporary if I wanted them to be. Years before I went to school for graphic design, I had already decided that I wanted to work at an ad agency. When you make a list of goals and are very specific in your wants, the universe has a way of conspiring to make things happen in your favor.
Simply put, you have to make time no matter what to go out and enjoy life. Getting out and engaging with the world enriches your creativity and makes you feel alive. The work / life balance is something that all business owners struggle with. There are times when you have to put your business first and in the process, people around you will view you as being self-centered. It is exceedingly difficult to keep everyone happy as your level of success and responsibilities increase. I’ve had many close personal relationships disintegrate because I was so focused on being successful and what I’ve realized is that no matter how hard you try, you cannot ever make everyone happy. At the end of the day, those who love you will understand (or at least try to).
Just don’t forget to let the people you treasure most know how much you care about them. Even if you can’t always be present, a quick email, phone call or text to let them know you are thinking about them can make a world of difference. Don’t let yourself get so wrapped up in work that your personal relationships begin to slide. What’s the point of success if, in the end, you have nobody to share it with?
Traveling and multitasking with the inimitable Gala Darling
One more thing: traveling is easy when you’re a freelancer. Simply pack your laptop, mouse, external hard drive and leave some gaps in your schedule to get your work done!
Start at the beginning. Secure a domain name and server space (I purchase mine through Go Daddy). Take the time to develop a logo for your business. Find a free blog theme (there are thousands of them lurking out there for WordPress, the platform I prefer). If you don’t have the skill set to install the theme, save up and hire it out. Or, customize a free blog on Blogger or another service. Never let your current circumstances get in the way of your future. Nothing great is ever built overnight. It takes time and perseverance.
Everything happens for a reason. Though it may not be clear at the time, when you look back, it will make complete sense. Some of the most intense hardships I’ve gone through have taught me so much about life and about myself. View losing your artwork as a chance to have a clean slate and to reformulate your ideas. You are starting over with more maturity and life experience. The future is completely up to you. You are capable of evolving and creating in a capacity that is still yet to be discovered.
Sometimes, life tests us. It tests us in ways that make us question if our path is really the right one. If you’re sure of what you are doing, don’t give up. Everyone has trials but once you come out on the other side, you’ll realize that these hard times make you appreciate what you have so much more once you reach your goals. If everything was handed to you, would you really appreciate it as much? Trust me, once you make it through these hard times, you will be so proud of yourself. If you feel your inner strength dwindling, remember to take life one day at a time. As cliché as it sounds, put one foot in front of the other and you will eventually get there.
If you are that passionate about art and design, keep working towards your goals. Trust your gut; deep down inside, you’ll know what fulfills you. Sometimes, life circumstances cause our dreams to be put on the back burner but that doesn’t mean that we should give up. In reality, defeat is usually only temporary.
Yes. Set some concrete goals. And, set a timeframe to make your exit. I worked retail jobs all throughout college and went home every night to work on art and design projects. I never thought of a retail job as being negative; it gave me structure and the set hours made it possible for me to make plans after work. I spent those years making three separate art series, went on tour with a band, went out to art openings and concerts and most importantly, made plans for the future. The job you have now is building character. It’s a reminder of what you DON’T want to do with your life. Once you close that chapter and move on, chances are that you will never look back.
Talent is subjective. How good do you want to be? Work towards your goals and dreams every day. Make lists, make plans, formulate your dreams and goals. Seek out a mentor. Write, make art, go back to school if needed and apply for internships. Your life is yours; anything is possible.
An early design project; part of a self-initiated book I made years before taking classes.
One more thing; always save your old work. Once you start looking back at your previous projects, the progress you’ve made will surprise you! Though some people are born with natural talent, most have worked years to fully develop it. The learning never stops.
It’s okay to use school projects in your first portfolio. If you’re still short on work, create self-initiated ones. Do work for family and friends. Do tutorials. Before you know it, you will have a portfolio to share. Portfolios are necessary because they vouch for your skill level and quality of work.
Readers: Do you have any further advice on how to get through to the other side when life throws you a curve ball?