It’s been almost two and a half years since I left the safety of my ‘9 to 5’ to walk the winding and unpredictable path of a Creative, and only now do I feel ready to openly reflect on the ins and outs (as well as ups and downs!) of that enormous life change. Sometimes it just takes a while to really be at peace with something, even including (ok, especially), our own decisions!
One thing I know for sure is that deep down I always hoped I would one day have a creative business; an outlet for both my analytical and artistic passions. However, it seemed like a bit of a ‘pie in the sky’ idea and definitely not something I expected to happen in my 20’s! I was quite happy living out the unspoken societal expectations of life as a very straight, linear path, in which you methodically move from one planned event to another. In other words; achieve great grades at school, enrol in the best university course available, graduate with a respectable job opportunity, climb the ladder in that job for the next few decades, meet The One, get married, buy a house, settle down to have a couple of kids, retire at the age of 65. “Welcome to the next 40 years of your life!” is the phrase that a more seasoned employee greeted me with on my first day as a graduate accountant. You can imagine my disappointment then, when only three years into the career that was meant to last a lifetime, I found myself a bit of a miserable mess. I couldn’t shake the words of Stephen R. Covey: “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster”.
I’m not naturally someone who likes taking risks. In fact, I spent the better half of my last year as an accountant, trying to convince myself of all the reasons it would be silly to leave. After all, this was the stage of life when friends were buying houses, having babies, taking one year of maternity leave and then returning to their stable jobs as both mums and career women. I lost count of how many people suggested that I have a baby to absolve my own misery (the worst kind of advice, in my opinion). Call me idealistic, but I firmly believed I needed to be reasonably comfortable and happy in my own life before bringing another little person into the world.
In late 2015, right in the middle of this ‘career crisis’, my little sister and I travelled back to Zimbabwe for our cousin’s wedding in Victoria Falls. It may sound silly to say, but that time spent in our home country, with the family we missed so much, seemed to remind both of us of what was really important in life. As we climbed on board a bus to travel back to Harare from Vic Falls, we spent hours chatting together about our hopes and dreams to work in fields that more closely resembled our values and allowed us to serve others through our passions. As a side note, in the year that followed, my sister went on to experience her own change in career; resigning from her job as a social worker, she was accepted into the Police Academy and realised her long-held dream of becoming a police officer. I’ve loved cheering her on from the sidelines and am a very proud big sister.
For me, as we touched back down on Australian soil after that much-needed time away in our African home country, I knew it wouldn’t be long before I’d be experiencing a seismic shift in the carefully laid plans of my own life. Sure enough, only a few short months later I resigned from my job as an accountant, with no back-up plans or any concrete idea of what to do next. Cue the earthquake! At that point, the idea of becoming a full-time artist was not much more than a seed of a dream (planted during that last week in Zim when my Aunty lent me a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – I couldn’t read it fast enough and highly recommend it to fellow creative souls). Being uncertain of which direction to head in, I decided to accept whatever opportunities presented themselves and see where the path led.
I did all sorts of odd jobs in that first post-accounting year in particular. From gardening, to art commissions, to a 6 month stint as a volunteer on an interior design project, to helping with a home renovation, to working with my father-in-law in his property maintenance business. Every opportunity was fair game as I attempted to recover a stronger sense of self. I should mention that this was a rather stressful time, not only for me personally in not having the answers to so many questions (my stomach would churn at the inevitable “what do you do?” question at social gatherings) but also for my hubby too. I will be forever grateful to Nick for standing solidly beside me and allowing me the space to process and work through what was happening in my life (that included not just the career change but my parent’s recent divorce and their subsequent re-marriages within a few months of each other).
I do remember however, that towards the end of that year, for the first time in a long time, I started to feel more like the ‘real Katie’. I was back to regularly doing the things I’ve always loved; painting, gardening, writing, baking, journaling, drawing … to sum it up; I was finding joy in creating beauty in my own life and letting go of the idea of what things ‘should be’ like and instead embracing the adventures that were presenting themselves to me.
One of those adventures was the opportunity to place some artwork in a local community gallery for a group exhibition. At the time I was producing very colourful and expressive abstract paintings (a complete contrast to the meticulous drawings I create now … but that’s a story for another time). As part of the exhibition, the gallery invited us to chat about our work at their monthly morning tea. It was whilst in conversation with the curator that I discovered they were searching for someone to fill the paid role of gallery coordinator and the ideal candidate needed to be logical and organised as well as creative. Ummm, need I say any more?! Of course I put my hand up for the job and the rest, as they say, is history.
It’s been just over 18 months since I started working at the gallery and in a strange way being accepted into that position provided the permission I felt I needed to forge ahead with my own art as a serious job rather than a side hobby. I now comfortably reply “I’m an artist” when asked the afore-mentioned dreaded question of “what do you do?”. My days still never look the same; and they’re regularly filled with unplanned happenings and a tonne of learning. But I’m finally producing work that I’m proud of and helping others on their own creative journey.
By no means has this change in career been filled purely with rainbows and lollipops; sometimes I read articles on leaving the ‘rat race’ and ‘pursuing your dreams’ and feel the advice given is far too idealistic and can imply that a regular 9 to 5 job doesn’t cut the mustard. In all honesty, the last couple of years have been a really hard slog and required more from me than I’ve often thought I could give. There’s no way I could have walked this path without the support of my husband (who is also an accountant!) and my family and close friends cheering me on. There are absolutely no guarantees in the journey as an artist and often that’s nothing short of heartbreaking. But I strongly believe in the dignity of work in all forms and that our work can be about more than just personal advancement or making money. I have been fortunate over the last couple of years to find work that aligns with the values I want to live my life by whilst also providing me with the means to express who I really am. I think when you’re working from that place of meaning, you are able to serve others better and your work is no longer the foundation of your identity but an outpouring and expression of love.