Thursday, April 28, 2011

On Quitting My Day Job

Last night, I put my paintbrush down at 3:30am and went to bed, and woke up this morning to light filtering in through the blinds, a soft breeze blowing through my window and tides of sunshine lapping at the edge of the floor. My morning commute wasn't a 70 mile per hour highway race, but a shuffle to the coffee maker and into my studio, the curtains waving softly and a belly-up tabby cat waiting for attention. 

An easel and canvas rather than a computer screen, a pallet and brushes for a keyboard and mouse. 

Where there was once the top of a cubicle wall and buzzing, fluorescent lights, now I am blessed with a 10 foot tall window overlooking Boston's rooftops and chimneys and a hint of city skyline, daylight illuminating a table of paints, pastels, ink, paper. 

For the last month I've been thinking about how I got to this point. The moment I decided to quit my job was scary. I felt nervous and uncertain, and most of all, ungrateful. 

(For those of you who don't know me as well, I was up until recently a research coordinator at a top medical school about an hour outside of Boston. I coordinated an NIH-funded study that recruited hospital patients in order to learn about the relationship between health events and behavioral changes in tobacco use. Painting took up the rest of my time.)

After graduating college, it was so hard to get a job-- when I was combing job listings, I would have done anything to have a cubicle and a dress code and a guaranteed paycheck every two weeks. (Ironically, the three months between interviewing and being hired into my day job were when my Etsy shop picked up the most momentum.) And I was grateful to be hired into a job that I did well, interested in what I was learning, and happy to get a fairly quick promotion and feel my work was appreciated. But something was so missing

What does it mean that so many of us spend the majority of our waking hours and energy on work we don’t really love? That we wake up to loud alarms, commute to cubicles and count down the hours until we leave for the day-- to go home for a few hours, sleep and do it again the next day. Sometimes it is an early sacrifice that eventually leads to what we really want to be doing. But, sometimes it doesn’t, and you know it won't. Every day I was torn between feeling grateful to have a paycheck in a time when so many people don’t, and being frustrated by the knowledge that no matter how hard I worked at this job or in this field, it would never put me where I really wanted to be and where I was beginning to realize I could be: making art, expressing myself, creating things that touched people and made them feel something special. There was no reward at the office, no employee evaluation that matched the feedback from people who were buying original, sometimes even commissioned, artwork. Nothing came close to how it felt to hear that something I created with my hands touched someone deeply, or was the perfect expression for something they felt too. My "day job" was a good one but not the right one.

I think we are all given chances and blessed in different ways throughout our lives. There are some talents and opportunities I have always had, some I have fallen into or made for myself, and some I will never have. But the more I thought about the mindset that it is somehow acceptable to give half of our lives to making money-- regardless of whether we enjoy or even tolerate our jobs-- the more I realized that the opportunity to make a living doing what I have always chosen to do for free was really special, and it wasn’t a gift I could pass up. Aside from being nervous about aging in general, I’m pretty scared of the idea of waking up in 20 years (or even in 1) and wondering where the time went, then realizing it was spent doing anything other than what fulfills me, when that option was there. Our lives are too short to be involved in things that are not meaningful to us.

Though it makes for some good pictures, not every part of leaving my day job to pursue art full-time has been easy or fun so far. In addition to an artist, I have to be my own accountant (ugh!), photographer, supply and shipping manager, PR guru and marketing strategist. My work day will never, ever end at 6pm and will never be something I can walk away from for a weekend (although it also doesn't start at 7am either and Wednesday can be a weekend if I choose, so it's worth it.) It is gratifying to know that my income is a direct result of how hard I work, but it's scary to know its not always guaranteed. I honestly don’t know if this is what I will do forever, but I do know that if I want it bad enough, if I work hard enough, I can be the one to decide how my days are spent. The peace of mind that brings right now is worth all of the unknown.


  1. Good for you! You have a courage many, many people (myself included) lack. Of course, you also have a talent many, many people (myself included) don't have. ;)

    Best wishes to you and I sincerely hope to feature your work in my home someday.


  2. Really hoping I can write my own post like this on my blog in the next year or two! You're an inspiration to me, thanks!!

  3. Wow. Just wow. Thank you so much for writing this.
    I came across this post quite serendipitously, and I'm so glad that I did. I'm going to be graduating from high school shortly, and I have absolutely no clue where to go from there. Reading this was so incredibly encouraging and inspiring!

  4. Love the pics of your studio space. Nice to see you going further with what you love to do and doing well with it all. Your mixed media painting hangs over our tv in the living room. Hope all is well!


  5. congrats on taking this huge step! i write this while staring at my cubicle wall. i know it is in my future to be able to take that scary step as well, just not now. thank you for this post. it is written beautifully -- as is all of your artwork.

  6. Kateri - I'm so glad this encouraged and inspired you. I remember graduation from high school and being surrounded by a "You can do anything!... Sort of!" vibe, and not really feeling like what I loved to do was a viable career. Think hard about what you LOVE-- what you'd do for free if you never had to "work" again-- and research the steps to making it your work. The right path will unfold from there :)

    Christina - Thanks! I'm so happy that painting found a good home!

    AmyLee - I was EXACTLY where you are just a few months ago. Don't worry about rushing out of there; while I was impatient to be doing what I wanted, taking the leap to quitting my office job felt all the more perfect once I knew I had my finances in place and a plan :)

  7. Mae, such an honest and open post! I believe that there is nothing better than seeing someone do what they love. For you to have found this so early in your life and follow your dreams speaks volumes about your courage, strength and determination.

    I am inspired by your photos and your words!

  8. Mae, I wish you all the very best with your endeavours - your creations are so beautiful, unique and inspirational, and I am sure that in following your passion and your heart in this way all manner of enjoyable and instructional things will come your way...

  9. I just came across your artwork on Etsy and followed Etsy to your blog. I love your work and am inspired by you following your dreams. Makes me want to do the same. Best of luck to you; I'll probably be ordering something in the near future. :)