It took three decades, but it actually happened.
I arrived at the studio this morning to find an e-mail from a disillusioned medical student, who said she planned to leave school today — to be an artist. “(Art) has always been my first passion and what I do best,” she said.
Did I have any advice to offer?
Maybe. So if there are other creative types out there on the medical assembly line who feel your time has come to jump ship, Listen up:
Unless you have already experienced the lifestyle of an artist, you are liable to be in for a shock.
You will instantly lose credibility.
Doctors are revered. Artists are suspect.
Your employment options may be few, since you have spent so much time focused on one goal, and because you are simultaneously under-experienced and academically overqualified for the job market, few employers will be willing to hire you. You will have little or no access to capital from banks or other lending institutions. Without some other means of support, you will be living hand to mouth for quite a while.
You may see friends and family distance themselves from you.
I personally was labeled an insane, drug addicted Communist homosexual devil worshiper by my immediate family members, as they struggled to find some reason to account for the obvious and sudden loss of my mental faculties. And these were the people who loved me. (Fortunately, I was not married at the time, thus avoiding a longer list of emotional complications, and even more name-calling from an extended pedigree of in-laws.)
Your medical contacts will honor your decision to drop away, meaning that at best they will stay focused on their studies, and with few exceptions, allow you to fade quietly from their lives. Some will take your move as a personal affront, and a disgrace to the calling. A few will chide you for your weakness, and judge you a failure. Others will secretly admire your courage in making such a difficult choice.
Your non-medical friends will be concerned about you, and variably supportive of your decisions. Be ready to lose a few of these relationships — and to build a bunch of new ones.
The one person you will be able to rely on… is you.
I was fortunate enough to fall into the company of a group of old-school graphic designers, who gave me the tools I needed to make a living, and build a small commercial art business while I figured out what direction I planned to take over the long term. To my delight, the composite pictures finally took hold, and I have been eating steadily for the last 25 years. Mind you, that is not to say that I have any guarantee of continuing for another 25. The challenges of keeping a small niche business running are staggering, and force us to come up with new marketing strategies every day.
Passion is key.
For much of my career, belief in myself, and the sheer fun of doing what I am doing has kept me going. My education has certainly been an asset, especially my liberal arts undergraduate training, so don't be afraid to draw on all of your knowledge and experience to build your new life, and make it successful and fulfilling.
Enjoy your newfound freedom for as long as you can. Take time to do everything you always wanted to do. Explore all of your interests, and discover new ones. Read fun books. Hike, walk, ride. You never know where inspiration will come from to build the next phase of your life.
As for jumpstarting your art business, my rules are simple:
1. Do good work.
2. Tell everyone.
This means friends, family, strangers, web sites, social media, news outlets, art shows, galleries, charities, and every kind of networking group you can identify.
Generate a business plan, and follow it. Market yourself and your ideas relentlessly, until somebody listens, and somebody pays you for the products of your creativity. Remember – a paycheck is nothing less than permission to do what you love, again, tomorrow.
Create something new every day (a drawing, painting, story outline, musical sketch, business plan or birthday cake). At the end of the year, you will have made 365 new things that didn't exist before — and you and the world will be the better for it. Along the way, you may find something that takes hold of you, and sends you off in the direction your heart yearns for you to go.
Remember that direction may even be back to medicine.
Being happy may be the hardest thing anyone ever tried to do. I wish you the very best in your journey.
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