I’ve made the leap before.
I’ve done a career change, and tried to forge a new path. I was working at a soul crushing job at a bank. I wanted to express myself, and having loved producing artwork in my early days, I chose to pursue Fine Art. I was optimistic, dreamy, and just sure the Uni (read: Universe) was going to pave my way with golden opportunities and a brand new life.
I got golden opportunities. And I got a brand new life. Only, after it was all said and done, my golden opportunity was nothing more than a better paying position at a mortgage company (after almost filing bankruptcy), and my brand new life eerily resembled being back in the throes of a dead-end job.
But let’s back up. Because there is a whole ‘lotta “in-between” needing to be covered here.
So without further ado, and to make a short story long, let’s dive in…
Banking on a Future
I started my “career” in banking after exhausting myself in the food service industry and simultaneously pursuing a fine art degree at a local community college. Waiting tables, tending bar, taking all my basics for that first associates degree with a few sporadic fun classes in art sprinkled in – my god was I tired. I was desperate for something stable, something with a steady paycheck. Something that was less toxic on my liver from all the after hours drinking with my fellow server staff.
Oh the irony, since the banking job just led to more toxicity to my liver… But, I am getting ahead of myself.
I was newly married and trying to make ends meet. I was barely scraping by with $22k a year or so, and constantly fretting about whether our next rent payment was going to be made.
A close friend of mine at the time, hit me up – “Ash, you interested in working at the bank I work at? It’s quite a commute, but it’s $30k a year, and a regular 9-5.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I’d give you my liver right now if I didn’t question it’s full viability!
I was elated. Finally, my step into the “real world.” I couldn’t believe it. A new (safer) vision of becoming a business tycoon quickly formed. I switched my fine art degree to a general studies degree (BGS), allowing me to work full-time and still take online classes; since the art degree doesn’t give many options in the way of online offerings. (Sadly, looking back – this was the first compromise to my love of art/expression.)
Fast forward about 4 years into the job and the shiny new position had begun to severely fade and tarnish. But I had made some fantastic friends in the process (oh those girls light my heart), and learned a shit ton. I had done exceedingly well and was receiving rave reviews as well as some somewhat-decent-for-the-time pay increases. But I was hurting. I could feel my soul started getting really thirsty.
I remember seeing all my higher-paid colleagues and wondering, is this what they WANTED for their life? If I stay here, is this what I want for MY life? They drove nice cars, they had nice things… but, I couldn’t quite get it out of my head when one colleague who, after disclosing to her of my dream of art, stating almost in passing, “If you can get out now, you should… Once you get in, it’s hard to leave this industry.” And like the “resistance” often works (from The War of Art), it wasn’t long after that when I was offered a management position…
I remember the day I was offered the job. I said I needed to take a short break, and I literally went out to my car and cried. First of all, who cries at a job promotion? This girl. This girl right here. Secondly – why was I crying? I was crying at the sheer pain of giving myself to this job for another 2-3 years, since I felt like I owed it to them if I took the position to stick it out for a bit (why the fuck did I feel that way?).
I had a few days to think it over. I asked a few people and I remember being counseled, “Management experience will look so good on your resume.” Oh,… I thought. I guess that’s a thing. I guess I should do that.
I was so sad. Something in me knew I was compromising my life for another few years of this torture. But I was locked in to that steady paycheck and promise of a $6k pay raise. I “reasoned” my way through it. I accepted the job. Another compromise for the books. (Upon further reflection – $6k?! Those cheap bastards.)
It was at that time I also had just graduated with my BGS, and enrolled in my MBA program. I figured, hey, they help with further education so long as it aligns to the job, so what the hell? I thought a lot about applying for a Master’s in Fine Art, but because they wouldn’t help pay for that, well, I reasoned, a business degree couldn’t hurt. (Compromise anyone?)
Cue another 2 years of brutal banking misery, masters courses, and heavy drinking.
Creating a New Life
I graduated my MBA program with a 4.0 GPA. I think back on why good grades meant so much to me – perhaps I was trying to find validation for the choices I made… prove to myself I could succeed wherever I chose to go. I thought I was proud. I tried to convince myself I was, for sure. But really, I was thinking, great – thats done, what next? I was still at the bank and save having wonderful colleagues and one incredible employee I managed (who remains a close friend), I hated management. I hated banking. I finally was reaching my tipping point. I had to make a plan out. Something HAD to change.
Newly divorced, I enrolled in some art classes back at the same community college I attended before acquiring my degrees. I was reintroduced to painting and drawing again. I started feeling the pull. I knew banking couldn’t be my life and I was feeling desperate. And I was willing to do whatever it took to make a new path for myself.
I began taking my watercolor assignments to work and working on them in my down time at the office. I remember talking to my regular clients that would walk in and they would see what I was working on. I recall telling them how I wanted to pursue it. I remember their excitement for me. I remember many of them asking for me to stay in touch if I did choose to pursue it. That must have been all I needed. It was the smallest bit of encouragement I craved – the last drop before it all spilled over…
I wrote up my resignation letter and spoke to my best friend at the bank. I told her, “I have to quit. I have to try this.” And so I did.
Finally, no more compromises… or would there be?
Mortgaging My Future
After I quit, I enrolled full-time in studio art classes at that community college. The plan was to get the studio art credits needed to apply for my MFA and the rest would be history. Ash’s art would soon be in galleries all over the world. I sold my house, moved back in with my mother, and lived off the proceeds of my house sale to get by.
Only, uh-oh. I wasn’t feeling as fulfilled in the art classes as I had hoped. I couldn’t figure out why. I started seeing how hard it was to break into the Fine Art “world.” I started realizing, I don’t have the desire to do this. I don’t have the “fight” to make it big in the art world, and I certainly wasn’t doing “groundbreaking” artwork. The 3 denied applications to MFA programs confirmed this. A professor also confirmed this. But more importantly, my soul was confirming this.
Why wasn’t I feeling excited anymore for this path? Why wasn’t it cutting it? Why do I still feel so miserable? Am I broken? Am I doomed to be a wandering misfit with burning dreams that I can never tap into?
I was lost. I reeled in depression for the next year (drinking heavily the cheapest wine), while finishing up the classes I enrolled to take. I was draining my bank account. I drained my small 401k I had built up. I was about to lose it all.
Frantically, lost and depressed, and noting the impending doom to bankruptcy quickly approaching (like, within the next 3 months, “quickly”), I applied to multiple jobs. I estimate it was about 60. I was rejected or didn’t hear word from about 58 of those. The two I did hear from, I rejected one (dentist assistant – uggghhh- no offense to DA’s out there, it just wasn’t a fit for me), and I of course was the reject of the other after 3 interviews…
Needless to say, I was terrified. Confidence was killed.
My mother, the beautiful, kind soul that she is, told a friend of hers that I was looking for a job. She happened to know a connection and gave me his contact info. I reached out immediately with about a month left before I was due to “go under” financially. Next thing I knew, I was on my way to interviewing for a compliance position at a mortgage company, ready to pay me $20k more than what I made at my last banking position…
Echos of my former colleague haunted me… If you can get out now, you should… Once you get in, it’s hard to leave this industry.
Ok, I resolved, defeated. The resistance wins. I suppose I am doomed to the financial industry for the rest of my life. I was offered the job. I started the next week. (And we meet again, compromise.)
The next year was a challenge career-wise. While I had worked in banking, I hadn’t worked on the mortgage side and nonetheless, compliance. I had a lot to learn. But something fascinating happened during this time. The fog began to lift. Depression began to lessen. Workouts resumed, the weight began to drop, and Aly and I were finally both single and ready to mingle – hitting Downtown Dallas hard almost every weeknight and weekend (and yes, more alcohol consumption in impressive quantities occurred).
I was having a blast. Sure, I didn’t LOVE my job, and it wasn’t the end all, be all, but it was okay for the time being. Looking back, perhaps the Uni was giving my soul a much-needed break from my pursuit of purpose. And this season was unlike any I had ever experienced before. It was electric, powerful; it was filled with winning jiu-jitsu competitions, some of the best times with Aly and our ex best friend, learning hoodoo, trips to NOLA, and many (mostly) memorable drunken nights at BuzzBrews. To top it all off, 2 years after my divorce and having never dated once, I was dating again. I was having myself a fun, full on promiscuous season (lasting about 4 months), and then I met my guy.
Sure the job situation kind of sucked. But my, oh my, I was able to persevere through it because my soul was revived again. That was until my boss at the time degraded me in a meeting in front of our whole team (for something that I didn’t even do). Something snapped. Whatever it was made me realize – Oh, no… I don’t want to work for you. I don’t want to work for someone who would speak to me (or anyone else for that matter) this way.
I began applying for new jobs. Cue interview, new industry change and job acceptance… I was now working for an IT startup company…
And while that pretty much concludes the “in-between” of my last leap, we now resume with the next phase leading me to today.
The Next Great Attempt – TBD
The fun times continued on outside of work, however, they quickly began dissipating. The new IT job was a blast. It was a challenge and something I’d never done before. I quickly threw myself into full force over the next year where I gained 2 promotions, of course limiting my time in Dallas with Aly. However, nearing the end of my first year with the company, I was getting tired again. Dammit – that same old familiar soul-squeezing feeling was rearing its ugly head once more.
Not again. Please, God, Uni, or whatever… Not again.
My pleas didn’t help. The dark cloud was heavily hovering and I found myself suffocating again.
However, by fate of the Uni, some unforeseen chaos ensued in that job, (which, sadly, I am legally bound not to disclose), and my employment abruptly ceased. Although the circumstances were pretty terrible, underneath all the chaos, I was thanking my lucky lady heavens that the decision was made for me. I was free again.
Only this time it came with trauma and of course, no potential job prospects lined up… However, because of the experience I gained in that position, I was graciously able to secure something relatively fast by another connection through a dear friend.
My guy financially carried us through my 3 months of unemployment until I started that next job. I passed the time in that season starting honestyproject.net, processing what I wanted my next steps to be (and who I was), and scrubbing houses for a kind neighbor’s business for some quick cash.
And that next job I was eventually offered? Well, it’s the one I have been serving in over the past year. Which brings me to where you find me today… Sadly, once again, under the dark cloud as my liver gasps for relief under the heavy, loud, daunting call of my Muse – and Aly and I writing our hearts out.
So here we are. If you’ve made it this far, I am sorry – you’re probably late for something. But I hope this so far has provided context to “The Conflict” I have been having recently, that is, if you were interested.
But My Glorious Failure? I used to think it was the art pursuit and having to go back to the financial industry… but now I can see it is the consistent compromise and denial of the “Call of the Muse” in favor of financial security. While I almost went bankrupt, I didn’t technically plan on truly sacrificing everything so closely. I had previously worked out a “nest egg” to carry me through – and the moment things got tight? You guessed it, I ran right back to faithful financial security. I don’t think the Muse appreciated that. I think it’s asking me to finally choose it over this blanket of security. To truly “vote for me” as Aly so eloquently put it.
Most recently I heard James Altucher’s interview with Steven Pressfield, It’s Not Too Late to Become the Hero of Your Journey (Listen to Your Gut) where he audibly explains “the Muse” and “the hero’s journey.” It was here that I realized, I have been called more than once by this Muse. I thought it was calling me to the art “world.” And while art is very much still an intended pursuit and joy of mine, it wasn’t quite “fitting the bill” so to speak – both with it’s hefty $60k price tag for an MFA degree (tethered to society’s expectation of what a “successful” artist is), but more importantly, I now understand my greatest frustration was (for me) the inability to use one piece of imagery to fully communicate the intricacies of my intended expression for that particular work. It only provided a snapshot (and one that is largely left up to interpretation) of all that I wanted to say, rather than actually just saying what it is that I want to say. So, while I still intend to produce art because I enjoy it, it looks nothing like I originally imagined it would in those early days after the bank. I wanted to pursue art to express. In fact, that failure served such a great purpose – in attempting to satiate the Muse (for once), I know now I what I don’t want. And I didn’t want to express in that way only – which has all led me to writing (so far).
So, now? The Muse is sounding it’s horn once more. And what is it calling me to? To again express, but now through writing. To communicate my fucking heart out. Where art couldn’t quite provide the full expression of my ideas, writing seems to be able to. And as I just learned through that podcast, with the hero’s journey comes great sacrifice (and for me this is finally that damned financial security). Of course, I am in process of minimizing the impact of that sacrifice over these next couple of months as I prep for this shift through trying to pay off my past student loan debt. But in a way for me, paying off the student loan debt is symbolic of finally closing the door, or ending that chapter, of compromises. That is, if I can hold out long enough to do it.
I have a long way to go, for sure – I am no great wordsmith. But another thing the grand art failure taught me, is I don’t have to know that writing is the forever, one thing – I have learned to loosely hold on to what I think all this will amount to in the end. I misinterpreted the Muse once, and I am likely to do it again if I get ahead of myself, mapping out my whole future before it even begins. Instead, I am taking it step-by-step, allowing the Muse to guide me and unfold all this just as it prefers. And I’ll hopefully redeem the damage done to my liver, write something worth reading, and make some pretty art along the way.
My guy said to me this morning, “A picture tells a thousand words,” But I realized, no, words tell a thousand words. (In all honesty though, a few pictures certainly won’t hurt…)
Cheers to redeeming our Glorious Failures.