Finding my fire: a year since my big decision

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A year ago today, I published a blog post where I declared that I would give up my day job at the end of January 2018 and go full-time as an artist. It was both completely unreasonable and absolutely necessary. It filled me with energy and made me so anxious I felt sick. Today, less than three months from my self-imposed deadline, I’m looking back on how that decision has impacted my life and business and whether I’m on track to reach my goal or not. 

But first, a little bit of background. 

A couple of years ago, the acupuncturist I was seeing for anxiety told me two things that resonated very strongly with me. The first was that I was never going to get anywhere by trying to soothe my anxiety. All the deep breathing in the world would never calm my fearful mind. Instead, she said that I would need to figure out how to go through it. She also said that she could sense a fire in me that wasn’t being fully expressed. She believed that letting the fire out would help me to move through the anxiety. She was so convinced of this that she contacted a First Nations elder to set up a sweat lodge for her clients so that I could contact the fire and burn up my fears.

The sweat lodge was an amazing experience and I was honored and grateful to have been given the opportunity. Towards the end we each took turns praying for what we needed most. I asked for the courage to step into my power as a leader and to stop hiding. But then I went home and nothing really seemed to change. It wasn’t until this year when I felt the changes I needed actually taking place. I realized that I was finally letting my fire out. 

This has not been an easy year. I have spent an incredible amount of time feeling afraid, tired, worried, confused and sick to my stomach. I have had so many doubts and so many moments of wanting to give it all up. But when I make a big decision, I close the exit doors. I set my sights on this goal knowing full well that the only way out of these unpleasant feelings was through them. And I have gone through them again and again and again. Every time I emerge with new understandings about myself and my work and I feel stronger and more capable. My fire burns a little brighter. 

What has changed

In exchange for the near constant state of fear, I’ve developed a feeling of legitimacy that I’ve never experienced before. I feel no shame or embarrassment in calling myself an artist, or in telling people that I’m working towards quitting my day job. Especially when I’m around other artists: where I used to feel like a complete imposter, now more and more I feel like I belong just as much as they do. I have wholeheartedly embraced the belief that I have just as much of a right to make a living from creative work as anyone else. This by itself it worth it. 

I’ve also gotten way more done this year than ever before. More than I thought possible. Here’s a list of the highlights: 

  • Six installations at four local festivals, with another one on the way
  • Participated in my first print exchange 
  • Created a new website
  • Created my own logo
  • Developed a new workshop on mindfulness and drawing 
  • Started regular teaching arrangements at two new organizations
  • Taught at a store, a sewing studio, an art gallery, and a community league
  • Exhibited my sculptures at two shows and booked one for next spring
  • Sold my work at three markets
  • Created new work: map paintings, ornaments, calendars, stickers, birds (all of which are for sale!)
  • Sold mail art subscriptions (updated versions of these coming soon!)
  • Went to Brave workshop with the formidable Kristen Kalp and hired her as a coach 
  • Gave a talk in a high school art class
  • Taught printmaking workshops to elementary students
  • Hosted Art Camp over the summer
  • Started work on my first online course (registration is open now!)
  • Published 3 guest posts (see two of them here and here)
  • Had work published on Art the Science blog
  • Made a heart commission

Part of this surge of productivity came from the self-imposed pressure of a deadline and part of it came from hiring a business coach to lovingly kick my butt. We worked together over the summer and I started to feel discouraged when I didn’t see any immediate results. But when all the seeds I had planted started to sprout at once, I realized that it had been more than worth the time and money I put in. I’ve always struggled with asking for help but I’ve had to do a lot more of that as I navigate the nebulous rules of the art world. In addition to the coaching, I’ve put in a concerted effort to befriend more artists and arrange regular chats to talk about the biz. 

At the start of the year I set a subgoal to send out 100 asks over the next 12 months. Asks could be anything from applying for a gallery or residency, to asking a local business if I can teach a workshop in their space, to promoting a new product or service. So far I’ve only been able to send out 39 asks (applications take a lot of time!) but I was amazed to see that over 40% of what I sent out received a yes! Imagine how busy I would be if I had managed to send out 100! (Way way too busy!)

I also set a goal to attend 50 work-related social events or coffee dates over the year. Once again, I’m falling short of that goal with only 37 (September and October were too busy for socializing much), but I feel good about the effort I’ve put in: going to events where I don’t know anyone, inviting other artists out for coffee, and finding more and more people who get what I’m trying to do. 

Finally, one of the biggest changes I’ve noticed is the difference in the beliefs I have about myself and the stories I tell. The whole point of setting this goal has been to prove to myself that I’m capable of more than I was letting myself believe and that has absolutely worked. More and more I’m stretching my head above the clouds of deadlines and worry to see the infinite possibilities stretching out in every direction. It’s an amazing feeling. 

But did you do it???

You might be wondering, after all this, if I’m going to go ahead with my original goal of quitting my day job in January. And the answer is…. I don’t really know. At this point, I’m not earning enough to give up my day job completely. But I am pretty close. I’m on track to earn twice as much as I did last year and I’m starting to feel like my day job is more of a hindrance than a help. I definitely need more time to make art. Come January I might ask if I can reduce my hours at the office, or look for something different that will only be one or two days per week. I also have some other potential opportunities that I’m going to pursue more intently in the coming months. 

So I don’t know what’s going to happen. But I am incredibly happy with the progress I’ve made. And I’m going to keep at it! Last year at this time it felt like an impossible dream. Now, it feels completely reasonable. There’s still a long way to go to have the sort of sustainable business that I want but I finally feel like I’m on the right track! And you never know what might happen in three months.

In the comments below, tell me about a time that you made a big decision. Did you follow through on it? Why or why not? How did your life change?