Monday, September 9, 2013

Putting Your Work in the River of the Universe

This time last year, I changed jobs in my field. I was excited to have new work and a new crowd, but a few months in the initial energy dissipated and I decided my dream was to leave the organization completely to pursue a creative field. I also decided to give myself five years to pull together a strategy and implement it.
The biggest (or most pressing issue) was that I couldn't find any good resources on how to make this transition. At the time, I was signed up for an online entrepreneurial organization that provided interviews of people who ‘made it’ as specialists in their field, and who made enough money to support themselves. Others in the group were somewhere on the path, figuring out how to act normally in a crowd or how to get feedback on their business ideas. I was somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, and honestly looking for a way to replace my income stream with something else.

I set out multiple fishnets to figure out a path. I informally interviewed five well respected engineers at work on how they managed their careers. Consistently, their response was that they just said yes to whatever came along, which sometimes took them out of their ‘comfort zone.’ They iterated that this was the key to their success. I was happy to find consistency, but I had no idea what the heck they meant without some specifics or context. People tend to learn a lot when they are out of their comfort zone, but that doesn't mean that they become excellent at anything. When I was a technical trainer, which had nothing to do with my engineering degree, I was probably a “B-rated” trainer, as I had no formal grooming, nor did I really care about getting more polished as a speaker, or spent my free time learning how to use the software better.

I also asked people in the entrepreneur forums how they transitioned careers. I got one lonely half-response from a woman who served as a diplomat and is now selling Chinese tea. I asked her all sorts of questions about how she was able to find the opportunities for tea, and how she managed her money situation. She was obviously happy about her business, but I wanted to know how she discovered her calling, and what triggered the switch. As it turns out, people don’t necessarily want to get into these types of details about their lives. Besides the tea seller, I exhausted several other outlets, including a lot of internet research.  I wasn't looking to copy a specific road map, but I couldn't see my own path based on information that only scratched the surface. I wanted to understand everything about the emotional roller coaster of “making it”, as well as any monetary changes. I didn't want to go back to a chaotic financial place.

But at the core of this research, from all of these attempts, I was looking for permission to let my creative work into the world. I wanted my paintings and writing to be “good enough” to exist beyond the safe walls of our home. It’s an incredibly scary world out there, especially after watching the constant tearing down of celebrities and artists on the internet or in the news.  I haven’t put in the 10,000 hours into any one thing (maybe sleeping), and so I don’t necessarily consider myself qualified enough to join the race of fantastic painters and story tellers.

However, the vision and the drive are still there. I have always been able to see a distant light on the horizon of doing something great, of contributing something great in the world.

This past week, I submitted a painting* I’d been working on in my oils class to the media contest at work. It took all the guts I had, because I've committed over a decade of time to studying and applying engineering, efficiency, and data management. I finally let my work “into the river.” I have no idea what will happen, but after submission, I experienced an incredible peace. How funny that I need to prove something like this to myself – even when there’s nothing at stake.

In fact, I’m inspired to do another portrait, maybe this time using an original photo versus copyrighted material.

One day at a time…

*I wouldn't feel right posting a picture of the painting here, as it would invoke copyright infringement. The original picture is Sakuran II by Zemotion, found here.