As I sat at my desk, feeling defeated and worn out, I thought, “Is this it? Is this really what I want to be doing with my life?”
I had been riding a roller coaster of emotions all day. After a disappointing product launch deflated my expectations, I felt like a failure. My future as a graphic designer seemed unclear and unfulfilling.
Leading up to that very low moment, I had spent the last six years becoming a freelance designer and building a business that helped others follow their dreams. In the process, however, I quietly ignored my own dreams of becoming an artist.
When I was a toddler, my mother and I would spend hours at the dining room table with an eruption of craft supplies always scattered around me. She tells me that I would devour my art projects, always fascinated by my capacity to create new things, even at two years old.
My love for art grew as I did, and I eventually majored in the subject when I got to college.
This wasn’t an easy choice, however, because my passion for art was often threatened by my doubt that I could ever “make it” in the arts. I had no idea if there would be a career waiting for me on the other side of college, but my mom encouraged me, and I went for it.
In my junior year, I found a way to apply my creativity to a career path. It wasn’t a life of making abstract paintings, but it sounded interesting and stable.
I discovered I was good at illustration and design, and through an internship, I learned how to apply those skills to branding.
My career in design went better than I could’ve expected. Years passed by, and I was booked solid. My freelancing even turned into a business that served thousands of other designers via products and education.
I built a tiny online empire, but at the core, I felt stuck. This wasn’t my childhood dream.
I had flashbacks of my dining room, my little hands dripping in paint, and I longed to trade hours of staring at a screen for days making a mess in an art studio. My love for art had become dormant during those years, but it was still there, burning for attention.
In 2021, I decided to make a huge change. My design business was at a crossroads, and I reached a now-or-never-moment.
Was I willing to leave my six-year career as a designer to step into the unknown of a whole new pursuit? Could I really “make it” as an artist?
My doubts and fear shouted at me from every angle, but I pressed on and took the risk.
These three epiphanies gave me the courage to take action and changed my life.
I can always make more money but can’t create more time.
When I decided to pivot to pursue a career in fine art in 2021, I noticed how fast my six years as a designer had already gone by. I needed to think carefully about how I wanted to spend my next six years because they’d sneak up on me before I knew it. Life moves so quickly, and while we can always find ways to make more money or pivot our careers, what we cannot create for ourselves is more time.
I made so much progress during my time in design that I thought, “Just imagine how my life will look if I redirected all my attention and effort into my art career for the next 6+ years?! Something is bound to happen.”
The natural worries and “what-ifs” of pivoting became overshadowed by the awareness that life is short. I needed not to waste another moment ignoring the work I truly love and start making the most of my days to become an artist. I wanted to make my future self proud, and that meant taking the risk.
I get to choose my legacy.
The legacy and memories we leave behind in our lifetime encompass far more than what we did for work. But how we spend our business hours and days still informs a lot about who we are and what we care about.
As I made the commitment to revisit my love for art, I envisioned my future grandchildren and how I hope to be remembered by them. I realized that I want more than anything to be known by my family as a fine artist – a woman who made a living doing what she loved. And on days when it’s tempting to trade the struggles of being an artist for the familiarity and ease of design, this vision for my life motivates me.
Madeline L’Engle, my favorite writer, inspires me to think about my legacy often and press on through the challenges of being an artist.
She was 44 when her first commercial success, A Wrinkle in Time, was published after many rejections and a lifetime of pursuing her dream. Had she given up when her first stories were rejected, her family and the world would’ve missed out on an incredible, inspiring legacy she left behind.
I don’t need to have every step of my journey figured out.
As someone who constantly surrenders to the unwinnable mental battles of trying to control or predict the future, I always feel liberated by the reminder that I don’t need to have every step of my journey figured out. I just need the boldness to begin and the willingness to take one step in the direction of my dreams each day.
By putting my love for fine art on the back burner for so long, I realized that I was giving in to the notion that I needed to have my path and plan perfectly figured out, but this only halted my progress and entrenched me deeper into a career path that wasn’t my true calling.
My husband and I like to repeat the mantra “progress over perfection” to one another when we find ourselves in seasons of growth, and this is exactly what I say to myself daily as my work as an artist unfolds.
After officially pivoting from my former design career in 2021, I dove into my paintings. I gradually transitioned out of my business, went all in on art, and set up a studio in my house. My story is not one of overnight success, but I can now call myself a fine artist.
I create abstract paintings for a living! My childhood self would be so proud.
In hindsight, I’m really grateful for my time spent as a designer. I needed those years! The skills I learned during that time have become exponentially helpful – in my client communication, personal branding, and online marketing for my art. My style as a designer even shaped my aesthetic as an artist.
I would never wish away those foundational years, but I’m thankful I had the courage to make a change and move toward my dream. The process of pivoting felt scary, but 100% worth it.
To this day, whenever I doubt what I’m doing, I like to remember the wise advice of my friend, Tony.
Tony is 75 and has very successfully spent his life in the music business. One afternoon, when speaking about careers in the arts, he told me, “Those who fail are simply the ones who gave up a day too soon.”
All I need to do is show up, day after day, and I’m bound to make progress as an artist. The same is true for you. One step at a time, you can design a fulfilling, joyful life.
Anna Núñez is a fine artist and writer whose work can be found at www.annanunez.com.