Notes on a creative life (a.k.a. my return to academia)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain

streetI quit my job today. After less than a year of employment.

Was it an awful place to work? Not really. Were my coworkers difficult to get along with? No, for the most part they are wonderful, kind, intelligent people. Were my job duties mind-numbing? Sometimes, but such is the reality of many office jobs, I think. Were the hours long and conditions demanding? Definitely not. In fact, I had a pretty sweet gig: part-time, good pay, telecommuting/flexible hours, and I could even bring my dog to the office.

Why, then, did I quit? Why would I give up on a job after such a brief term?

The reasons are multiform, but the most important one is this: I realized that I am, at my very core, a creative person. I need to create things to feel fulfilled, to feel like I am contributing at the height of my ability. Creative expression can take many forms, but for me it does not include shuffling forms, recording accurate numerical data, or attending meetings about reports. I can do those things and I do them well, but this routine leaves a noticeable void in my life.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, my creative soul slowly suffocates.

A little background:

I have spent the past seven years self-employed as a graphic designer and photographer. I built my own freelance business and even employed subcontractors on larger projects. I worked for individuals, small businesses, and large non-profits. I was my own boss, set my own hours, and chose my projects.

…And then I got bored.

…..And then I went to art school.

……..And then I decided that a “real” job might be fun for a while.

………..And then I realized it might not be.

Hedging my bets against initial misgivings, I applied to several graduate school programs last winter: one MFA Photo program (a maybe), one Documentary Filmmaking MFA program (a long-shot in the dark), and a Strategic Communications MS program (my backup plan). By March, I thought I had been rejected from the two I wanted, and I was ready to commit to my job for a while longer.

Little did I know I was at the top of the wait-list. I was not only accepted to my long-shot MFA program last month, but I was also awarded a full ride, assistantship with stipend, and a fellowship.

So now here I am, ready to launch back into the academic art world melee. There is so much for me to learn, and I’m excited to expand my skill set and once again feed my creative spirit in a substantive way.

I’m thankful for the past year, for my wonderful colleagues, and for the things I learned while working there. Most importantly, I’ve learned that work, like life, is about balance. It’s about finding a way to both earn a living and nurture our spirits, whatever that might mean to each of us. For me, I now know that means earning a living by creating things. And, furthermore, I’ve discovered I don’t like who I become when I try to ignore this requirement. I become irritable, stressed, lethargic, sensitive, friable and somewhat sad. Nobody wants to be like that, nor does anyone want to be around someone like that.

As I transition back to the familiarity of academia, albeit in a discipline I know little about, I jump in with both feet. I’ve already started reading theory, watching films, and researching techniques. Like most anything I focus my mind and energy on, I will succeed at this new endeavor, and those to follow. My interest is renewed, my resolve strengthened, and my confidence intact.

I am ready.

How do you find balance at work? What role does passion or creativity play in your life and in your work? Do you have an advanced degree, and are you glad you did it?


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