I’ve always had a passion to make things. This manifested itself as a child in the form of obsessive doodling. Doodling migrated to illustration. Illustration merged with the world of graffiti art and graffiti art gave me the creative confidence and aggressive go-getterness that was critical to compete in the professional creative landscape.
The pursuit of passion can be both a benevolent blessing and a catastrophic curse. One the one hand, having a passion can behave as a beacon. A North Star that relentlessly encourages you to charge ahead and never surrender. On the other hand, this same passion can claw away at your patience, agitate you to make high risk decisions and potentially lead you down a path of personal and financial disaster.
All that said, I found myself in my early thirtees with two brand new baby daughters and the thirst for career stability so, like most youngish creative folks, I decided to lean heavily into a stable, predictable career focused on art direction and graphic design. Jumping in head first I primarily learned the craft on the job and filled in the gaps by asking those who found success for advice. All of the companies I worked for treated me great, provided fantastic benefits and helped me understand the broader tenets of business in todays complicated marketplace. I had almost no complaints. And yet the guttural whispers generated from the hibernating passion for drawing and painting continued to flutter through my body and soul.
So what’s a guy/gal to do when they have a good life going but their true calling won’t stop CALLING?! I’ll tell you what you do. You prepare. You plan. You speak to those that have done it before and do your best to apply their advice to your unique situation.
I have been “in the wild” for the past two and a half years. I’ve found comfort and purpose through the process and I’ve learned a ton. Maybe some of the pitfalls I found myself falling into can be a cautionary tale for anyone looking to take the leap on their own.
Here are my top 5 steps that I found most beneficial in preparing for that first step when quitting your job and entering “the wild”.
1. Do not “go with the flow”!
Humans are creatures of habitual comfort. We are so good at adapting that we will feel comfort in unhealthy and even abusive routines. Waiting for life to lead you to the right place will never get you where you want to go so get comfortable with feeling uneasy and prepare to make big changes in your habitual routine.
2. Stack your chips!
Undercapitalization is the prime reason most business ventures fail. The pursuit of your passion is a business venture and should be financially treated as much. Set up a monthly autodraft that squirrels away money until you have at least 3-6 months worth of expenses. You WILL go through rough patches where business can dry up unexpectedly. The choice to sacrifice and save as much as you can will be the difference between failure and a chance at success.
3. Treat your goals like they are touchdowns!
This one may be the most important item on this list. You simply can not win if you are chasing generalities. Your goals must be defined as clearly as the endzone is in a football game. Establish primary”North Star” goals. Write them down and place them where you see them everyday. Then create a series of micro-goals that will lead you toward that big endzone. Celebrate each micro-goal achievement like they are first downs and when you finally make a big play and score a touchdown you must celebrate the victory. It works.
4. Get nice with your numbers!
Most of us won’t have the ability to hire an accountant so you must get comfortable with keeping up with your numbers. I have used Freshbooks for the last 10 years and love it. I am able to keep track of hours, invoices, accepts credit cards online and track expenses for tax time. If you are completely green on the subject I recommend checking out this link for book keeping basics and possibly reaching out to your local AIGA for assistance. What you can not do is sleep on this and hope it all works out. It won’t and all your hard work will be lost down the drain.
5. Build a squad!
I learned at an early stage that it is nearly impossible to “sell and do”. Creative professionals seem to lean towards introverted behavior when it comes to work. You may find some success on your own but the ceiling will be very low and growth will be limited by the amount of hours you can work in a day. They key is maximizing every hour so while you are creating content you have other team members out in the field promoting, selling and helping to execute. The concept that anyone truly succeeds on their own is a myth intended to mislead and discourage. Create the kind of work that inspires while creating value and build a motivated team as fast as you can.
Some of this advice I learned along the way and some of it I haven’t been able to apply fully to my own hustle. It is an ongoing battle that has no finish line so make sure you have the stomach for high-test stress and the motivation to go the long haul!
Good luck my friends,