As rudimentary as the art form may seem, I’ve found collaging to be one of the best ways to ponder my life—without overthinking it.
Back when I was teaching art classes at a local women’s shelter, one of our most eye-opening projects was the creation of collages. We carefully selected images and phrases from a collection of magazines and arranged them to form one cohesive piece, a piece that often transformed abstract feelings into expressions as visible (and as powerful) as those emotions.
Where words failed, the collages spoke.
Inspired by what the participants created, I embarked on making a handful of my own collages that, upon completion, contained visual revelations I hadn’t previously considered. Last night was no different. It was the first time in a long time I did something creative just for me, because the inspiration for the project could no longer be squelched. So I grabbed a stack of magazines, a pair of scissors, and a melange of decorative papers and random findings.
That image above is what came to life, with its accompanying verbiage:
“Deviate from the norm.”
Talk about visual revelations.
Over the last seven weeks, I’ve reentered the world of the self-employed, with no shortage of terror, desperation, elation, empowerment, and everything in between. But when it comes to the feelings rollercoaster, I have to say that the elation and empowerment are what I’m experiencing the most. That and creativity and joy.
The crazy part is, I didn’t even know I was unhappy at my my job. At least not until my boss called me into a meeting and asked that very question: Are you happy here? In response, I did the unthinkable. Between fumbled attempts to describe why, yes, as a matter of fact, I AM happy here… I started to cry. At work. And as my explanation eventually rambled toward the surrender of a lie, I realized that, no, I was not happy. I hadn’t been for a long time.
While initially (and for a good while) twitterpated by the company’s good reputation, its great culture, colleagues I loved, and work I enjoyed (immensely, mind you), I had been denying myself of the undeniable reality: I was unfulfilled.
Shortly after going back out on my own, a business acquaintance loaned me Hugh MacLeod’s book, IGNORE EVERYBODY And 39 Other Keys to Creativity. The timing couldn’t have been better. Particularly impactful? Key Number 18: Merit can be bought. Passion can’t. In this chapter, MacLeod mentions the “Pissed Off” gene, a primal creative urge, a calling to change the world.
He says, “We think we’re ‘Providing a superior integrated logistic system’ or ‘Helping America to really taste Freshness.’ In fact we’re just pissed off and want to get the hell out of the cave and kill the woolly mammoth.”
And then this: “Your business either lets you go hunt the woolly mammoth or it doesn’t.”
After reading that book and many others, after no shortage of mentoring from a few professionals I trust, and after a lot of introspection, I’m on the tenuous, shaky path of realizing that sometimes things just don’t fit. Relationships, beliefs, and careers that once made sense may no longer snap seamlessly together like two adjacent puzzle pieces. That doesn’t mean the relationship/belief/career is bad or wrong, and it doesn’t mean you’re bad or wrong. It’s just a poor fit.
It’s the reason why cubicles, company Christmas parties, and watercooler conversations aren’t for everyone.
Some of us simply choose to hunt rather than sit in the cave and wait for the spoils.
That said, hunting is best way to describe my professional life right now. I have an insatiable hunger for the next client, the next project, the next deadline, that I pursue it mercilessly. Yes, it’s scary to work for oneself. It’s dangerous. It’s exhausting. It means a lot of work and not a lot of sleep. But it is the first time in a very long time that I feel truly alive.
However, if you’re considering a similar endeavor, be forewarned: You’re probably going to have to work weekends. And evenings. And holidays. You’ll wake up at 7 a.m. on a Sunday, just so you can meet a client deadline. You’ll work through the evening, and pass on a night out with friends, all so you can play catch-up. You’ll underbid a project, underestimate your allotted time, and maybe even decrease your hourly rate. You’ll overestimate your monthly income, and pay the inevitable consequences.
But here’s a secret: None of that will matter. When you wake up at 7 on Sunday, it won’t be because you have to, it’ll be because you want to. When you adopt a passion project, it’s usually because the prospect makes you so excited that you lose all reason and cognitive thought (and if you do a passion project right, you’re going to lose a little money, too). And you’ll do it all because you love what you do.
You’re working for your own dream rather than letting someone else’s become your nightmare.
I wake up early now—oftentimes, without an alarm. That may sound insignificant, but previously, you couldn’t tear me out of bed if the house was on fire, at least not before the last possible second before I was late. And sometimes I was late. I think that, on some cellular level, my body knew I wasn’t happy, even before my brain knew it.
If I could go back in time, I would change a few things. I would stop pretending. I would stop wasting time. I would stop trying to make a “bad fit” fit. I would stop blaming myself for when it just didn’t work out.
I watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button the other night, a film that has captivated me with its charm and simplicity since I first watched it five years ago. And in this movie, after reconciling with his dying father, my beloved Mr. Button says, “You can be mad as a mad dog at the way things went. You can swear and curse the fates. But when it comes to the end, you have to let go.”
I’ve experienced a lot of endings in my life. But they have always become beginnings—once I finally had the presence of mind to let go.
If you’re any sort of observant, I’m not just writing about a job, but about habits, relationships, and people that no longer have a place. (“Bad fits,” if you will.) On that note, there are times when hunting is simply not appropriate. I’m learning the hard way that it’s just not worth catching and holding onto something/someone that screams, “Let me GO!”
So, as painful as it may be, I’m still in the process of looking closer at the puzzle and disassembling it where necessary. Yes, I’ll still hunt when it’s needed, but I’ll be spending a lot more time in my proverbial cave, cultivating a career, habits, and relationships that are healthy, and actually belong and deserve to be a part of my life.
And I’m going to need another pair of scissors, because I expect a lot of collaging in my near future.