Looking Back - How I Left My Full-time Job in a Leap of Faith

 At a residency in Finland studying birds to paint

At a residency in Finland studying birds to paint

Around this time, seven years ago, I left my full-time job to pursue art. I had gone to art school, but spent the nine years since graduation working in business/accounting/finance. For most of those years I was close to art (auction houses) or close to creativity (advertising), but I was always on the outside looking in.

I spent my twenties living in Brooklyn, NY with my friends and those friendships were really the focus of my life. I tried outside of work to get creative projects off the ground, but would be inadvertently swept away by a crisis at work or a slew of late hours that left me feeling defeated. I felt itchy and angsty, but afraid to make a change. I desperately wanted to move to San Fransisco and start over, but was scared to leave New York and my family.

About ten months before I left my full-time life behind, I had an accident. It was in the middle of the day during the week at work on the third day at my new job. I was meeting my friend from out of town for lunch and was running late.  The office was on the floor of an old factory building, landmarked and converted into offices near Union Square. It was on the second floor and I decided to take the old, marble staircase down. As I started to head down the steps, I sent a text message and slipped on the top step. I slid down the flight and landed on my back just like a slip and slide. My tailbone hurt, but mostly I felt like a super big idiot for texting and walking down the stairs at the same time.

I called my friend and told her I had fallen, but that I would be okay to get up and meet her in a minute. Each floor was divided by two flights of steps, so I had just one more flight to go. I brushed some dirt off my pants, stood up and felt a jolt of pain. The next thing I remember is waking up, upside-down, on the bottom of the next flight of stairs with a ringing in my head covered in blood. I had passed out from my injuries of falling down the first flight of stairs and fallen down the second.

It was only a second, but as I lay there a thought came very clearly to me - I was badly injured and it was possibly fatal. I felt strongly that I had been foolish to never pursue a creative life and as I continued to lay there, the thought came through even stronger: it could not be my time because there was work to do. I promised if I was okay I would take the risk and set off on my life.

My friend got me to the hospital -- full disclosure now, she had flown in from San Francisco to attend my dog's big birthday bash which was supposed to be the next day. So not only is she a once in a lifetime friend, but she also LOVES a good dog party. I was in shock and arguing with her that we had to go lunch and that I refused to take an ambulance. I'm still not sure how I did it, but I managed to crawl into the back seat of a cab to go to Beth Israel. My sister raced to the hospital to meet us and it wasn't until I saw her face that I started crying.

I had serious injuries to my head, neck, tailbone, shoulders and knee. I had less serious injuries to my face, hips, arms and feet. But I was incredibly lucky. Like INCREDIBLY dodged a bullet by a millimeter lucky. I would recover.

My parents took me home and looked after me while I was out of work recovering. When the accident happened I was in peak physical shape - riding my bike to work and back every day, 90 kilometers a week from Brooklyn and running around 50 kilometers a week. It helped my recovery tremendously and since I took resting seriously I healed fast, just like Wolverine in the X-Men. After a couple of weeks I went back to work. I wasn't ready, but it was a new job and I felt conflicted I had been out my first two weeks. I was overwhelmed and focused on recovery, so I put my head down at the job and got to work. In many ways I'm a private person and I'm not even sure most of my friends knew the extent of what had happened even now.

I stayed at the job ten months and then left. I had no plans and nothing I was leaving it for. I left my apartment and moved to San Fransisco into the same friends apartment to sleep on her couch and figure things out. I rented an art studio in The Mission and went every day unsure of what I was working toward. It didn't matter. I had set myself free. I was 30, living away from my hometown for the first time since college and making art Monday to Friday. I had no idea what to do to move forward, but I kept trying. Eventually I moved back to New York and lived with my parents. I rented a studio in Brooklyn and went every day to make work.

Since that time I've had plenty of days where I feel like I haven't gotten to where I want to be or that I still feel far from my creative goals, but I always feel that at least I'm in the game. These past seven years have been unpredictable. Before, my external life was very stable and my internal life felt unstable. Now my external life can be unstable, but my internal life always feels stable. I've gotten to do things I would have never been able to do had I stayed at my job. I got to spend a Summer in Finland drawing birds ... I had a sold-out solo exhibition in Taiwan with work in Art Fairs at Art Basel in Hong Kong and in Tokyo .... I met Amy ...... and we moved to Australia and started a business ... and I became totally obsessed with bird watching. Since I took the leap I've had 3 solo art exhibitions and work in 21 group exhibitions in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Finland and Taiwan. I painted my heart out. I've maintained my life through my art plus a part-time job. I've had to work harder than I ever have, but I feel energized and excited. Mostly what I've found is a deep focus on getting the work done. It's meant sacrifice, especially of what was my almost constant social life that I had before. That part was hard, but I know in my heart making the work is the right thing to do and what I need to focus on still. Seven is a lucky number and I feel very lucky that I've been able to do things on my terms during this time to make it work for seven years.

I still have a day job (I work part-time at the Foundation and Friends of the Botanic Gardens here in Sydney), and I still have a few injuries that I continue to nurse, but I feel like at the very least, even if I fail in every single way that I'll have had an interesting life and a proper go at it. And taking that risk in the end has been worth everything.

If you're somewhere where you're not quite sure you want to be or you long for something a bit more, take the leap. You won't regret it, trust me.

Cheers,
Stephanie