Am I making the right career choice even though I feel it might be wrong?
December 24, 2011 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I recently chose to change directions in my career, so I’m back in school to receive the proper/required training. I did this in response to dislike of my former job and the realization that my artistic needs likely can’t be met through a full-time job. So I’ve chosen a career path that is very technical and science-based, opposite of anything artistic, but a good balance I think (I still plan on working on my art outside of job setting). I feel like it might be the wrong choice though since it's so different and that it might take over any artistic pursuits. Has anyone been in a similar situation?

I just finished the first semester of a veterinary technician program after leaving a job as a traffic manager/administrative assistant/graphic designer at an advertising firm. Quite the switch. Even more so since I graduated with a B.A. in visual arts 3 years ago and originally planned on becoming an illustrator. I realized though after reading advice such as this that a full-time creative career might not be suitable for me. When my creativity went towards my job and I had to compromise for the client, it wasn’t enjoyable anymore. Being an “artist” might be a more ideal job since it focuses more on satisfying one’s own needs rather than someone else’s, but there’s no guarantee of a steady and decent income. I haven’t ruled it out though, which is kind of why I chose vet tech. I thought it would be a good balance with my artistic side. Since it’s a science-based, technical profession, I could put all my creative energy into my art. And since I have an interest in animals, it would be a day job I could tolerate.

Maybe there is no balance though if I go this route. There are times when I think to myself in regard to the whole vet tech thing, “What am I doing? This is wrong. I shouldn’t be doing this.” It’s not in response to difficulties with the program since I’m not really having any; I’m actually doing very well so far and find it interesting. I think I’ve just always identified myself as more of a creative person and my program doesn’t provide that. And then I start thinking this is how it will always be since I’m making a career of this. Maybe I won’t be able to balance this day job with my artistic pursuits.

Maybe I feel like I’m losing myself, or I have to reinvent myself; I don’t know. Should I continue with the vet tech program or switch directions again despite the amount of money I’ve spent for school? I don’t know what other route I could take though. The advertising firm might take me back. Or maybe I should get some actual formal training in graphic design, which might help with addressing the clients’ needs better. I still might not enjoy it though, plus the market is saturated with designers right now. I’ve already done a lot of switches too: two different universities, changed majors five times, and now vet tech after having a good job for just a couple years. I feel like I’m being a flake and I’ll be disappointing people such as my parents (since their graciously footing the bill for most of my education) if I make another switch.

Does anyone have similar experiences, where who you feel you are clashes with other aspects of your life (such as career)? Are there creatives out there who have very uncreative day jobs, but you’ve found a way to make it work and are happy with it? Any advice is appreciated.
posted by DanielleT to Work & Money (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Unfortunately I don't really have an answer for this, but I did struggle with this (i.e.clash with other aspects of your life such as career) and I eventually came to a solution that worked well for me. I just want to suggest a way that you think about this problem with a different perspective, but you will still need to do the research.

This is how I see your problem at the moment: You want to pursue active X the way you envision it (probably at a much higher level than you would ever have as an assistant or that last job). This is one thing that makes you happy and you don't want to give it up. For now your compromise is to do it on your own time outside work hours.

Here is something that a friend told me when I faced the same problem: if you look for a job (to meet this interest that you have), then you will always try to fit yourself into a peg that someone else envisions for you. So you may be a circle peg and other companies want to hire square pegs -- you will just convince yourself that the job has a little bit of --shapes,lines, and you can fit....but in the end it will never really be with what you want to do. You will never fit in the peg because it is what someone else wants you to do.

So my concern for you, OP, is that you are just forcing yourself into another peg,but the whole thing may repeat itself.

What worked for me in the end was to get the basic skills at a company or two, and then strike out on my own. I do usually decide what to take/not take meet my own personal needs.However, I do want to caution:I absolutely did the research to make sure that there was $ in the path that I selected...not a lot, but enough to do the things that I want to do and live where I want to live,etc. Anywho, I think if you really, really wanted to there could be a niche for you. In some communications companies, it is now a big trend to create content as ipad apps, online interactive,etc. Even though I work on it...just doing part of the technical side, what they do is missing something/a is not my job to tell them this, but trust me, a few companies will figure it out...but they need the creative side and need to make it accessible to pple... Anyway, so perhaps your art/creative side could fit in somewhere like that...but working for yourself, not another company. You would still need to work at companies for a few years to learn how to do what they do and to see how they do it. Just consider the idea/do the research/and decide if it is or is not the best route for you.

Another alternative that I will mention (not for me,but same dilemma you had...great solution)..see Grumblebee's answer here.

Anyway, when I read your dilemma, OP, I really hope you find some way to follow and keep that passion and enjoyment that you have. Lots of people give this up. I don't think that you should have to and hope that you find a way to hold onto it, whatever route you pick.
posted by Wolfster at 8:23 AM on December 24, 2011

Creativity and artistic expression isn't limited to fields and lifestyles traditionally labeled as such, and technical and scientific fields need creative and artistic thinkers. I feel that you are struggling with the novice stage of learning and training, in general. The fundamentals, the foundations, the background and technique of ANY field isn't necessarily inherently satisfying--it's difficult work that takes over your time and most of your other creative impulses.

I've had a few very different careers, myself. I'm 37, though, and those careers have spanned the time and effort of schooling, rookie years, and then, finally, creative contribution. For me, it was during the creative contribution part of my career that I would start seeking opportunities to volunteer, retrain, immerse myself in a novice experience. My expertise, experiences, and new overwhelming creative projects inspired change--which is much more satisfying and organic than abandoning multiple endeavors as a novice. Work begets work of all kinds, creative and otherwise.

I am in a highly technical and scientific career right now, and the graduate work to get here has been grueling and awful and multiple projects were put on hold along the way, but as my experiences have grown at higher and higher levels I'm approaching creative contributions in my field and my parallel career in writing (my life-long artistic work is as an author. I did get an MFA and I publish and edit--but there, until recently, have been crickets singing around that part of my life as I focused on the work of getting the foundations of my career). My new meaningful experiences are starting to contribute to my writing in ways I couldn't have imagined, or achieved, if I had abandoned the work of my career.

The schooling and professional training you've chosen isn't easy, and I imagine you have struggled expressing yourself in any way that isn't a test or clinical experience. But the change you're experiencing is important and worthwhile and a significant contribution to yourself, and so, your artistic abilities. But it's impossible to get a lay of the land where you are--truly, you just can't. Reframe the expectations you have of yourself--my guess is that you expect yourself to complete all kinds of artistic projects and be a perfect student and have a career and make money in order to resource some future expectations of yourself. That's exhausting. You're limited, you are constrained, you are tied to your present. But I promise, that's so good, a really good place to be. The best things are made of thinking through and around those constraints as part of a process that will transcend you're own expectations. Process is hard, and there is no destination--those two ideas are actually incredibly reassuring, and less exhausting than impossible self-created expectations of your every day and month and year.

I'll bet you'll get a lot of good stuff to think about in this thread. Metafilter is nothing if not a lot of people deep in process, and why I like it here. Where you are at is a privilege, too, give yourself a little space to suffer gladly and see what happens. Contact me anytime.
posted by rumposinc at 8:40 AM on December 24, 2011 [4 favorites]

I don't think I can fully answer your question, either, but I tell you a bit about how things work for me. I have a degree in communication, and have worked in communications departments of non-profits for about 12 years. For most of that time, I did a mix of writing, media and graphic design. I'm a really great writer, but I really loved the graphic design, so over time, I shifted my work balance towards more graphics work and less writing. I ran my own business for a few years, and really went after design clients, then I shut that down and took a full time job as an in-house designer, which I've had for four years.

When I was primarily writing and talking to the media, I always had an art practice outside of work. I did a lot of ceramics, spent a schwack of time in the darkroom and hand made books. Now that I am designing full time, I feel like a squashed grape of creativity after work. My work is not entirely unsatisfying. There is a lot of compromise and there are other frustrations with the job, but about half the time, it's pretty creative. So... I get about 20 creative hours a week, but none of them are dedicated to personal projects.

However, I don't love the graphic design like I used to, and I really really really miss writing for a living. Unlike in the past when I wrote for a living and made art after work, I don't find that I do much writing after work now. (Part of that is the squashed grape feeling, I'm sure.) And sometimes I worry that I've painted myself into a corner, career-wise, as I come to be better known as a designer and not a writer (which is what I'm actually better at). There is more room for advancement as a writer, whereas for designers, I'm pretty much at the top of the ladder.

One piece of advice I would give is this: don't worry so much about finding your identity from your work. You don't think of yourself as a technical person, but as a creative one. Having a technical job doesn't change who you are. You might find a real advantage to having a job you can leave at work when the day is through. Knowing there is a steady income and job security, might free up your mind enough to let you be very creative in your off hours.

Also, nothing says this is either/or. I have a number of friends who worked at day jobs (well-paying ones they trained for) while pursuing their art on the side. They grew their art businesses to the point where they could make enough money to quit their jobs. I have another friend who did the exact same thing while he established himself as a yoga teacher (and a yoga teacher teacher) and now he has his own studio, though he still works half time at his day job for the benefits.

There are lots of ways this can work out. If it were me, I would finish something. Don't think yourself out of the vet tech programme. If you try it as a job and find after a year or two that you can't stand it, fine. But if you drop out you'll never know. Sometimes the only way to figure out your path is through a process of elimination. Quitting something before you start doesn't give you any useful information to grow on.
posted by looli at 8:57 AM on December 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses and taking the time to give them. Some very helpful advice from all of you. I really appreciate it!
posted by DanielleT at 6:47 AM on January 3, 2012

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