Money is a great driving force. Let’s say that you are really good at doing two completely different things: pottery and astrophysics. You simply adore throwing pots, choosing the perfect glaze, and seeing the final product of what you make—but the pay is less than what you would like to live on. You are a whiz at physics and have the opportunity to take a post at some lab studying the stars and the pay is phenomenal! But here’s the catch, astrophysics bores you to tears. Which job do you take? Did you choose money or fun? Be honest.
I learned a valuable lesson fairly early in life. I was faced with this choice in high school when I was choosing colleges. Do I get my degree in art, something I’ve loved doing since I was little? You would think the answer would be, “of course!” Everyone in my family knew that I was going to go to art school and be a college art professor. That was always the plan. Imagine their surprise when I decided to go to school to become a chemist! Yep, you read right. Why would I do that?
When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was an artist. When I got to high school and could choose what classes to take, I took every art class that was available. Painting, drawing, photography, you name it—I took the class. I was researching art schools early. I had it all planned out.
Then I took a chemistry class.
I LOVED it. It was fun! I loved the math, the nerdy science jokes, making cool things in lab. And I was good at it. Then I got to thinking. Wouldn’t I make more money if I went into the sciences instead of being a starving artist? Think of all the pretty things I could buy! The nice house! All of the geekery! Yes, my pupils turned into dollar signs. I’m not proud of it, but I admit it.
So I scrapped the art school applications and went to college for chemistry. The dumbest part of it all was that I didn’t even take art classes for fun. I bottled up that part of myself and packed it away—the thing I was most passionate about.
When I graduated from college with my chemistry degree, the doubts about my plan hit hard. College was fun; I loved every minute of it. I didn’t regret one second of what I did, but I had wished that I did more. Even so, I promptly packed off to Washington D.C. to start in a Ph.D. program in (you guessed it) chemistry! Graduate school was okay to start with, but after the first year, I was completely depressed. I hated the program. It was dry and boring. It was beyond dry and boring. I hated going into the lab every day, descending into the windowless basement and spending my days in front of a dry box. But I didn’t know what to do about it.
Then one day a new dean of graduate studies came in and kicked out anyone who didn’t have a B average. That included me. And I got out. It was wonderful! Sort of. I spent the next month moping over my failure, unsure what to do next. I spent a lot of it playing video games. Finally, I went to a temp agency to get a job. Something—anything—that would pay money.
I landed a job stuffing envelopes at a non-profit. It was a three-week assignment at most. One day they needed some graphic design and I volunteered. This was the major turning point in my career. Over the next few months, they gave me more and more design work. What began as a temporary post turned into a permanent job.
Lady luck was on my side. From stuffing envelopes to redesigning magazines and building websites! The company paid for me to take classes at the local college where I was able to expand my art repertoire even further. I was very fortunate to have things work out after all. I was finally doing what I love to do and I was making money doing it.
I’d like to say it’s been happily ever after since then, and it mostly has, but there have been many mountains to climb. I know I haven’t gotten as many job interviews because my degree is in chemistry, not in design. Never mind that I’ve been running art departments for most of my career – or that I’ve won awards for my design. There are companies that are emphatic that any graphic designer they hire MUST have a design degree. Here’s a tip: recently, I’ve taken my college major off of my resume and only have my degree listed. I feel like I’ve gotten my foot in the door a lot easier lately.
So it’s been difficult at times, but take it from me, it is FAR more important that you are happy and get to do what you are passionate about every day and get paid less for it than to dread getting up in the morning because you dislike what you do.
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