Question: How does one successfully change their life's path?
FROM : Anonymous (via Ask TCI on our homepage)
Q: I’m 24 and I just quit my first ever job (as a web developer) that I’ve had for two years. How do I best use my new found time to avoid regret and depression over quitting and make the most of my time? I want to switch fields and get involved in the arts, whether it be music or publishing related… How does one successfully change their life’s path?
A: Stay positive. My experience with depression, especially after quitting my job without a plan and very little confidence in my art practice, put me in a longer-than-I’d-like-to-admit spiral of negative doubt. Hours to years can be spent on constant idles of similar questions, while waiting for nudges in any direction. A trick to keep your time productive—put a positive spin on everything, including your situation. For example, you didn’t just quit your first ever job, you opened a door for yourself. You took a risk not many are willing to do. You’re exploring possibilities. You are braving the unknown.
The more you focus on how scary this moment is—and I know it is—the less the mind can filter what needs to be done about it. It’s easy to stay in the negative, so I challenge you and your mind to see the positive. When feelings of regret and depression are too strong to see the good in them, I strongly suggest paying attention to what type of thoughts are coming in. Write them down. These are potential clues of what’s really going on, what’s keeping you stuck, and possibly how you want to be spending time—whether it be in the arts or otherwise. Utilize this moment to get to know yourself so you can start telling people what you want to be doing or making. The more specific you can be, the more likely you’ll start seeing the way towards this path you seek.
I got used to bailing out on one life and trying something else. Not bailing, but pivoting. I was comfortable with doing a significant pivot from high school, to pre-med, to sculpture, to graphic design, and then to New York. For whatever reason, I was never nervous about jumping into the unknown. I was lucky that way.
It’s not like my parents had wanderlust, but they were very encouraging. They wanted me to be happy—that’s what success meant to them. When I told them I was switching from pre-med to sculpture, I had this sense they were going to think it was great. Most parents would probably say, “What?” But my parents were like, “If that’s what’s going to make you happy, that’s awesome.”
In graduate school [at Columbia University], I had a full-time job. The morning was the only time that I could work, so I protected that time. I remember kicking some boyfriend out of bed at like five in the morning because I was like, “These are the only hours I have to work.” He was like, “You are a maniac.” I was like, “Well, I’ll be worse if I don’t work,” so I had to do it. If I don’t do it, I’m depressed. If I do do it, sometimes I’m depressed, too, but it’s much worse if I’m not diligent. It’s really installing the correct mechanism to keep me from, like, killing myself.
How did you personally realize, “Alright, it’s time for me to leave my job and try to freelance and make a go of it?”
I don’t think I have good advice here, because I was just so burnt out and numb that I quit without a backup plan. But I knew that I was at a place where I couldn’t move forward mentally, emotionally, financially, and otherwise. And so it was really challenging and hard and what caused a heavy depression at that time. But I sat in it, and said no to a lot of jobs opportunities that I knew would add to the block of this energy that I lacked.
I was really scared and cried a ton. But because I’ve kept up an art practice since college, I had what I needed to be able to make something which turned into that murmurmotion project. Over the course of a year that entailed making 700 birds (100 of 7 different wing orientations), a stop-motion video, five installations of a still murmuration in flight in four different states. And so, now looking back, it was worth that risk. The word “worth” has changed its meaning for me, too. All I can say is that it worked for me, but I don’t know if I can suggest anyone to follow suit.
I created this very quiet and creative space for myself to work. I had quit my last restaurant job and was focusing on the book and was somehow able to get away with just disappearing.
While I was working at the steel mill, I had the opportunity to work with Rick Owens, and that’s where everything changed. What made me change my mind was I literally went from Paris Fashion Week back to the steel mill on a Monday morning. That’s insane. That was like living in two different worlds for me. When that happened, it made me unsteady about my job. I thought, okay you love this, see where that love can take you. So are you complacent in your job now? You also really just got stability in your job, are you going to stay at that job?
It took me two years to answer that question after my album came out. Two years later, last year. When that happened, so many good things happened, especially at the end of the year. All those accolades at the end. Then my mom went to Africa, and I was getting off at midnight one night, and I came home and she had put out all these videos up of her and this safari she had just went on, and I made my decision that day… “I’m quitting my job. That’s it. There’s too much in the world to be sitting at the steel mill. I can’t. My music can take me so far, I’m done.” December 31st. I made that decision last year.
After quitting my job, I was too focused on job titles or what role I would be doing, what this would mean for my portfolio or resume, and I wasn’t thinking about me. I’ve been reading a lot about ego and it’s helped me understand what ego actually is: the balance of self-esteem and shame. I think I let shame—the fear of getting rejected—prevent me from applying to things I wanted to apply to or get to art making sooner. I also let self-esteem spiral in my mind regarding what I should go for and what does this say about me, or whatever. And I felt the clock was ticking as I was making these decisions. Now I think: none of it really matters.
The band split up when I was 28. I just remember having this feeling of, “Well that was really awesome but it ran its course and now it’s over.” That was eight years of my life. I remember thinking, “Do I realistically think that I could start over and do another band and have it be as moderately successful as The Promise Ring was?” I was really into design at that point and it just seemed like a good time to try and totally change lanes. That’s what I did… I think the reason even that I’ve done all these projects is because I get obsessed with things and then I want to figure out how they work. Sometimes that turns into a job. Sometimes that leads you down this path of you’re just doing it, maybe you stay with it or maybe eventually you’re just, “I figured that out,” or “I played around with it long enough and I don’t care about it anymore.”
When I was fired from my band, and that was my whole life, I thought that’s all there was to me. Then discovering after so many attempts at getting clean and sober—and then eventually getting clean and sober—that it wasn’t true. I had the feeling, “It’s okay to put that away for now.” I had to stop for a while because my ego was wrapped up in it. I had to put it all away and then to start to experience other things. This is going to sound so corny, but I really like knitting and things like that. You start to figure out that there’s so much more to you than you ever thought and you just have to allow it to happen, you know? After doing that, music could come back into my life in a healthy way.
Putting your whole life into something and making that the way that you make a living—as well as the way that you express yourself—can be a disaster. For a long time, I thought that was the dream. I don’t believe that anymore. I love that people support my work, but I would rather find other ways of making money.
At the time it felt reckless. It felt wild. It felt impetuous. It felt impulsive. It felt like jumping headlong into a world that I didn’t know anything about… and doing so knowing that the door to academia was closed and that if it didn’t work for me as a dancer, I didn’t have a clue what was going to happen. It was risky, risky, risky….I can say that it never felt like it was a mistake even on the hardest days when I felt like I had so much to learn and it was awful. Even on those days when I felt completely under water and out of my depth I still knew that this was something I wanted to do.
Nic Annette Miller is a multidisciplinary artist living in Brooklyn. Her personal and commercial work, which makes use of both analog and digital production, features woodblock printmaking, installation, and art direction of photography and video. Her recent personal project, All I Can Do is What I Did, evolved into a stop-motion video, an essay and has been installed in Salt Lake City, where she studied printmaking at graphic design at Utah State University. She’s art directed for Tattly and Etsy. Here, she talks about taking stock of what you need to create, how to make use of the ideas you don’t have time to fully realize, not getting stuck on schedules, and why art is a conversation.
Need creative advice? Submit a question, and team TCI will answer one each week.