Back when my journey out of law began, I remember talking to my therapist/career counselor about what I wanted to do instead of practicing law. Other than writing, sewing, and playing with yarn, I really didn’t believe I could do a lot of creative stuff. I had this wisp of an idea that I wanted to do something with visuals, but I couldn’t even say that to my counselor. I hadn’t done anything like that, and I thought it would sound ridiculous and plain stupid.
The Universe thought my insecurities were funny. My second job in publishing was writing for a magazine, which of course included artwork with the stories I wrote. And I took to mixing words and images like librarians to reading. At my next job, I oversaw the redesign of the magazine I edited.
The point is, before I experienced it, I truly could not have articulated that I wanted a writing job that combined images and design. I simply didn’t have the knowledge, experience, or anything else that could flesh out that tiny thread that was pulling me out of law and into much better things. I just grabbed what I could of that thread, and went with it.
Was it scary? Only like base jumping is terrifying.
Getting in Alignment With You
So many well-meaning friends and colleagues at the time asked me, “Well, what can you do with being a legal reporter? Where does it lead?” They wanted a well-marked road map, with that progress arrow pointing in a constant upward slope. They wanted a path of certainty for me.
I was so sick of law, I literally could not have cared less about what came after the job I was taking. I just knew it had to be better than the hellish dysfunction of law and the stultifying crap I had to do daily.
It was. Even more than I knew it would be. Once I’d been in the job a little while, the couple tons of worry, grief, and despair I had carried around daily–and had stopped noticing–while practicing law largely evaporated. It wasn’t a perfect job, by any stretch. But it was at least in the ballpark of being aligned with who I truly am, and what I valued. The load that I ditched was all the stress of living a life completely out of alignment.
Follow That Trickle!
If you have even the slightest glimmer of a creative urge in you, I have good news and bad news for you. The good news is: That glimmer is the barest shadow of what you are capable of, creatively.
Understand that unlike in the movies, all that creativity won’t come pouring out as soon as you leave law, and quickly materialize into selling your work for millions. OK, it could, but don’t be gobsmacked and distraught if your path doesn’t head that direction.
What I can promise is that paying attention to your creativity will start a steady stream. The more you nurture and honor that creativity by actually doing creative things, the more that creative trickle will turn into a creek, then a river, then an ocean.
I say that as someone who, in my 40s, started playing with paints and crafts generally, and am now feeling increasingly drawn to do more of that. In fact, I just signed up for an art workshop with a nationally known collage artist, and I’m both giddy and petrified.
The bad news? A creative life is not predictable. I’m not saying that it’s a life of chaos; but the heart of creativity is seeing what could be, rather than fitting life and work into existing boxes. Bringing something new, different, or interesting into being does not follow an easily replicable formula. You’ll need to take risks, and get comfortable with frequent “failures.” In a creative life, though, they’re not failures, they’re something to learn from.
Not that many of you won’t flip out about failing, until you get used to how fun those so-called failures can be.
If the Path Before You Is Clear, It’s Probably Someone Else’s
This is when a lot of you blanch, shudder, and decide that you’d rather stay safe and continue getting those predictable, fairly fat paychecks. I get that. It is gut-liquefying to move from the known (if limited and stifling) career paths in law to something with an utterly different DNA.
I’m actually not suggesting that you quit your job, declare that you’re embarking on an epic journey of creativity, and expect the world to beat a path to your door. Unless, of course, you’ve been doing your creative work for a while, and deeply feel that jumping into it full-time is what you are called to do next, even if everyone around you declares you ready for the white jacket with long sleeves.
What I am suggesting is that you start flirting with your creative impulses. Take a class that catches your eye. Go to the craft store and let yourself buy a few things that entice you. (Then go home and search for videos about what to do with those things.) Give yourself some time, daily, to just dream about what you might want.
Note that none of these things commit you in any way. You can try a class and decide you aren’t as intrigued as you thought. Or find out that you need more practice or skills to execute what’s in your head. Which isn’t a problem–in this age of video ubiquity, there are at least a dozen people who have posted something about the very thing you want to work with.
And those dreams you’ve allowed yourself, finally, to experience and explore? Those can and should be big and luscious, but you don’t have to make every single facet of them come true to find fulfillment. Working on one manageable part at a time will do that, I promise.
Get a Move On
The important thing is to start.
As a horse trainer I knew once pointed out, all of us can climb to the roof of a 25-ft. high arena. A few of the incredibly athletic among us could make it in three enormous, Spiderman-esque leaps. And most attorneys, who are used to getting all those As, awards, and accolades, think they should be able to perform at the highest levels, right away!
That’s the mistake many of us make when embarking on a creative journey: We set our minimum performance standards to warp-factor high, and then when we don’t come even close, we conclude that we have no talent, and that we were fools for thinking that maybe we had a little.
It’s a Kafka-esque recipe for failure.
Instead, to get to the top of that 25-ft. arena, we need to look for a ladder with 100 steps. That way, we can actually climb up, regardless of what shape we’re in. That’s what most people do, if they want to get to their goal. They figure out the steps they can take, not the ones they think they should be able to, but can’t yet. Any steps are good, regardless of size.
So embark on your creative journey with hope and faith. Take the tiniest step you can, and make sure that you keep taking tiny steps regularly.
If you need help with that, I’m an email away.
Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer and recovering perfectionist who is probably going to need an intervention about her craft supply addiction pretty soon. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.