We are back home from Alabama, after spending the weekend celebrating my father’s 65th birthday and my mother’s retirement. That’s me there on the left with my parents. (If you gave my dad a proper waistcoat, wouldn’t he look like a hobbit?)
I have often said that every good quality I have comes from these two people. And their hard work opened up opportunities for me, and allowed me to pursue my rather unorthodox career choices. (If they ever feared that life as an artist would insure that I never moved out, they never let on.) So it made me especially happy to see my mother retire.
The trip gave me a lot of reason to reflect on career choices. After a lifetime working in retail, my mother is retiring so she can do the collage art she truly loves. My father, however, still runs his sign shop and has no intentions of retiring. He’s already doing what he loves. He likes to tell people “if it isn’t fun, you really shouldn’t be doing it.” He urged us, his children, to find work that we wouldn’t want to leave.
This was on my mind traveling back home, because I spent last week revisiting my old career. I work full-time (well, more or less) in equine collectibles now, but before that I was a graphic designer. It certainly wasn’t a bad job. I was well-paid and had a secure future – a rare enough thing for a professional artist. It was not, however, interesting or challenging, and it involved a lot of sleep deprivation.
When I talk in online forums, I use pictures of my horses as avatars. If there had been forums around for my previous life as a graphic designer, this would have been my avatar. I had almost forgotten how often I worked all night to meet someone’s deadline, but I was reminded of it last week. That was when I had to pull my print design skills out of mothballs, and put together a large package of print materials. And like most large projects, it eventually came down to staying up all night to meet a deadline. I can now attest that my old career is far more suited to twenty-somethings than to forty-somethings! (To think that I used to do this on a regular basis just boggles the mind.)
But more than the grueling hours, what I noticed was that my old work doesn’t bring me the same kind of joy I find in my current work. I took on the design job because I believed in the cause it supported, and deeply loved the individuals who asked me. I was happy enough with the end result, and I learned a great deal. (Oh, how the desktop publishing world had passed me by in the last ten years!) But what I came away with was a deeper understanding of the trade-off I made fifteen years ago, when I changed careers. I gave up pay and benefits and security, but what I got was work that made me deeply happy. With luck, like my father, maybe I’ll never want to retire either.