Taking the plunge: the fear and thrill of quitting your day job
Juggling full-time work and an independent creative practice is common, but there often comes a point when you need to strike out on your own. How does it feel and how is it done?
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Moment of Truth is a series of articles from It’s Nice That, in partnership with Allianz, exploring courage and creativity. Allianz exists to provide confidence in tomorrow, understanding that every creative act requires bravery and faith in yourself.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing a series of articles in partnership with Allianz, exploring courage and creativity. Through this series, Moment of Truth, we’ll be talking to a range of designers and artists about how every creative act requires bravery and faith in yourself.
Working a day job to pay the bills is a rite of passage for many creative careers. In fact, according to a survey by the Creative Independent, 61 per cent of artists engage in freelance work to make ends meet and 42 per cent have other jobs beyond their practice. But what happens when you’re ready to commit full-time to your craft? With rising unemployment and increased costs of living, not to mention the uncertainty of a pandemic on our hands, giving up secure work in today’s world can feel particularly frightening. Taking that leap into the unknown requires courage, even though it may be a risk worth taking. To better understand this pivotal moment and to find out how we can best manage it, we speak to three brilliant creatives about when they decided to pack in the day job.
While working as an art director at the advertising agency Bates CHI & Partners in Jakarta, Indonesia, Martcellia Liunic couldn’t wait to get home from work every day so she could draw. She had been making art since she was a kid, when she used to watch her grandfather drawing. “I saw how relaxed he was and was inspired by the way he enjoyed the day through his drawing sessions,” she recalls.
But the appeal of a good salary, security, bonuses and benefits led her to pursue a career in advertising. Brainstorming ideas for brands every day, she was able to use her creative talents. She just didn’t enjoy it that much. “I felt restrained, like I didn’t have a craft and voice of my own,” she explains. “The work was either driven by the clients or the agency, never fully by me. That’s what drove me to start drawing regularly after work at first – to express the frustration and to unwind.”
There were other benefits, too. At first, Martcellia was so energised by her personal practice that it benefited her work in advertising. Plus, having compartmentalised her day job, she became less emotional when her ideas got rejected. “It was a nice balance for a while, being able to create something without a brief and still getting paid during the day,” she says.
But as she got less emotionally invested in advertising, she soon stopped giving it her all. She started to feel guilty about letting her team down. “I felt like that was it. I had to try to make a living out of drawing,” she says. “It became more than just a hobby for me. I loved it enough to fight for it. I knew I needed to chase this dream or I’d forever wonder, ‘What if?’”
After three years of practicing drawing every day, Martcellia had started to get freelance commissions from big brands. After almost a year’s worth of planning and five months’ salary in the bank, she felt secure enough to quit. “I felt proud of myself to finally have the courage,” she says, “because it wasn’t easy to let go of a safety net with no parental support.”
Her employers were supportive of her chasing her dream. Martcellia lost no time to celebrations and immersed herself in her new career, absorbing every article or podcast she could that offered advice on freelance illustration. Her colourful, cute and whimsical style has since caught the eye of brands from Google and Netflix to Harper’s Bazaar.
Her advice for creatives on taking the plunge? “Do it! But with preparation. Be a realistic dreamer: save up some money, share your work, grow your audience, do the work and the money will follow. It is so scary but worth it.”
“I felt proud of myself to finally have the courage because it wasn’t easy to let go of a safety net with no parental support.”Martcellia Liunic
Luckily for London-based artist Daisy Parris, their day jobs had a common and delicious thread: pizza. “Anyone who knows me knows I love pizza,” they say. “Pizza is a form of therapy and comfort for me, but equally I’m really interested in the process of making and prepping pizza.”
Quitting their day job had always been part of Daisy’s game plan. Growing up in Kent, they started exhibiting their vibrant and emotionally charged paintings from a young age, and went on to art college and university in London. “All I could think about was art,” Daisy says.
They started supporting themselves with a job at a cinema, where among ushering and dealing with customers they got to work in the kitchen. “That’s where I learned to cook and make pizza,” they explain. “My dad used to fit cinema seats and I always thought it would be so cool to be in the cinema when no one else is there. It is a magical experience having the theatre to yourself.”
But Daisy found the social demands of the job overwhelming and the bosses less than sympathetic. They found a new role in a restaurant. “Working as a full-time pizza chef allowed me to continue my passion for cooking but, for the most part, cut out talking to the public,” they explain. “I was much better suited to this role. I’d paint in the studio in between and after work, which allowed me to come back to myself again and recover from all the communicating I had to do at the restaurant.”
A natural multi-tasker, Daisy found ways to make progress with their personal work while on shift. “I got all of my work done of course, but I managed to draw or get emails, interviews and other admin bits done when it was quiet. I was working while working,” they say. “It’s painful when time isn’t your own and I find it painful not to paint when I need to, but you have to sacrifice your time.”
“It was scary but it felt good knowing that I was going to start my new year right.”Daisy Parris
Of course, some sacrifices aren’t worth it. The pizza place turned out to be a pretty sexist and homophobic environment, and one day Daisy had a panic attack at work. “When it gets to a point where your mind, body and values are compromised, then you have to get out of there,” they say. “When I handed in my notice, I think it was on Christmas Eve, I felt so punk rock and free. I was proud of myself for making changes to my life when I was unhappy. It was scary but it felt good knowing that I was going to start my new year right.”
To allow more time to prepare for the jump to full-time art, Daisy gave six weeks’ notice. They stocked up on art materials and made sure they had enough money saved for two or three months’ home and studio rent.
“But the first step I took was to realign my energy,” they say. “I gave less energy to work because it was draining me. I also went into overdrive accepting opportunities and making sure I was busy in my practice, because I knew more creative work would come from that. I took it week by week in the end and wasn’t expecting it to last four years, but I’ll do everything to keep my full-time practice going.”
Of course, there should be no shame at all in supporting yourself however you choose or need to do so. As we found out in this article as part of our Next Generation series, there is far too much stigma attached to having a side job in the creative industries and it shouldn’t be seen to have any bearing on your success.
This is something the photographer Yavez Anthonio knows all too well. He had been shooting his own personal work on the side since his student days and got a job at an advertising agency in Amsterdam straight after graduating. “I knew that the job would be short term, but at that moment I just wanted to earn money and this was the easiest way to do so,” he explains. “I also felt pressured to ‘know’ what I wanted and to not risk anything after getting my degree.”
The agency was happy to let Yavez take time out of the office to shoot, but – like for Martcellia and Daisy – this wasn’t enough to make him truly happy. “I had zero connection to the brands I was working for and I found myself bored out of my mind most of the time,” he says. “But the money was good so I tried to make it work for as long as possible. I remember procrastinating a lot and browsing the internet for cameras or inspiration.”
Then one morning he had a realisation. “My goal in life has always been to do something I love,” he says. “I woke up one day feeling really depressed that I wasn’t doing something I enjoyed for the majority of my week. I made a promise to myself to stop being sad and to do something about it.”
He saved up around €10,000 and bought a camera and some gear. Then his girlfriend at the time dropped a bombshell: she had got an internship in London. Would he go with her? “At that moment it felt like the stars were aligned,” says Yavez. “I promised myself that I would give myself one year to see if my career as a photographer would take off in London. And the rest is history.” Since then, he has gone on to collaborate with the likes of Nike, Gap and Vice.
As liberating as it felt to be able to focus on what he loved, the first few weeks of going solo were super intimidating. “I had to go make it all happen without a safety net,” says Yavez. “My advice for creatives thinking of quitting their day jobs would be to think it through. Be prepared. But also to not feel confined to the job you have. Life is short and I believe that you should always strive for what makes you happy.”
About the Author
Kate Hollowood is a freelance journalist covering a range of subjects — from mental health and female empowerment, to art and design — for titles like Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, the i paper and It’s Nice That. Based in London, she also creates copy and content for brands like Flo, Nike Run Club, Laced and Ace & Tate.