Tuesday, June 2, 2009


"All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another. "
~ Anatole France

I spent most of my career in technology or management. It was good to me...I worked with some great people, did some interesting things, and made good money...but something was always missing. It took almost 10 years of feeling "stuck" before I figured out what to do and how to do it. I finally realized, it was not something that I could change simply by trying to solve it in my head like a logic problem.

Making a career change is difficult, more so if you've been working in your field for any significant duration. It takes a lot of time and money to become good at what you do. The longer you do it, the harder it seems to abandon it for something else because you see the return you have received on your investment (position, salary, benefits, contacts, etc.). One becomes accustomed to the lifestyle these things provide and once you have them its hard to conceive of your life without them. Therein lies the true problem - it is not in making change that is difficult, its in the way we feel about what we do and the way we feel about losing what it provides.

The old Greek philosophers said, "right thinking leads to right emotion and right emotion leads to right action." It took me a very long time to understand this. My first reaction was to say that I act based on my thoughts, sure sometimes my feelings, but mostly my thoughts. Now I realize that every action, even the most trivial, is based on our emotions. I'll write more on that in a later post, but the important thing I learned from this as it pertains to my work is that thinking about the "what" I wanted to do wasn't going to change how I felt about giving up what I had worked so hard for. The only way that was going to happen was by re-prioritizing what was important to me...to get myself into "right thinking".

Life is short. Its a cliche, I know. Its something everyone says and knows on a rational level. However, until you feel your mortality on an emotional level, you probably wont make any significant change. I suppose its like the patient that is told they have a year left to live. In one single moment the things that used to be important to them become insignificant and those things that were low on the priority list rise to the top. Once I began thinking correctly about what I wanted out of life, I began to feel my mortality and then it was easy to determine what I wanted to do.

I've had an interest in the visual arts for as long as I can remember. I imagined my dream job in the visual arts field and the answer was clear - fine art painter. So that is what I committed myself to doing. It didn't happen over night, however once I made the decision it no longer became a struggle in deciding what to do. I just had to take steps to get there. Now, you are probably saying to yourself, "I have a dream job too and I cant just go do it." My reply is simple. You haven't committed yourself to doing it. If you did you would start taking actions that would get you where you want to be. At that point it becomes a matter of survival and we are all geared to survive.

For me, that meant moving out of the large house I was living in (and the large mortgage attached to it), giving up some luxuries like cable TV or eating out, and generally reducing my lifestyle to a point that I could sustain on a minimal income for a while. We really don't need much to live comfortably. Most of the modern conveniences we take for granted are luxuries. Could you live without the fancy cell phone with the expensive data plan? Could you live without the designer clothes? Could you live without the new car? Sure you could. You choose not to. Our culture seems to train us to think in terms of escalating economies. Work, make money, buy stuff, work more, make more money, buy better stuff, and the cycle perpetuates itself. Its hard to take a step back. We envision our future as an extension of who we are right now and what we have at the moment. So the internal dialog sounds something like, "If I work for x more years, I'll have my house paid off and then I can..." There are a million variations of that dialog as it relates to the size of your retirement account or the raise you are expecting, but it all pretty much assumes you will have the same income you have now or more. I started by putting a stop to that type of thinking.

Secondly, and more importantly, I set aside time every day to work on the things that would get me to my goal. Every journey begins with a single step and you follow it up with another step, and then another. Eventually all those steps get you to your destination. So I disciplined myself to work for an hour every day (or more if I had the time) to researching, studying, drawing, painting, etc. Those activities that would eventually get me where I want to go. Whether you take one step a day or a thousand is really up to you and what you are willing to sacrifice to do it. In the winter of 2008 those steps got me to a point where I could quit my job and paint full-time.

My new office:
"Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy. "

Kahlil Gibran

I'm not a commercially successful painter yet (which isn't all that important to me). However, I am painting every day with the intent of selling my work and I know I will get there. I once saw an interview with a woman who built a successful interior design company. She was asked what inspired her to start her company. She said she asked herself what would she do if she couldn't fail. Those words stuck with me.

When I announced my intentions to the people in my life, expectedly many responded with concern about what I was doing. The common thing I heard was in regards to the "big risk" I was taking. I don't see it as a risk. Quite the contrary. The conventional wisdom is you work hard, plan, save, invest, and then do what you want when you retire. I thought that way for a long time too. However, let's revisit the "life is short" thought for a moment. We will all die someday. The problem is that we don't know our expiration date. We can only estimate it based on family history and average lifespan figures. However, this estimation can be grossly wrong. We could live 20 years more than we expected or 20 years less. So we plan for the best case scenario - a long healthy life. So in the conventional way of thinking you tell yourself that you are doing what is unsatisfying now because it will get you the life you want later. In other words, you are gambling that you live long enough to reap the benefits of your sacrifice today. I'm living the life I dreamed of today. I sacrificed the things that weren't absolutely necessary to support it. So, I ask you, who is taking the risk?

Now, I don't have children and I probably never will, so I don't know how that would affect my thinking on the subject. However, I do know that if I had children, I would want them to become perfect versions of me - in attitude and in lifestyle. I suspect every parent feels the same way. I think we are all humble enough to know that we are not perfect and egotistical enough to think we are correct in our perspective of the world. So, I would want to teach them how to live the life they truly want and not simply how to make money, buy stuff, and lead safe, uninteresting lives. I don't know how I would teach them that (or have them believe me) without doing it myself. The absence of offspring is also the reason why such an intensely private person like myself is writing this blog. Without someone to teach my life lessons to, I decided to give the lessons I have learned in life to the world. Maybe it can help someone. If it does, it was worth it.

In the coming months I'll be posting a website dedicated to my paintings at http://www.jungfineart.com/. This blog will mainly be used to share my thoughts on life and art. I welcome your thoughts in return.


third2home said...

Let me be the first to say congratulations, Johnny. It's always refreshing to see someone with this view of life. It's definitely something I've been struggling with recently.

I'm glad things are working out for you. And the studio looks awesome.


Lacey said...

Johnny, I am so proud of you for stepping out and taking this risk. I knew from the minute you told me about this career change you would do an amazing job and make it work but what I did not expect was your willingness to share that with the world. I know I will learn so much from reading your blog and I really do hope it helps me find my way someday. I am just so happy for you Johnny and cant wait to come up and see you in July! ~Lacey

SlantedEyedH0NI said...

You're an inspiration. And I'm totally going to badger you until I get my graduation gift ^_______^

JEA said...

bro, that hit home for me. best of luck to you on your journey, i've had a similar one. the road can be lonely and the sacrifices can be large but i know you'll make it. i'll be reading your blogs, i think they'll help me stay centered and aware.

Jessica K. said...

I'm keeping my panties on in anticipation (won't dan be glad about that:-)...let me just say it is a privilege to know you and I am already amazed by your work. Can't wait to see more...

netty said...

I saw your painting in the portrait forum of wetcanvas, where I visit daily. Being very interested in your portrait I had to come and visit your blog page. Now I am even more curious after reading more .
You are inspiring and it is excitting to discover other people who live according to their inner longing, one which is cultivated by action, and lived through seeing a bigger picture.
It is wonderful what you have done, and I wish you great satisfaction in your journey.
I will be reading more :)
Like you I have such a desire in life.