I altered my entire life and career and it saved me
13th May 2017
Words by Laura La Rosa
Cover image by Kari Shea via Unsplash
Despite having a knack for art and writing in high school, being forced out of home quite young due to difficult family circumstances meant that I quickly learnt to survive through various office jobs. As a result I soon lost touch with my love for creativity.
Those early years of adulthood saw me swallowed up by the mainstream, living a lifestyle that placed peculiar significance on ‘having stuff’ and getting by on what society generally dubs as a ‘good job’. I considered creative folk to be an entirely different breed: inherently talented, two steps ahead with their steady foundations that equated to opportunity, and gloriously nonconforming and free-spirited. Basically everything that I was not.
At twenty years old I moved from the suburbs to the city and my 'creative' friends extended as far as a bunch of striving musicians whose presence often made me feel excessively structured and grotesquely corporate in contrast. I was not like them. I needed security and I needed real-life skills in the absence of talent; as well as a meticulous routine, enough sleep, and the assurance that my rent would be paid on time.
Some years later I eventually enrolled in design school despite my short-lived high school days being an embarrassing feat of near failure. And yes, you guessed it, my whole world expanded in more ways than I could ever have imagined. I was in my late twenties and suddenly I was living and breathing all things design and storytelling. I became the most conscientious part-time student, immersing my all in the history of media, film, and renowned design eras, with many late nights on top of full time work spent fumbling through Photoshop and InDesign. And never, ever did I miss a reading or a lecture. I was exhausted and exhilarated and I loved every minute of it.
"Some years later I eventually enrolled in design school despite my short-lived high school days being an embarrassing feat of near failure. And yes, you guessed it, my whole world expanded in more ways than I could ever have imagined."
It was a couple of years into my course before I would confidently own my craft. I’d denounce that I was "just a design student" and "not a designer yet”. I had a good grasp of composition and colour but I had not yet mastered adobe illustrator therefore I had not earned my stripes. Like many of my studying peers I felt like a hack, but I cared little about my mediocrity for I was learning and I had discovered a world of nineteenth and early twentieth century designers and artists whose narratives blew my little mind. I couldn’t not see remnants of them everywhere: the pioneers of the Swiss era in contemporary typefaces, nouveau inspired motif as I walked up Sydney’s Oxford Street; their legendary imprints are to be found in all things, from dwellings to packaging to conventional brand identity. Their traces, however, are ever exploited, re-purposed and grossly mass-produced into contemporary artefacts. Thankfully though, they are on the contrary closely studied, somewhat salvaged, and kept sacred by those quietly mourning and yearning for more of their legacy.
I became the most conscientious part-time student, immersing my all in the history of media, film, and renowned design eras, with many late nights on top of full time work spent fumbling through Photoshop and InDesign. And never, ever did I miss a reading or a lecture. I was exhausted and exhilarated and I loved every minute of it.
These late artists and designers left behind a trail of personal narratives that are marvellous if you care to uncover them. From nomads to close-knit societies that saw a culture of mentorship beyond that of a mere and superficial few months, resulting in decades of comradeship and movements where craftsmen would truly muse and challenge one another. Those late nights saw me happily delve into their private lives too, marvelling in the equal brilliance of their spouses who often led and paved ways through their own unique perseverance and works. Just like Frida and Diego but so many more like them. They’d co-exist but also knew all too well the true meaning of solitude in a way that none of us today truly do.
I recall a brief stint working in a small and toxic creative agency midway my degree. On paper it was a great job, in reality it was soul destroying. I worked as an account manager and would ride my bike from my Inner West share house into Surry Hills each day, bracing myself for another long stretch of defiant, miserable colleagues. Fuelled with caffeine and the previous night's readings, I’d ooze irritating eagerness amid a nicely decked out studio that had lovely plants, contemporary white walls, and a languishing air of disappointment and hate by all who occupied it.
"On paper it was a great job, in reality it was soul destroying. I worked as an account manager and would ride my bike from my Inner West share house into Surry Hills each day, bracing myself for another long stretch of defiant, miserable colleagues."
“Morning!” I’d sing, as I’d take off my helmet and log on for the day, riding on the back of whatever latest tertiary-derived discovery that was bubbling around in my subconscious. My colleagues would respond with a forced muffle that sounded more like detest if it had a patented onomatopoeia. By mid-morning, my coffee and enthusiasm would begin to wear slightly, but I’d insist I could keep it alive until 5pm. At lunch time I'd escape to the local park, armed with Rainer Rilke and Spotify in hand. Fuck them, I’d think. They aren’t bursting my bubble.
After what was less than a year, when it became apparent that enthusiasm and happiness in that environment got you nowhere, I left and began the beginnings of a freelance career. I'm in the final stretch of my degree now and I'm working through it with the same level of heart as when I began. Prior to enrolling I had an array of Microsoft and people skills, now a few years later and I feel like a vastly different person with a broader sense of where I want to go with my work. I often compare the beauty of learning and creating with that of the pure joy of owning a dog - knowing I have the rest of my life to immerse myself in and enjoy such things gives me an evolving and ever enriching sense of self and purpose. Until a few years ago I did not know this feeling, this array of sensory wonder even existed. I certainly didn’t know it could be mine.
The moral of this story - should there need to be one - is that if you want to do something then fucking well do it. If you’re miserable in your job, or you have a taste for something then tinker with it, or better, throw yourself into it. Excuses not to and imagined barriers not only do not cut it, but they are usually myths you concocted instead of owning the fact that you truly want to do or be something.
If you long for it, then it’s yours. It’s that simple.
Yes, it requires an arguable level of privilege, some struggle, and copious amounts of hustle to pursue something outside the capitalist norm (a norm that society insists on making more accessible and admirable than any other route). It might mean sacrificing some sleep and throwing yourself into a state of ‘I can’t possibly do this’ for a while. And you will have to shift a significant amount of your social life, or family time. But what you want is there for the taking and doing. And frankly, we will all be dead soon so go and chase your dreams and annoy the hell out of your colleagues with it in the meantime.