I started college at the University of Illinois as a Russian major and finished as an English major (with a brief sojourn to San Francisco during my sophomore year in hopes of becoming a chef.) After graduating, I worked as a technical editor at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) writing computer manuals and interviewing scientists for articles. I had a great job that allowed me to travel, but I just “didn’t fit.” I was unhappy, and didn’t know how to find what would make me happy. My roommate was an engineering major and another friend was a speech pathologist. I used to “interview” them, trying to figure out how they KNEW what it was they wanted to be without ever waivering from that path. I always felt something was wrong with me that I didn’t have this knowledge—that I still felt like I was floundering. I knew I was smart, but I couldn’t find my “place.”
Many of my best friends were artists, and I remember thinking, I wished that I could start over and be an artist. Once, I sent a bunch of pages I had copied from a novel about artists in the 1920’s to a graphic designer friend, and she said, “you sent me all these pages, and you would have one word highlighted on a page—artist.” I would buy tons of magazines and books, but later would realize it was because I loved the illustrations and wanted to just study them. You see, my heart was trying to send me a message, but I still couldn’t—or wouldn’t hear it. I wrote constantly, so I thought perhaps that was the pathway I was supposed to take to the land of creativity. I had come across Natalie Goldberg in the 1980’s with her book, “Writing Down the Bones.” Later, when I found out that she also was a painter, and created crazy, off-kilter paintings, I thought to myself, that’s how I draw--I can do that! I always appreciated “fine art,” but nothing pulled at me like Outsider art or children’s art.
Remember when I said, the art rejections by others actually were a blessing in disguise? Well, I was so used to people not liking my stuff that I didn’t care anymore (well, at least not as much) if they didn’t like it—it no longer mattered. I knew my style of drawing and mixed-media paintings had its place in the world so I just made it. I didn’t worry if people liked it or not. I just put it out there more and more. In a sense, my life was changing as well--some friends were heading in a different direction than me and health issues forced me to scale back on tutoring Spanish and French. As a result, I found myself with more time to make art. I committed myself to buying a tent, being in shows, and painting and drawing as much as possible. I still remember one day when I was walking my dog, I stepped over a mud puddle, and the thought came to me: I never was successful or happy at all those other jobs, because that wasn’t who I was or the path I was meant to be on. I am an artist. I finally know my place in the world.
This post originally appeared on: I'm a Creative Late Bloomer Great stories on creative people!