Recently, I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert talking on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday podcast, and what she had to say really struck a chord with me.
She spoke about how near the beginning of her speaking career she had often talked about 'Passion' and how it was so important to always follow your passion in order to live a fulfilling life. I won't go into too much detail in case you would like to listen to it yourself (the link is above) but the gist is that someone made her realise that telling everyone to 'follow their passion' isn't always helpful - we are all very different people and some people just don't know exactly what their passion is.
Elizabeth realised that she'd been excluding many people from the advice she was giving, she realised that for her it had always been easy, she had just known that she wanted to be a writer and had thrown herself full force into that.
But what happens when you just aren't sure? What happens when you're interested in lots of things? Maybe any one of them could be your passion. Maybe none of them are. Maybe all of them are.
I realised that this is exactly my experience of the world. I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up, I've always been interested in so many things. I was (am) naturally curious and, thank god, I did indeed follow my curiosity wherever it wanted to lead me.
For me, it was never simple, and I sometimes thought there was something wrong with me. Why couldn't I just choose one thing? Was I just being awkward?
I liked drawing, and music, and writing. The three things felt very different to me when I was little, but held almost equal weight. I would flit between wanting to write books, to wanting to be a famous singer, to wanting to be a celebrated artist - clearly I've always been quite confident in myself...😂 why not aim for the sky?!
I realise now that 'creativity' is what links all of these three things. I'm creative, I needed a creative career. Everything I do needs to have this backbone of creativity in order for me to feel fulfilled, so the three things aren't all that far apart, they all involve some similar thought processes.
When I left school, I just couldn't figure out which path to take. It felt like there should be a route that someone could show me that would lead to the right place, it should be straight and I should be able to see my future in the distance, and when I got there I would be happy.
Yet another thing that society teaches us that couldn't be further from what life is really like - let's leave that for a whole different blog post though.
I listened to people tell me that music wasn't an option and nor was art. It wouldn't be very easy to make money, and so I should choose the most sensible option from the three things I liked.
I listened to people who had a completely different experience of the world to me, both in the sense of skills and talents, and in terms of their generation. And of course I trusted them.
I hit (what felt like) rock bottom at 18 and from then on trusted my intuition. I tried things, I failed at things, I did well at things and let them go. I never again let my head rule over my heart, and I know I am privileged to be able to say that, but it's my truth.
Here's what my long and winding curiosity path looked like. Be warned, it is extremely long, but I've been reflecting on it recently and I really want to illustrate that each and every step along the way has taught me something valuable.
Sometimes an event that didn't feel related to my career had a knock on effect to steer me into a different direction. It all works together to build my skills and experiences into what feels like the perfect mix for the business I now own.
My Curiosity Path
Summer 2005 - left school having learnt to play the guitar and scored highest in my Art and Music GCSE exams
Autumn 2005 - studied English Language, Sociology, and Psychology at college
Summer 2006 - failed every exam except English Language
Autumn 2006 - studied 2nd year English Language, 1st year Media Studies, and 1st year Music Technology
Summer 2007 - passed all three exams with enough points to progress to University. This possibly should have given me some clues that the less 'academic' subjects might have been a better way for me to go
Autumn 2007 - started a Journalism degree at University 🤦♀️
Late Autumn 2007 - realised I hated my course and tried to change to an English Language degree, got rejected.
Winter 2007 - Buried my head in the sand. Became part of the music scene in the town I was studying in and started playing gigs with other local musicians and stopped going to lectures. Thought I might be able to start a Music degree the following year but I was in a bad mental place and wasn't sure if I could follow through. I spent all my money from student loans (it wasn't really enough to live on and I didn't get anything off my parents). I couldn't even pay my rent. I had no job, less than no money, and quickly realised I needed to move back home.
Christmas 2007 - Quit Uni and moved back home feeling like a complete failure. Looking back this really feels like the lowest point in my life. Within the space of a few months I realised I'd made a terrible decision and wasted so much money that wasn't even mine on tuition fees and living costs for a degree course that had just felt completely and utterly wrong from day one.
January 2008 - It's funny how hitting rock bottom (I'm aware this is all relative) really kind of resets things. Ok so I owed a load of money and had to live at home again. I was only 18, I knew I had my whole life ahead of me. It was the pivotal moment where I decided I was going to do what felt right for me from now on rather than only listening to other peoples advice. I think it's what we can refer to as growing up!
February 2008 - Still had the small problem of not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I waitressed. I was awful. Carried on playing gigs in my hometown secretly hoping I would be discovered by a record label but secretly knowing I was a little too shy for that life.
Summer 2008 - Got a job in an office, thankfully they didn't need someone with experience. I excelled in this job! Attention to detail was a must, it was all about minimising fraud in cheque cashing, it felt a little thrilling to doing something that really mattered. I realised that I could excel at something other than singing. I realised I was good at analysing data and problem solving. This gave me back a lot of confidence. I was still living at home because I didn't earn all that much, but I didn't feel like a failure any more.
Winter 2008 - Joined a band because I was curious about what that would be like, we did gigs across the country and it was great fun.
Spring 2009 - Started to think maybe I was ready to do something creative, I wasn't completely satisfied with my job. I didn't feel like I'd be able to do it forever and be happy. I was curious about Art again, I'd been doodling and making collages in my spare time and I began to love this creative process. Continued to play in the band.
Summer 2009 - Got rejected for an Art & Design degree in Manchester. Was disappointed but it didn't phase me much, I knew there were many other Uni's to apply to. My confidence was growing.
Autumn 2009 - Started a Foundation Art Degree in my home town so I could stay living at home and save money. This was a great decision and one I'm proud of. The foundation degree allowed me to experience a range of different art disciplines and choose one or more that felt right for me. Genius!
Winter 2009 - Got kicked out of the band without much warning or explanation. Confidence knocked again, but it taught me a lot about rejection and how to move on from that.
Spring 2010 - Jewellery design & silversmithing was a module in my Foundation degree, and I loved it from the moment I stepped foot in the workshop. I felt like I'd found another passion right there and then, and designing and making jewellery, things that actually had a function over and above being nice to look at felt like something that I could do for a living. I realised that any art I made needed to have a purpose. I still loved art that was made predominantly to look at and display on the wall. But that wasn't the type of art that I could excel at.
Autumn 2010 - Chose Jewellery design & silversmithing as my specialism and progressed on to the second year of an Applied Arts degree. I continued to work in the office role part time throughout my time at Uni, and I also worked in a pub on Friday nights behind the bar and ran an open mic night just for fun. This was an extremely fun period of my life where I felt like I was working towards something bigger and I was relatively happy still living at home.
Summer 2012 - Exhibited with a selected few students at New Designers show in London and got more exhibitions off the back of that first one.
Autumn 2012 - Graduated with a 2:1 in Art & Design with a specialism in Jewellery Design & Silversmithing. Continued to work at the office job (now full time) and continued to gain exhibitions and sell my work at shops across the UK. I was making the collections in the evenings and at weekends and I loved it, but I also hadn't realised how difficult it would be to actually make a large enough profit to be able to quit my day job. I was still living at home.
Summer 2013 - I started to feel a little hopeless, I was trying to sell my work at craft fairs as well as in shops and at exhibitions, but I just didn't have enough money coming in from it. In hindsight I probably wasn't charging enough for my work and I would change some things if I could go back and redo it all.
Autumn 2013 - Decided to change things in my personal life, boyfriend wise - I was not meeting the right people in my day-to-day life. I was curious about online dating and so I took the plunge and within a few 'dates' I found a keeper (who is now my husband!!).
Spring 2014 - Decided a sidestep in the job department might give me a new lease of life career wise. Through an old school friend of my boyfriend (now husband) I got an interview for a business administration job at a recruitment company. Moved in with Kieron and started to learn to drive.
Summer 2014 - I began to feel a bit more powerful and realised that I had more power over my situation and my life than I used to think I did. In my role at the recruitment company I started to help out with any extra tasks that I could to keep things interesting, I helped put some processes and procedures in place, they were a relatively new company and a lot of this stuff was not standardised. I realised I had a bit of a head for business and I was helping out with some things that were really above my pay grade.
Autumn 2014 - The recruitment company had opened up their own in-house marketing team where the old school friend of my husband worked as the marketing manager. I'd become friendly with her and she didn't have enough staff. I said I was interested in helping because I knew it was creative work and I was super curious about all the work they did - social media, email marketing, graphic design!!!
Winter 2014 - I transferred over from the business admin dept to the marketing team! It was as simple as the marketing manager asking to have me, the boss was already impressed with me because I'd thrown myself into any tasks that I could help him with. No interview needed, no experience needed. I was well and truly thrown in at the deep end and started to take on all the graphic design work because I found I grasped all the software quite quickly.
Spring 2015 - My job title was changed to Graphic Designer. I still find this ironic because I had declined to do the Graphic Design module in my Foundation Art Degree...it's weird how things work out.
Autumn 2015 - The marketing manager went on Maternity leave and I was expected to take on some tasks I really didn't want to with more responsibility but no pay rise. The directors of the company changed and I didn't get on with them or agree with the way they were running things.
Spring 2016 - I became really miserable at work, so after Kieron and I got married in April 2016 we decided I could quit my job. I knew there was freelance graphic design work available and as I had recently passed my driving test I could get about a bit easier to different places.
Summer 2016 - I worked freelance at a few places here and there and started selling art I'd created at craft fairs under the business name of Lemon & Birch - I seemed to forget the epiphany I'd had about creating work with a function. This was the second rather dark period, I was definitely happy in my personal life as I'd just married my best friend, but work was suddenly the unknown again. Navigating freelance working and having to go into new workplaces a lot brought on some anxiety for me, I definitely felt like a bit of an imposter because I didn't have all that much experience. People were always happy with the work I was creating though so I knew I needed to keep plugging away.
Autumn 2016 - I found some long term freelance work through one of the design agencies I'd spent a couple of days at, so I was now working full-time but was still classed as self-employed and this suited me really well. I had to do my own finances and taxes etc and if I ever needed time off it was really flexible.
Winter 2016 - I created a flyer to hand out at the craft fairs I was still selling my artwork at. The flyer was offering graphic design services like logo design, flyer design etc to small businesses - I was curious about whether I could gain my own clients to work directly with me. A chocolate maker that had also been selling her products at the craft fair took my flyer and became my first logo design client! I created some work for free for a few local charities and events which was helpful for word-of-mouth in my local area.
Spring 2017 - I started gaining a few more private graphic design clients and I realised I loved the branding portion of the work. I had loved working on the branding back when I was employed, but I loved it even more for these smaller businesses. I pivoted Lemon & Birch to be purely a brand design business. I was still freelancing full time and working for my own clients in the evenings and weekends. I gained clients from all sorts of places like Facebook Groups, 99designs, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Winter 2017 - I loved what I was doing for my business, but I was constantly working and I was finally actually making some profit off my own back.
Spring 2018 - I made the decision to say goodbye to the freelance work and focus solely on my client work. This was a super hard year building Lemon & Birch up more. I was constantly tweaking my website, my marketing, and my design process (I still am today) - and I'd also never felt so alive and fulfilled!
Fast forward to now, Summer 2019. My business is growing because I try not to stop working on it as well as in it. All the experiences I've had in my life have helped me to build things to where they are - problem solving, analysis, business admin, and of course all the creative things I have done. It all adds up and this business would not be the same without all of that. My projected income for this year has finally hit the same level as it was at when I was employed which I feel is a massive achievement.
Make peace with the journey
I'm sharing all of this with you so that you know it's ok if you still don't know exactly what you want to do with your life. Know that your passion and focus in life can change. It's ok if what you're doing right now doesn't feel like it is forever. You are learning all the time and every experience you have moulds you.
It's ok. Let those expectations go.
In this day and age when everything is so fickle and changeable, where new jobs get made and new technology makes old jobs redundant, it's ok to not have just one passion. In fact, it's probably preferable for the future.
At the moment, my passion is brand design, but that might not be what my business looks like forever. The fact that I am naturally curious and interested in many other things too means that I can evolve my business and be agile as the world changes.
So, my friend, stay curious.
Take that craft class because it sounds interesting. Learn how to use that DSLR camera that's hiding in a cupboard somewhere. Take that extended trip round America or Asia, or just take time off to think.
These are the seemingly unlinked decisions that lead us to the next stage of our lives. They all form part of our journey and you never know what path will open up when you take curiosity by the hand and let it guide you.