Changing careers: Why it’s not just about following your passion

Ana Yael

It starts with being very scared of what’s coming next.

That you don’t know what you’re doing. That you’re unsure whether things will work out the way you hope it would. The doubts that creep up around the edges, just when you think you have everything planned and under control. The butterflies in your stomach do double duty, and teeth grinding becomes a nightly affair. How your jaw clenches and your fist curls up into a ball when you think about what you’re going to do. It’s not fear – it’s enthusiasm. Or so you think.

When I left my full-time job eight years ago, that was me.

The decision didn’t come about after reading books that told me to go and find my passion. I don’t remember such books existed back then – the closest I got to was “What Colour is my Parachute?My journey was never one in pursuit of passion. It was one born out of curiosity. Finding my passion was merely a result of being extremely curious and doggedly persistent. Was I scared? Yes. Did I care? Not really – I was young, and I didn’t have much to lose. I was lucky. Looking back, I’m not sure if I have the courage to do it all over again.

I graduated with a landscape architecture degree – which took me four years to complete. I pushed that piece of paper right to the back of my bookshelves after I left university and entered the field of publishing. After climbing to the top of the proverbial ladder, I made the big leap and became a freelancer as I worked on Pikaland. Along the way, I tried out and learned a few things too – visual merchandising, copywriting, PR. I even learned how to sew when I couldn’t get a job, because I wanted to do something useful with my time. I didn’t know what I’d do with the skills and knowledge I’d amassed, but learning them meant that I could identify patterns through information that I’ve absorbed, and process it in a way that was unique to me.

If an older person saw how my real, actual CV looked like they would have choked on their coffee and have a heart attack right in front of the desk where they would have worked for 20 over years. They’d think I was scatterbrained, lacked focus, with no ambition or drive. They’d think I was crazy for jumping from one job to another while I had a professional degree stashed away in the corner, collecting dust.

But throughout it all, I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t know where I was going.

I wasn’t job hopping. I was meticulous – my moves were calculated and strategic. My intention was to absorb as much experience as I could, in careers that interested me in the very slightest. When I was an undergraduate, I would spend my time browsing books on art, physiology, and even cooking (besides spending a lot of time in the architecture section). I turned every job interview I had into a fact-finding mission. I made an appointment with a Pilates teacher in Singapore to talk to her about what it would be like to be one. I spoke to a florist and asked her what her job entailed. What their day would look like. What they wish they knew before they went headlong into it. I didn’t know them beforehand – I was just curious. I asked so many questions.

I belonged to an awkward time – when the internet was in its infancy and I still had my Nokia phone (anybody remembers how awesome the 3310 was?). Google was unheard of, and IRC and ICQ was the hottest thing online. Any information I had to go on came from books, newspapers, and magazines; and I knew it wasn’t enough. So I improvised. I looked for more. For information that didn’t come packaged up into nice, glossy pages. I was hungry for the truth. The bad. The good. I needed to hear them all. So I talked to whoever I could find, who didn’t mind answering the many questions I had.

It’s now 12 years since I’ve graduated from university and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have spent 8 of those years on Pikaland – a blog that I started because I was curious about illustration. It led me to many years of self-study into the process and ideation behind illustration and creative entrepreneurship, where I got to know many wonderful, talented people along the way. I started fun projects and ended some. I began to teach and it unearthed another passion that I didn’t realize I had. Life is funny that way.

I still need a reminder every now and then about pushing through the scary bits, even though it’s been many years since that first major one. Reliving how I emerge whole (not unscathed though) through the other side is a fun reminder of how far I’ve come and how much more growing I still need to do. Which is why when Communication Arts contacted me for an interview about my career trajectory, I was a little surprised. But as it turned out, I did have some great stories to tell, which you can read here.

If you’re thinking of changing careers, the best advice I can give you is to keep an open mind. Pikaland was possible only because I went out and tried to find myself. I was curious about everything, and especially where I fit in with the world. I made mistakes. I had breakthroughs. I made my own opportunities. I lost out on a few. It was hard. And while the fear remained, it was also very easy to say no when I felt that things weren’t right. I’ve said no to major job opportunities that would have meant going back to publishing (and beating myself about it when things were rough). I had a path to clear, and I couldn’t stop – I had to go forward. I pushed on until I could see that clearing, beckoning. To everyone else, it may seem as though I finally found what I was looking for all those years. But it wasn’t something that I found – it was an idea that grew wings of its own. Remember how I said I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t know where I was going? Well, I still don’t know where I’m going – but I’m still here, and I’m curious to find out.

In turn, I’d like to ask youhave you ever thought about changing careers? What does a perfect career look like to you? What’s stopping you from making the leap and what are your concerns when it comes to forging your own career path? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Illustration by Ana Yael

A reminder about growth, learning and taking small steps from Sarah K. Benning

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I was reacquainted with the work of Sarah K. Benning yesterday through Instagram, and I was floored. And you can see why. The subject matter at hand combined my two interests – gardening and craft in the beautiful, intricate embroideries that remind me a little bit of 8-bit pixel art (also my favourite). All three of my favourite things all rolled into one? Yowza.

It’s easy to think (and I can almost hear gasps going) – wow – her work is amazing. Her skill is amazing. OMG plants. I have plants. Why didn’t I think of that before?! And yet, hers is a journey that is familiar to a lot of artists out there. She didn’t start out doing the kind of embroideries that you now recognise as her handiwork, plastered all over blogs and magazines. Like everyone else, she started out by experimenting, and taking small steps.

I first knew about her work when she hand embroidered greeting cards and art cards and sold them on Etsy back in 2013:

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Her work evolved to include embroideries in hoops in 2014, and as you can see from her pictures below, her embroideries also started to evolve in intricacy:

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Towards the end of 2015, she started to experiment with more complex patterns in her embroidery, using her plants and cactuses as the main subject of her work:

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While Sarah is trained in fine arts, she is self-taught in the art of embroidery.

From her About page:

Originally from Baltimore, she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies.  Shortly after graduating in 2013, Sarah discovered her love for embroidery, a relaxing hobby she could enjoy while working as a full-time nanny. She approaches each piece as an illustration rather than a textile, often abandoning traditional stitches and techniques in favor of bold shapes, playful patterns, and contemporary subject matter.

Sarah’s embroideries often depict potted plants and her newest works position these potted gardens in interior spaces and pairs them with other textiles.  She approaches these pieces as illustrations, creating drawings in pencil directly onto the fabric before filling the image in with thread.  In this way, the thread become more like ink or paint than traditional embroidery, which accentuates the bold shapes, patterns, and color in the compositions.

While her earlier works (2013-2014) already showed a love of plants, cacti and landscapes, her continuous experimentation in embroidery has allowed her to be able to execute more intricate and detailed compositions, such as more recent ones below:

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It was gradual, and organic – as laid out in her FAQ page:

Where do you get your patterns and how do you transfer them to fabric?

I invent them! Drawing is a major part of my practice, so I keep sketchbooks of ideas, composition thumbnails, plant details, and textile diagrams to aid in the creating of my stitched works.  These sketches then come together as final designs by re-drawing them directly onto my fabric with pencil.  The under drawing gets completely covered up with the stitching.  This process allows for a lot of revision and experimentation before I get down to sewing.

What stitches do you use and how can I learn how to do this?

I don’t always adhere traditional embroidery stitches and techniques, thinking of the thread more like ink or paint and inventing or adapting stitches as I go.  The one common embroidery stitch I do use is the satin stitch, which is how I achieve the fields of color that create the foundation of each element in my compositions.  The final and most fun stage to every piece is the surface pattern that creates all the detail in the plants, textiles, and pots.

My advice to anyone wanting to learn is to go get the basic materials (hoop, fabric, thread, needle, scissors) and just start experimenting!  My work has evolved over the past 3 years and is my full-time job.  Believe me, I didn’t start out sewing complicated things.  Be patient with yourself and have fun!

It’s easy to look at an artist’s success and think that they knew what they were doing right from the start. Looking through Sarah’s work, I’m not sure if she had any inkling that her work would evolve to be where it is right now. But what I see is persistence, evolution and a constant challenging of her craft. Her love of subject is already apparent even in the beginning, and they run like threads interwoven in the fabric of her progression. They’ve always been there, and it’s exciting to see where her experimentation will take her.

You can purchase her work from website (they sell out fast!), and follow along her journey on Instagram.

[All images from Sarah’s Etsy, Instagram and website]

Hear me talk about the power of stories at AFCC!

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I’ve attended the Asian’s Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) every year for the past 2 years (see this post, and this post) for their excellent Writers and Illustrators conference – and I’m so thrilled to be there the third time this year. I’m doubly excited because instead of merely being a participant, I’m going to be a speaker this time round!

I’m going to be talking about the subject of story, and how this idea is central to artists who want to share their work with the world. As illustrators and artists, there is no better time than now to begin – no more waiting for gatekeepers or waiting for another client’s brief. Truly.

It’s a philosophy I teach on Work/Art/Play and I’m excited to be able to share it with the AFCC crowd.

The Writer’s and Illustrator’s conference within AFCC is happening from 3rd to 5th June 2015, at the National Library of Singapore and I hope to see you there!

For more information, head on over to the AFCC website.



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