Recently I dropped out of art school, which is more or less the best decision I’ve ever made.
It all started when this crippling thought I’m sure every artist has experienced at one point or another, entered my head and refused to leave. “This is impractical, and you’re wasting your time and money.” Not only was the field I was about to enter unstable and competitive, I was beginning to come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t a part of the top 1% of creatives like I’d originally thought, at least not in the medium I was studying. Things I should have been doing, weren’t the same things I wanted to be doing. It was upsetting that something I’d considered my passion was being moved to the back burner, and even more sad that I was giving up.
What I didn’t know was that I was doing pretty much the opposite of giving up. Giving up would’ve been throwing in the towel and settling for something I knew wasn’t going to be fulfilling in the end. It’d would’ve been moving away from the big city I was so desperate to escape to in exchange for going back to the hellhole of a small town I was raised in.
Other thoughts began to present themselves as well. “Maybe if I start making myself do a photoshoot twice a week I’ll be happier.” “Maybe if I force myself to look at more photography in my free time It’ll intrigue me again.” “Maybe if I bring my camera everywhere I go, these feelings will eventually pass.” Not only did these things not work in the slightest, something I loved began to feel like a chore.
These thoughts plagued a lot of my first year of college, but the revelation hit me when I was lucky enough to get an internship as a photographer’s assistant. Without going into too many specifics, I saw a lot of myself in the person I was working for. He was the epitome of someone who just “liked” photography but put himself through four years of art school anyways. He wasn’t taking photos for magazines like he’d originally hoped, he was taking photos of cosmetics and clothes to pay the bills.
That brings me to my mom, who’s a dental hygienist. She likes her job. She doesn’t love it, but she doesn’t hate it either. Some days are really great, while others drag on in agony. At the end of the day, it’s work, and it pays the bills.
That was the revelation. The fact that both my boss, and my mom, are doing their job. They both make the money they need, and they both just like their jobs. Except my mom doesn’t need to clean teeth when she gets home. To become a successful photographer, you need to pursue personal projects outside the hours you spend retouching two hundred photos of the same sweater. That’s where the want is so important. The next big magazine photographer is going to look at other photography in line at the DMV unconsciously. They’re going to plan personal photo shoots in their free time, and bring their camera everywhere because the want to.
Whether you’ve already started college, or you have just a couple years of high school left, I urge you to evaluate these things and trust your instincts. If you spend your free time playing video games, that’s what you should go into. If you love running and borderline obsess over your diet, you’d make an excellent personal trainer or life coach. Not only would you be good at it, you’ll enjoy the journey of your career a lot more, and you’ll become leagues more successful than you would’ve doing something you just liked. I switched my focus to writing and couldn’t be happier. I’m excited to go to class again and what I’m doing in my free time almost always correlates to what I’m pursuing professionally. Find that thing for you, and I promise you’ll be surprised you didn’t think of it earlier.