Why I Ditched a Traditional Career for a More Creative Path
Caroline Kelso Zook is the author of Your Brightest Life Journal—a vibrant workbook that helps you discover your inner truths, unlock potential, and achieve success. Your brightest, most satisfying life rests in figuring out who you are and what you want…and acting on it!
Here, Caroline shares her journey from a typical nine to five job to a self-employed creative. Read on to hear how she did it!
I wasn’t always able to call myself an artist. In fact, this is a relatively new development for me.
I was always highly creative and curious as a kid, but as I grew up, I was told (both directly and indirectly) that pursuing a career as an artist probably wasn’t the best life strategy, not if I wanted to achieve the life that society deemed “successful.”
This word successful seemed to mean performing well in school, choosing a prestigious career path with high earning potential and climbing the corporate ladder—all things sure to garner enthusiastic nods of acceptance from friends and family at a backyard barbecue.
These unspoken rules are the reason I chose to start my career in advertising. I actually convinced myself that in choosing advertising, I could have the best of both worlds: I could stay connected to my inner artist doing work in a “creative field,” but maintain the illusion of success by managing prestigious clients and big budgets. This idea was great in theory, but it was terrible in practice.
What I didn’t account for was just how miserable it would feel to pursue someone else’s idea of success. What I had idealized as a creative job turned out to be endless meetings, spreadsheets, and pressure from clients on a daily basis. Every day that went by, my truest inner spirit—the one desperate to express myself creatively—became dimmer and dimmer.
Eventually I hit a point where I knew I couldn’t take one more step down a path that was so wrong for me. So I quit my job. It was my first big courageous decision to step toward the life I really wanted, not the one I thought was expected of me.
I found a more flexible role as a social media manager at a local marketing agency, but even that felt too close to the 9-to-5 world that I wanted nothing to do with. Ultimately I realized if I wanted total control over how I spent my days and full creative flexibility, I was going to have to design my own career from scratch.
That’s when I decided to start my own design business, Made Vibrant, in 2014. I had taught myself Photoshop on the side for years, and it was one skill I felt I could get paid for while I built up my portfolio. I won’t pretend I wasn’t terrified. Most days I felt like a fraud, and it took months to build my confidence. But, I was determined not to return to a job where someone else got to call the shots. Eventually I hit my stride, shifting my business from a service-based business doing branding design for clients to teaching online art classes. It felt amazing to connect with other people who just wanted to express themselves creatively. I learned that I had a passion for teaching others, and I enjoyed figuring things out as I went along and sharing the process with a community of like-minded creatives.
Since the inception of Made Vibrant, the business has taken many turns. Some of those have been business decisions in response to how I can keep the company profitable. But most of those pivots have come as a result of my own personal evolution and wanting to adapt the business to align with my values. The coolest part of creating your own career path is that you get to mold and shift things to fit your needs as you grow.
It’s not an easy road, and it may not fit with the traditional definition of successful that my childhood self was aiming for.
For me, now success means being able to wake up every day and live out my values, make my own schedule, and create the things I want to create. Success means living my brightest life, the one where I get to be the truest, freest version of who I am.
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Learn more from Caroline Kelso Zook with Your Brightest Life Journal—get a peek inside it here!
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