To the Next Forty

In two weeks, I will be something I never thought I could ever accomplish: I will be a self-employed, entrepreneurial, full-time working artist.

So far, this has been the story of my career: I was born, I grew up, I began working for the college I graduated from, and now I’m 40.

The job has had its ups and downs. At first, it was great! I was barely 22 years old and it paid way more than minimum wage. I had student loans. The owners of the college took me to a fancy restaurant and didn’t so much as offer me the job as tell me what I was doing and expect me to start on Monday. I thought, why the hell not? I’m young; I don’t necessarily want to teach but I’ve done it in the past. Besides, I can try it for a year and if I don’t like it, I’ll move on and become a designer or a 3d artist or a writer. 

Well, that year turned into another, and another, and eventually my student loans were paid off (ironically, using wages whose primary source were the student loans of others) – and I was still there. More years went by, and my position at the company kept changing. I was integral to some parts of the business, building up their online learning management system and turning into a go-to person for other staff. I got to do design work. I was taken from the instructing staff and put into marketing, then back again.

That last “back again” began to take its toll on my emotional state. After 18 months student-free and in a semi-private office, they needed me in the instructor “bull-pen” again. As an introvert, that was hard enough. But also… I’m naturally empathetic and I can’t not try to fix a problem if I’m presented with it; working as an instructor for an online career college meant that I was constantly cajoling, cheerleading, and working with adult students who all had their own issues – often with various disabilities thrown in, because online colleges are easier for that demographic to access. I began to have this… feeling… in my chest, along with an uncharacteristic clenched fist, that it took me a long time to identify as anxiety. I had literally never felt such a thing, but the mental gymnastics of being not just an instructor, but very nearly a counselor, to a group of virtual strangers, was starting to pour over into my evenings, not just my days. My husband says I “disintegrated” during that last switch. My doctor prescribed a few things. I coped, and I adapted. The time kept trotting past me.

Eventually, I migrated back to a non-instructor role. It has been fantastic! Course development & research – meaningful work with tangible results. I got a private office again. With new regulations in place to learn and work towards fulfilling, I was satisfied at the end of every week. Several new and amended programs were built, and I’m proud of the curriculum and the work I’ve done. I think they’re excellent programs of study and wouldn’t change a thing.

But then, that work was nearly finished. I could feel a shift in the wind: the two programs I taught before I was pulled off into research & development had been let lapse because my research showed that we wouldn’t be able to make these into programs that fit into the new regulations. So I didn’t have any students or classes, but there was nothing else to be working on, either.  The instructors I’d left behind in my department were constantly struggling to keep up with the workload.

My anxiety started to grow again as the uncertainty of my position continued.

That shifting wind brought a storm. Not unexpected, but catastrophic to my status quo. I was told that I would indeed be shifted back to instructor this summer. I was rocked. I met with the doctor. I looked into disability. I freaked the fuck out, basically. I spoke to everyone I could, discussed options with my husband, looked into grants and funding and did budget math until my eyes crossed. And in the end, I told them no; I can’t do it. I gave my notice. We came to an agreement.

And the anxiety… disappeared.

If that wasn’t enough to prove that I made the right decision: last week I had to fill in for one of the instructors. The first few emails in my inbox made my hands start to clench. Then, I was asked to call a student with known issues, and I broke out into a cold sweat. I had an instant panic attack. Forty years old and I’m bawling my eyes out in my office (thankfully, there’s a door on this one), barely able to breathe in order to explain what was wrong and why I couldn’t make the call. Talk about confirmation that I can’t do that job anymore! Burnout city.

So, now what?

In two weeks, I begin my new life as a self-employed artist. There’s no salary in that new life, but there’s the possibility for near-infinite earnings if I just put in the time. I have over a decade of experience doing this just on weekends, and the numbers support the idea that if I had more time, I could make more money. But it’s not really about the money.

I’ll be able to accommodate my fibromyalgia. I can eat real food, not preserved lunch nonsense. I will never have to submit my poor body to daily ice scraping and shoveling and driving in the snow, ever again. I can have 30-second dance parties at any time during my work day. I can nap when I’m tired and quit when the work is done rather than trying to fit a quota of hours and someone else’s schedule. I can support my ebbs and flows, working into the night if that’s when my energy is, taking days off when required, going to the beach at 8am and eating on the deck and all the other perks to working for yourself. I can do craft shows four weekends in a row and actually get to rest in between. If I need to work ten days straight, I can, because I know there’s time on either side to recover. There will be time to take in workshops and friends and the short but gorgeous summer weather that a 40-hour week proscribes, and time to hole up in my studio through the long-ass winter being creative.

And: I get to do something that doesn’t ever, has never, felt like work and in fact is going to be mostly making beautiful things and sharing them with others.

Yeah, I’m a little nervous, especially as the final days are here; but I’m far more excited than afraid.

To the next forty years!


eatinghome made salsa
readingamerican gods
watchingthe ranch
makingjewellery for caper con
planningthe next six months
lovingthe countdown to freedom