07 Mar Why it’s ok to be lost
Some people seem to have everything figured out. We’ve all heard interviews with pop stars who saw someone on the TV when they were 3 years old and knew that was what they wanted to do for the rest of their life. And we all went to school with someone that said they were going to be a doctor, lawyer, fireman or whatever and; lo and behold…
But for the rest of us, not having it all figured out can be frustrating and bewildering. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves and that is compounded when those close to us say things like; “When I was your age I was married, with a mortgage!” Sorry Mum, but the world is a different place now. I didn’t start getting my shit together until I was around 27 and I know a bunch of successful people for whom it was even later. Mary Schmich, is the author of one of my favourite pieces of writing, called; ‘Advice, like youth, is probably wasted on the young’. In the piece (which you may have also heard in Baz Lurman’s song ‘Sunscreen’) Schmich explains why you should wear sunscreen, because; “the long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience.” We can only give advice based on our experience and the experience for most in older generations was to pick a profession at a young age and, well, that was that. This means they’ll prescribe a journey for you that mirrors their own. In *my* experience it is okay to be lost and it is okay to not know what you’re doing with your life. I know that it feels like there’s a giant ticking clock looming over you, but relax, you have time.
Going Through The Motions
Before age 27 I walked a ‘normal’ path. Doing what was expected, doing what everyone else does. I was going to be a primary school teacher because I was always going to be a primary school teacher. My parents were foster carers and growing up I had always looked after the younger ones. I was told I have a ‘gift’ with children, I’m still told it now, I don’t, I’m just really patient. Anyway, when you grow up believing you have a ‘gift’ your path is fairly obvious. So I started taking the steps; you can’t teach without a degree, so I decided to go to university. I’m so glad I went, not because of any great knowledge I acquired, or massive partying, or a piece of paper at the end of it all. I’m glad I went because at uni I became a tattoo artist. How it all happened is a story for another time but being around the tattoo industry made me realise I could be creative for a living. Working in schools I enjoyed helping the kids, but I saw how handcuffed to paperwork the teachers were. In this world I was surrounded by entrepreneurs, (although none of them would describe themselves that way) who were living on their terms, self-employed and making art. It was intoxicating. I tattooed from a shop started by former carpenter and awesome artist Mark Reed. Mark started as a chippie by day, tattooing friends in his bedroom by night until taking the plunge and starting his own studio. Hearing his story was the first time my eyes were opened to the possibility of doing something different from a standard career path. After 3 years studying under Mark’s tutelage I no longer felt lost, I knew I wanted to make art full-time.
I think I had felt lost up until that point because I didn’t have any control. I was wandering through life, ticking boxes. The things that sparked an interest with me, that made me happy were ‘hobbies’, that weren’t really treated with much importance by others. I hadn’t found what I wanted to do with my life, only what I thought I *should* do and it’s only with hindsight that I realise how unhappy this made me.
I’ve been asked in two interviews recently, what advice I would give to my younger self. It’s a tricky question but after a lot of reflection, I think my lack of clarity was my biggest problem a decade ago. Knowing that I got there eventually, I guess I wouldn’t try and change anything, I’d just try and speed myself up a little bit! So here’s what I’d say to young David;
This feeling won’t last forever. Try not to drift too much, with no real purpose and actively try to find your path. You can do this by exploring the things that excite you, the things that make you happy. When you find those things; do them more. You’re scared to spend time on the stuff you love because you feel an intense pressure to fit in and conform with tradition, but I know that’s the last thing you want to do. Humans are pack animals and when they see a behaviour that doesn’t fit with the group they’ll try subtle corrections to bring you back in line. Ignore them.
If you’re on a path that is set out for you by the expectations of others or that’s in pursuit of a paycheque you won’t find fulfilment. Working out what you want to do with your life, or at least for the next decade is a big decision but not a permanent one. You can pivot at any point, you can learn new skills, you can change career. Look for the things that make you happy and do them more. You have time. Work really hard and everything will be amazing in the end. It may not seem like it now, but all the hours you spend being creative are going to pay off, you actually turn into one hell of an artist. Oh, and avoid that girl with the bleach blonde hair, she’s nothing but trouble. Hey, are you listening……….?