Today I wanted to reflect on taking detours in life. As you may know, I started dabbling in creative stuff a little over 5 years ago in my early 30s. I opened my first Etsy shop selling crocheted wares in 2010, but I treated it as a hobby for the first few years.
Meanwhile, I was working full-time at a non-profit social service organization as a program manager. Work was rewarding and also challenging. I had been there for almost 10 years, and although I was able to keep things fresh by moving to different positions and taking on different responsibilities, I started wondering about my future and what other career options I might have. I had worked for the same organization for all of my career and just wanted to try something different. Something less stressful and with more money would’ve been nice, I thought.
I knew what I needed was to gain practical skills that built on what I was already good at. I did some brainstorming and thought becoming a Japanese/English Interpreter/Translator might be a good fit. I have the language skill and had done informal interpretation and translation for our clients before, so why not? There was a certificate course offered at a local college near I used to work, and I had a friend who was going through the program at the time, so I talked to her about it and decided to enroll.
If you took this certificate course full-time, you would finish the required courses in a year. But Since I had a full-time job, I took one or two classes at a time. So it took me a little longer to finish. I enjoyed being back in school. There is something about having a schedule and place to be and be in the “learning” mode on a regular basis. I enjoy reading articles or taking webinars, but I find in-person hands-on learning to be the most effective format for acquiring new skills.
Anyway, the program was great, and I was learning a ton about professional practice of language interpretation and translation. I made new friends, and that was a lot of fun, too.
About midway through the program, or maybe it was more towards the end, I started having a feeling that it might not be what I wanted to do for a living. It just didn’t seem like a “fit” for me. I was doing well in class but wasn’t excited about it. I would dread and put off doing the homework until the last minute. It was painful to have to go back and edit my translation work over and over again. And the thought of becoming an interpreter and the responsibility and spontaneity of the interpretation work made me anxious. Like anything else, I’m sure things would become easier with more experience, but I’m a think-before-doing kind of person, so being in a position to think and act on your feet all the time seemed super stressful. I completed all the required courses but opted out from the second year program after that.
While I was having doubts about my future as a language interpreter/translator, I started looking into other career opportunities. Around that time, I was becoming more serious about pursuing my creative interests. I was getting a little tired of crocheting products then and was rediscovering my childhood love of drawing. Drawing and illustration seemed to have more potential for business growth, or at least it seemed more straight forward to me than having a handmade product-based business.
But how could I become a full-time artist? I didn’t have a degree or formal training in art. I thought being a successful artist was reserved for only the most talented and the privileged.
After having another brainstorm session (yes, I like to brainstorm :)), I thought, I could be a Graphic Designer! Graphic design seemed like a good, employable skill to have, and you also use your creativity in design process. What a perfect combination! Excited, I enrolled myself in the Graphic Design Certificate course at the same college I was working on the Interpretation/Translation Certificate. I overlapped being in two programs until I finished the first year courses for the language program.
Again, I totally enjoyed being in classes and learning new skills. All of the instructors were working professionals, and I loved hearing their real life stories.
And then, the little voice in my head started talking to me again. “This might help you get out of your current situation, but is this going to make you happy?”
I was creating a bunch of new illustration work for my design assignments, and that was the fun part. When we present our work to the class, I knew mine looked different than most other students’. When it came to doing the actual design work (i.e. “making something look good and functional” in a nut shell.), my heart wasn’t really in it. I just wanted to be drawing more.
I still finished the program after a few years, and on my very last portfolio review class, my instructor recognized my passion for illustration and suggested I pursue what I truly loved rather than graphic design. I felt so free. Finally, I knew, like I really knew, that I didn’t want to compromise any more and decided to give my 100% to pursuing art.
When I share this story with people, some people are surprised and tell me “It took you that long to figure it out??” I understand where they’re coming from, I guess. Yes I invested a lot of time and money into getting the education and training in the fields I chose not to pursue. It might seem wasteful to others. What if I’d started pursuing art more seriously 5 years ago? Maybe I would be further ahead in the game by now. I get it. But I don’t think it was a waste at all! In fact, I gained SO MUCH from it!
First of all, it fulfilled my needs to learn new things and grow. Much of what I learned is totally relevant to what I do today.
For instance, the interpretation/translation program challenged me to think differently about communication. A lot of people think, if you speak multiple languages, you have the natural ability to interpret or translate effortlessly, but it’s SO false! Taking in sometimes very complex information in one language and putting it out accurately and in a culturally relevant way in another language is no easy feat. It goes way beyond just knowing the languages literally and takes deep understanding and appreciation for cultures and history. Do you ever use online translation tools, like Google translate? Maybe it kinda works sometimes for some languages, but it usually returns very confusing and often hilarious results. As a relationship-driven person, I appreciate knowing how artful and thoughtful language communication really is.
Many things I learned through the Graphic Design program are obviously super relevant to my art career today. Knowing the design principles is very helpful in putting together effective and aesthetically pleasing visual materials. And of course, knowing how to use a software, like Photoshop and Illustrator, is critical in my day-to-day work.
I also want to mention that I made a conscious decision to choose options that wouldn’t require me to get a loan and go in to debt. So when it was all said and done, I was not in the red. And my busy schedule forced me to be more efficient, and I learned to juggle school work and full-time job for a few years. In my “detours,” I made new friends and developed relationships with mentors. You really can’t put a price on relationships that add so much to life!
I have absolutely no regrets about taking the long way to figure out what I wanted to do. I’m actually happy that I took some detours. Making the choice to pursue my passion after having some life experience and trying out different options helped to confirm that I’m on the right path. Choosing your passion and switching a career later in life takes a lot of courage. Maybe 10 years from now, I might have a totally different path again! You never know 🙂
If you took many detours in life, or if you don’t know what your path is yet, don’t worry – nothing in life is wasted. What you do today still counts 🙂