Sometimes the best path to success lies in what you stop doing, not what you start doing
When your gut tells you it's time to pursue a different, more artistic future, listen - early and often. The more lead time you give yourself practically and emotionally, the faster you can spring into the actions necessary to enter your next chapter.
In a film that I wrote, one of the main characters is struggling upstream against a society that wants him to return to being “normal.” That’s just not going to work for him, though, because he has decided in midlife that he no longer wants to be a “corporate tool” and has chucked his MBA and his career aside to be a screenwriter. It isn’t an easy path, because the guarantees that came with conformity are gone, and the future is uncertain, both socially and financially. He may not know precisely where he is heading, but he does know what he doesn't want to do and be anymore, and that is his secret strength. It can be yours, too.
So how to get to a more artistic future for yourself? How about stopping doing the things that are leading you away from what you want? As the great management thinker Peter F. Drucker observed, a successful strategy can lie as much in what you STOP doing as what you start doing. If you aspire to being an artist or other kind of freer person, you can often be left without a road map for how to get to a future that may only appear as a hazy image in the distance. In making the leap, we are often left without the security we once had or the guidance of a mentor who understands what we are trying to do. Start by deciding who you don't want to be and what you don't want to do, and make baby steps in those areas.
I hope you can take some comfort in the idea that you don’t have to have a clear destination in mind to get where you are going. Often it is enough at first to understand what it is you no longer want to do. Doing a fearless inventory about what you no longer like about your current vocation can be a great first step. This doesn’t mean you need to start hating on your current job, but just remember that what was once a great job for you may now need to be a great job for someone else. That is totally cool, and is to be expected as we evolve and grow.
At the same time, consider what it is that you do like about your current work, because those things can point to important transferable skills that will smooth your transition to a new working life. For example, if you liked training new staff, but hated organizational politics and meetings, perhaps you will end up teaching people your art as a freelancer someday, while doing that art for your own satisfaction the rest of the time.
At some point, you probably will need to burn some bridges, close some doors, and eliminate some easy fall-backs and retreats. But this can be done politely and professionally. Understand, though, that when you have easy outs or a safe place to go back to, you probably will go back there, deferring your dream in the process. Try to be fearless, and make a leap. A friend of mine likes to invoke the Viking saying: “Burn the boats on the shore!” Having no retreat will force you to make it work. I’ve never met anyone who failed abjectly.
So here are some thought-provokers, questions and ideas for you to explore as you chart your course into the unknown:
Wishing you all the best in your journey! If you would like to work with me as a coach who deeply understands the transition to a more artistic life, please feel free to visit my coaching page and be in touch anytime. Burn the boats!
Robert David Duncan, award-winning director, actor, writer and producer with a passionate interest in art, storytelling and the whole amazing journey called life. Founder of Fat Punk Productions and Festival Director of the Miniature Film Festival.