I was eighteen, young and unaware of what the working world would look like, but I was supposed to know exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Strangely enough, I kind of did know what I wanted to do. Since I was a kid I enjoyed painting. And up until that point I was fortunate enough to travel and spend several inspiring years in Israel where I attended the American International School. My teacher, Mrs. Benveniste, Miss B to most of us, was one of those teachers you see in the movies – the kind that inspires students in a way that changes their lives, and makes them achieve things they never knew they could. With her encouragement, my parents’ support, and the unforgettable experiences that inspired me to paint, I knew what I liked to do, but if I were to declare a major, then it would have to make sense. It would have to be something practical. It would have to guarantee a job with a salary and health benefits. In other words, choosing art was not an option.
While I was curious about the mysterious prospects of life as a painting major, I was also content with the more practical route I took, a major in Graphic Design. My art was graphic anyway, and I had already thought about pursuing Graphic Design since as far back as middle school. So it did make sense. Along the way I would discover other interests. I minored in Religion, which I found fascinating. I even considered pursuing a PhD in Religious Studies. But, I stuck with Graphic Design, and eventually put away notions of becoming a painter or a professor of Religious Studies.
After graduating I eventually did find that job promised to me when I declared my major. And, honestly, I really enjoyed getting paid, and the ability to go out more and worry less. My working life and my social life were completely separate. For 8 hours of the day I worked and the rest of the time I did whatever I wanted to do. For someone in his mid twenties it was perfect. Eventually I was offered a higher paying job, and for the first time in my life I experienced the exciting dilemma of being wanted by two companies that valued my work, both urging me to choose them. After a week of contemplation, I accepted the new job and I enjoyed the stability of working for a company that had everything I could have asked for.
So, why would I have wanted anything different?
At some point you have to ask yourself, is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life? Is this what I am meant to do? Is this my calling? But then again, most people don’t expect their work to be their life’s purpose. Their life’s purpose is their family, their Faith, their activities and interests outside of work. And that was true for me as well. The things I cared about were outside the office. And working enabled me to afford to do the things that I wanted to do. This was the practical guideline that I followed. It led me to stability. It made sense. But, was it what I wanted to do twenty years from now?
My life took a major turn in 2011 when I decided that I would approach the company I worked for to ask if I could work remotely. I realized that I wanted to be free to travel, and since I was a web designer I could work anywhere with an Internet connection. The company agreed, and my new life began. I moved to Nosara, Costa Rica, and logged in each day of the week to do my job from home, or from a cafe with a wifi connection. I had an American salary while working from a beautiful beach town in paradise. And I chose a spot that would inspire the art I planned to do on the side. I even bought a giant duffel bag of art supplies to bring with me. Everything made sense.
And then I lost my job…
Eventually most people in the company would lose their jobs too. Somehow as soon as you make it to the top of the world something happens that changes everything. So there I was, stuck in a foreign land with no income, and completely unsure of what the future held. Was it time to come to terms with the fact that the perfect life I had built had come to a close? Was it time to do what society said I should do and quickly find another high paying job, even if it meant returning to the states? It was like I was back in my first year of college having to declare a major. Would I choose Art or Graphic Design? But unlike my first year of college, this decision seemed more critical. There was little room for error. There were even more expectations of where I was supposed to be in life. I was an adult. I had to be responsible.
But, this time, regardless of expectations, I did what society said I should not do. I chose Art. Despite the initial fear and anxiety that accompanied being let go from my job, it only took one day to turn things around in my own mind. I watched as one door closed, and in my heart and soul another door opened. This was my chance to do now what I had envisioned doing since I was a child. I would become a painter in a place that inspired me. I would spend my days focusing on art in Costa Rica.
It’s scary to choose to stop following the guidance of society. But I believed that I could succeed as an artist. I have even considered the possibility that I might struggle for several years before seeing this decision pay off. And right now I am in the midst of it all. I will have to make wise decisions along the way, but I think it’s worth taking risks as well. But however difficult this path may be, it is one that I believe in. And the reason I believe in it is because a world without the arts is a very boring world, and if every artist decided to spend his entire life following the advice of social standards and norms then our world would be far less colorful. If people decided to not take risks then we would have fewer heroes.
It’s not easy being an artist. But it’s also not easy being among artists who have never given themselves the chance to make the masterpiece they know is buried within them. And in order to make that masterpiece, artists have to fight just about everything to get there. Social standards, social expectations, and the appeal of a more comfortable life confront the artist every day. How can one choose a path that is notorious for failure? How can one choose to ignore the jobs that pay well. The artist responds with a different set of questions. How can one choose to do what he does not like? How can one choose money over love? How can we not recognize the reality that the work we do best is the work we enjoy most, and if one can succeed in his or her art, then what better result could there possibly be?
So, yes, I am choosing to do what society says I should not do. And I imagine many musicians, writers, actors and artists who we admire today chose to ignore the advice of society as well. I’m glad they pressed on. I’m glad they fought. And because of what they have left behind, they will be with us forever.