Nine months ago, after being a teacher since I graduated from University, I decided to completely change my career. I have now gone in a completely different direction and have been put in charge of running an art gallery in my hometown.
I can’t believe how much happier I am in my new career — I feel like it suits me so much better as a person. I use a completely different part of my brain and I feel a huge reduction in stress, plus my income has significantly increased. This change was only possible because I have gone through quite a dramatic reassessment of my life goals; there were sacrifices I had to make and some reprogramming from my upbringing that I had to break through. I had to let go of so many ideals and life goals that were familiar to me to pursue who I feel I really am and what I really want out of life.
This is a breakdown of the thought process I went through in order to get where I am today — on a promising career path with less free time, but huge rewards both financially and spiritually.
The things I had to let go of
I grew up in a family of artists, and it meant that within that family, being an artist was the most meaningful thing you could do with your life. I am a creative person, but I would find trying to make a living as an artist too stressful — though I greatly admire people who are able to take such a brave risk. I tried to work only on my art, and I found two things. The first was that I didn’t produce creative work in greater volumes when I had more time; it is rather a natural byproduct of me living my life. The second is that despite what I’ve been told by creative people, it is a joy, but it is not enough. I am a middle-class, educated woman, and I refuse to put myself in a position of financial vulnerability for art when life has plopped me into an incredibly comfortable, opportunity-studded situation.
Of course, there are times when I will regret my decision, and I will also miss the encouragement. Family approval is addictive, and it can shape who you think you are supposed to be. I had to let go of the idea that I was an ethereal artist because, although I’m a creative, visual person, I’m also the offspring of scrappy immigrants, career progression and financial rewards are emotionally transcendent, and I find the structure of a traditional full-time job is very good for me mentally.
My new job requires gusto and self-confidence, I have to believe in myself and my potency in the workplace. Before I changed careers, I was in a relationship with a man who was quite critical of me and negative about life in general. I got the message that it was too late for us as 30-year-olds to do anything better with our lives. I was put into a box by him and by my own fears about my potential. I had to break out of the relationship and discover that I was stronger than I realized. I didn’t think I was the kind of person who could become an art dealer and gallery manager (impostor syndrome is real), but it turns out that although it’s a steep learning curve, I am a natural — and I should be proud of my achievements.
What stimulates me
When I was a little girl, I was an only child and I loved my toys. My mother told me that she used to organize my things on shelves because she had read in a parenting book that high-quality toys displayed beautifully made children take care of their things. I have always had good relationships with my family and friends and successful long-term relationships, but I never lost that bond with beautiful objects — they can have as much character and soul and personality as a fellow human. It sounds slightly unhinged, but it’s honestly the way I have felt about the world since childhood. I bond with the paintings on the wall. I miss them when they are taken down and I take great pleasure in finding the right owner for a piece. This drives me in my job, as I get such a kick out of sitting at my desk and seeing a visitor walk into my gallery and see their facial expression change as they start to fall in love with something. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my job, and what gets me out of bed on cold mornings — being part of the process of someone finding something beautiful they hang in their home and look at every day.
What I’m good at
In the process of changing careers, I had a very long think about what I’m good at and my assets in a workplace environment. I come from a large family, so I’m naturally very nurturing and empathic, I love being kind for no reason and looking after everybody (yup, Italian American Grandma would be proud, though my pasta sauce is only a third as good as hers). I am a visual person, and being around beautiful well-ordered places puts me in a good mood. I also like quiet, order and structure. Although I am introverted and enjoy at least an evening a week in bed watching movies and eating, I do enjoy spending time with people and getting to know them.
I didn’t follow my passion
I am passionate about a lot of things — I am passionate about cycling, food, stand-up comedy, writing, travel, languages, cultures, the welfare of teenage girls in my very underprivileged English town. In the process of my career change, I had the dawning realization that I don’t want to do what I’m passionate about for a living. My passions are mine, they are priceless, and they belong only to me. What I want to do as my job is something I am very good at and that I can make money from.
The people I’m around at my job
It’s strange that I actually went into teaching, because my confidence has been so damaged by education. I was a very distracted, daydreamy, slightly dishonest student, and teachers either loved me and thought I was going to be very successful or they thought I was a ditzy idiot. I think I went into teaching because I wanted to understand the environment I had struggled to find my self-worth in. I found my personality jarred terribly with some teachers — the ones who were type A, very meticulous, very good at their admin work and also extremely powerless, overworked and underpaid.
I was more of an empathic type B personality; I focused more on the kids I was teaching and relationships between staff members. I completed all my planning and marking the same as my coworkers, but it didn’t validate me in the same way. Consequently, my role in the workplace was a therapist/crisis diffuser. I had gone into the job because I liked teenagers and children, but I ended up looking after the other teachers. It was an impossible dance, me trying to keep the peace while other coworkers validated their intelligence by forming coups and trying to get people fired for incompetence that was measured by their own ever-changing standards. One minute I was being asked for a hug from a crying teacher, the next she was complaining about my teaching method to parents.
In my new job, I’m in charge of a peaceful gallery and there are problems (like our very beautiful but very leaky Edwardian roof), but the goal every day is simply to solve those problems and return the workspace to that peaceful environment.
I love that my job involves sales because it’s putting my ability to read people to good use, instead of noticing that one of the teachers came into work in a bad mood and figuring out how to diffuse it before they do something destructive. Now I read peoples style and mannerisms and learn about their lives and help find them a beautiful piece of art that they can look at every day in their home. As a teacher, I felt like my life was getting smaller and smaller. Now, I feel like good fortune is on my side, I see so many opportunities in front of me and a bright future, and I am genuinely excited about what life has in store for me.
Phoebe Prentice-Terry is a writer, art dealer, and survivor of David Cameron’s various experiments in human misery. She likes Gin and Tonics, French skincare products, and is most proud of her collection of Wolford bodysuits.
Image via Unsplash