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How I completly changed my career path and became a graphic designer

I used to wake up each weekday morning with a sense of dread. Another 1 hour commute. Another 8 hours of mind-numbingly boring work. Another 1 hour commute again. Another evening that I couldn’t enjoy because I was already dreading the next day.

For all intensive purposes, I was “living the dream”. I had a family, a mortgage, an expensive car, a career, a secure 9-5 job that paid well. I had everything that I thought I’d ever wanted. But I was MISERABLE.

There was nothing particularly wrong with my life. My job was boring but it wasn’t awful. I just couldn’t shake this overwhelming feeling that surely there had to be more to life than repeating that same unfulfilling week over and over again for 40+ years. My workmates were just as unhappy as I was. The older ones absolutely hated their lives, and I was following the exact same path that they had. I felt like I was seeing my future and it terrified me.

The turning point came when I was 24 years old. It was the week before I was supposed to start a 5 year accounting course. I hated accounting, but completing the course meant that I’d be paid twice as much for the job that I was already doing, and I’d have regular paid time off work to study and do assignments. Three nights a week I’d have to race home from work, pick up my car and drive another hour to get to uni, but I kept telling myself it wouldn’t be so bad. On paper, it was the best decision I’d ever made. But my heart was begging me not to do it. 

For many years I’d wanted to be a freelance graphic designer. As soon I finished high school I started to study a Bachelor of Arts majoring in graphic design & marketing, but I hated the design subjects (mostly just art history and basic Photoshop skills that I’d already taught myself!) so I decided to change my majors to journalism and creativity writing. After I finished my course I discovered that it was going to be near impossible for me to get a journalism job at the time, so I started to work lots of crazy jobs and eventually found myself working in Accounts Receivable.

I found working in accounts to be incredibly boring, and I still really wanted to be a graphic designer. I had an entire draw full of brochures for graphic design courses, but it just wasn’t practical. I couldn’t juggle full time work and study and all my other commitments without the support of my workplace, and an entry level design job wasn’t going to pay my mortgage. But day one of my accounting course started to get close and closer, and the overwhelming sense of dread that I carried with me almost constantly became so overwhelming I felt like I was going to suffocate. I voice in my head told me that I had to go online and have another look at design courses. I discovered that a 2 year part time design course was just about to start in the evenings, at a TAFE a mere 5 minute walk from my workplace.

My partner didn’t support me, my friends didn’t support me, my workplace didn’t support me – even I didn’t support me. People told me I was I was completely nuts for throwing away a promising accounting career. They told me I was too old to change careers (I was only 24!), they told me that the design industry was too competitive and I’d never make it. But I listened to my heart and I enrolled in the Diploma of Graphic Design anyway.

This time around I absolutely loved studying graphic design. I’d always struggled academically, but I breezed through the course, getting top marks easily. Halfway through the course I discovered that the evening classes were going to be cancelled due to a lack of enrollment, so in order to complete my Diploma I’d have to study during the day. This meant that I’d have to quit my job, which just wasn’t an option. After the GFC hit, I was one of the very few people that had managed to hold onto their jobs, while 60% of people at my workplace had been fired. I was covering three people’s jobs, so working part time was not an option. I couldn’t possibly quit a well paying, secure job to chase a dream that in all likelihood I wasn’t going to achieve!

But once again, even thought it was an extremely difficult thing for me to do, I listened to my heart. I quit my job and started to study full time while living off my annual leave payout and savings. Thanks to my previous hospitality experience, I was able to find a job working nights at a pizza shop. I hated the job, and it paid half of what I’d been previously earning, but it meant that my days were free to study and attend classes, so I had no regrets. I was also doing volunteer design & admin work, which enabled me to start getting freelance design work through word of mouth. I was so happy.

And then my partner was fired.

And then I was fired.

We started powering through our savings and I was terrified. I needed to find another job and I needed to find one FAST. It’s generally impossible to get a graphic design job without at least a Diploma level qualification and a really good portfolio, and I didn’t have either, but I started to apply for every entry-level graphic design I could find anyway.

And then I got my first graphic design job interview! I was thrilled!

I went to the interview and it was a disaster. I was so nervous I couldn’t stop shaking, and I fumbled over the interview questions. My portfolio was awful (looking back at it now I cringe!). The interviewers told me that it needed work, but they could see that I had potential. I thought that there was no way that I’d actually get the job.

But I did!

My First Graphic Design JobMy bosses were keen for me to keep studying, so they were happy to work around my school timetable. Being a part-time entry-level design job, the pay was terrible, but I didn’t care. I was lucky enough to land another part time job working as a lighting technician at a night club, which paid even better than my so called “great paying” accounts job. My partner got a new job too, and we were able to pay our mortgage again.

Time passed and I finished my Diploma and began working as a full time Graphic & Web Designer at the same agency. The years passed and I continued to work for design agencies while also freelancing. I now freelance full time under my graphic design business Flik Graphic Design. Becoming a graphic designer was the best decision I’ve ever made. That feeling of dread and long gone, and I have a job and life that I love!

How you ever listened to your heart and made a DRASTIC life change? Let me know in the comments!

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