Changing careers: Why it’s not just about following your passion

Ana Yael

It starts with being very scared of what’s coming next.

That you don’t know what you’re doing. That you’re unsure whether things will work out the way you hope it would. The doubts that creep up around the edges, just when you think you have everything planned and under control. The butterflies in your stomach do double duty, and teeth grinding becomes a nightly affair. How your jaw clenches and your fist curls up into a ball when you think about what you’re going to do. It’s not fear – it’s enthusiasm. Or so you think.

When I left my full-time job eight years ago, that was me.

The decision didn’t come about after reading books that told me to go and find my passion. I don’t remember such books existed back then – the closest I got to was “What Colour is my Parachute?My journey was never one in pursuit of passion. It was one born out of curiosity. Finding my passion was merely a result of being extremely curious and doggedly persistent. Was I scared? Yes. Did I care? Not really – I was young, and I didn’t have much to lose. I was lucky. Looking back, I’m not sure if I have the courage to do it all over again.

I graduated with a landscape architecture degree – which took me four years to complete. I pushed that piece of paper right to the back of my bookshelves after I left university and entered the field of publishing. After climbing to the top of the proverbial ladder, I made the big leap and became a freelancer as I worked on Pikaland. Along the way, I tried out and learned a few things too – visual merchandising, copywriting, PR. I even learned how to sew when I couldn’t get a job, because I wanted to do something useful with my time. I didn’t know what I’d do with the skills and knowledge I’d amassed, but learning them meant that I could identify patterns through information that I’ve absorbed, and process it in a way that was unique to me.

If an older person saw how my real, actual CV looked like they would have choked on their coffee and have a heart attack right in front of the desk where they would have worked for 20 over years. They’d think I was scatterbrained, lacked focus, with no ambition or drive. They’d think I was crazy for jumping from one job to another while I had a professional degree stashed away in the corner, collecting dust.

But throughout it all, I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t know where I was going.

I wasn’t job hopping. I was meticulous – my moves were calculated and strategic. My intention was to absorb as much experience as I could, in careers that interested me in the very slightest. When I was an undergraduate, I would spend my time browsing books on art, physiology, and even cooking (besides spending a lot of time in the architecture section). I turned every job interview I had into a fact-finding mission. I made an appointment with a Pilates teacher in Singapore to talk to her about what it would be like to be one. I spoke to a florist and asked her what her job entailed. What their day would look like. What they wish they knew before they went headlong into it. I didn’t know them beforehand – I was just curious. I asked so many questions.

I belonged to an awkward time – when the internet was in its infancy and I still had my Nokia phone (anybody remembers how awesome the 3310 was?). Google was unheard of, and IRC and ICQ was the hottest thing online. Any information I had to go on came from books, newspapers, and magazines; and I knew it wasn’t enough. So I improvised. I looked for more. For information that didn’t come packaged up into nice, glossy pages. I was hungry for the truth. The bad. The good. I needed to hear them all. So I talked to whoever I could find, who didn’t mind answering the many questions I had.

It’s now 12 years since I’ve graduated from university and I still can’t believe how lucky I am to have spent 8 of those years on Pikaland – a blog that I started because I was curious about illustration. It led me to many years of self-study into the process and ideation behind illustration and creative entrepreneurship, where I got to know many wonderful, talented people along the way. I started fun projects and ended some. I began to teach and it unearthed another passion that I didn’t realize I had. Life is funny that way.

I still need a reminder every now and then about pushing through the scary bits, even though it’s been many years since that first major one. Reliving how I emerge whole (not unscathed though) through the other side is a fun reminder of how far I’ve come and how much more growing I still need to do. Which is why when Communication Arts contacted me for an interview about my career trajectory, I was a little surprised. But as it turned out, I did have some great stories to tell, which you can read here.

If you’re thinking of changing careers, the best advice I can give you is to keep an open mind. Pikaland was possible only because I went out and tried to find myself. I was curious about everything, and especially where I fit in with the world. I made mistakes. I had breakthroughs. I made my own opportunities. I lost out on a few. It was hard. And while the fear remained, it was also very easy to say no when I felt that things weren’t right. I’ve said no to major job opportunities that would have meant going back to publishing (and beating myself about it when things were rough). I had a path to clear, and I couldn’t stop – I had to go forward. I pushed on until I could see that clearing, beckoning. To everyone else, it may seem as though I finally found what I was looking for all those years. But it wasn’t something that I found – it was an idea that grew wings of its own. Remember how I said I knew what I was doing even though I didn’t know where I was going? Well, I still don’t know where I’m going – but I’m still here, and I’m curious to find out.

In turn, I’d like to ask youhave you ever thought about changing careers? What does a perfect career look like to you? What’s stopping you from making the leap and what are your concerns when it comes to forging your own career path? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

Illustration by Ana Yael

Working in 6 cities in less than a year: an interview with Sara Gelfgren

Berlin Co-working

Today’s interview is with Sara Gelfgren, a London-based illustrator who has lived and worked in 6 different cities – all within the span of less than a year – and has illustrated the experience on her blog Illustratour. I’m currently away in Japan for 2 weeks and so I’m really intrigued with how she has managed to pull off such a feat – it’s always been a dream of mine to work in different cities, and she’s proof that it can be done! I get the dish on how Sara has pulled it off right here in the interview below. Enjoy!

Tell us a little bit about yourself!

I’m a Swedish illustrator normally based in London. I moved to London almost a decade ago to do my Art & Design Foundation at Central Saint Martins. I went on to completing a BA in Fashion Management. After graduation I realised that working in fashion wasn’t for me so I ended up working at a business/lifestyle magazine instead. That didn’t feel like my calling in life either so eventually I decided to do what I wanted to do all along: illustration. Rather that going back to studying I jumped in at the deep and tried learning on the job. It took me a over a year to start making any money to speak off, but for the past 2 years I’ve been able to support myself working exclusively as an illustrator.

6 cities in 6 months – that’s quite a feat! What was the inspiration behind this project, and why did it come about?

I went to a talk in late 2014 were ‘Nomadlist’, a website that lists the bests places to live and work remotely in the world, was mentioned. That website made me realised that there’s a large group of people around the world living nomadically as their jobs are location independent and as a result they can work from anywhere. The term ‘digital nomad’ is usually used to describe them. I then had the ‘aha’ moment were I realised that my job as an illustrator doesn’t actually require me to be in London. Most communication required to do my job is carried out via email and I can easily do meetings over Skype. I decided that I wanted to give living nomadically a shot over a fixed period of time and try out living in as many cities as possible, whilst still staying long enough to be able to set up a routine. Hence 6 cities in 6 months felt right.


Beach Taghazout

How did you determine which country you would venture to? Was there a list?

I thought that finding a good co-working space was essential to not get isolated and have a functional work routine. So that was one of the most important criteria for choosing the cities. I was on a budget, so the cost to rent a room through Airbnb in the city was important and the lifestyle I would be able to afford. Climate was also a deciding factor and how expensive it was to fly there!

Which country has been your favourite so far?

That’s a hard question to answer, because I had really different experiences in each place. I’ve had a really good time everywhere!

Lisbon things


Cycling Barcelona


How did you sustain yourself on the project? I know a lot of artists and illustrators who would love to do what you’re doing, but money is a big concern. How did you address that on your travel?

Throughout these months I’ve been working full time and I haven’t actually seen any decline in clients, quite the contrary. So I’ve been earning the same amount as I did in London, but many of the cities have been cheaper to live in. So I’ve actually had more spending power than in my normal life. The main problem was that I’m a bit of a compulsive planner and wanted to have all my flights and accommodation sorted before I left London. I booked most of my accommodation through Airbnb which requires you to pay in advance. I had some savings that I could use for this advance payment. But I’m able to pay off that dept to myself now. So I’m returning to London having not seen any decline in earrings and without having had to dip into my savings, so that feels good!

Hong Kong


Food - Hong Kong

What was the biggest takeaway or life lesson that you’ve gained from this project?

I’ve gotten insight into so many different ways of living over the last few months. For me the difference between being on holiday somewhere as opposed to living and working there is immense. Because I’ve been living in Airbnbs with locals and working in co-working spaces I’ve got a much better idea of what a normal life looks like in these places. I feel like this information makes me much better equipped to make decisions about where and how I want to live going forwards.

Another life lesson (which may sound like a no-brainer!) is that I’ve really understood the importance of relationships. I’ve met a lot of incredible people during these months, many of which I was sad to move on from when I went to the next city. And that for me is the biggest problem with living nomadically. I want to maintain longterm friendships and also be able to create new ones by having a stable base in one place.

What’s next for you?

I do feel that I want London to remain as my base going forwards and I’ll be coming back to live there permanently on the 1st of January. My friends have started up a new co-working space so I’ll be working from there.

Although if the opportunity to work somewhere else temporarily presents itself I’ll definitely be open to it!


Thanks Sara!

She’s now in Indonesia, and you can catch up with her on her blog!

Artist interview: Christiane Engel

I’m a fan of Christiane Engel’s work for quite a while through her monthly desktop calendars that she produced, until she stopped in 2012. She’s back at it again for 2015 and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Read on about how her desktop calendars helped her shape her style and what happened in between in our interview:

Hi Christiane! Tell us a bit about yourself and what you do.

I’m an illustrator based in South East England by the sea and I mainly work for the kids’ publishing market. Recently I’ve done quite a few map illustrations for a variety of clients, which I enjoy a lot.
I also love creating hand lettering and patterns.

How would you describe your style and strengths? 

I like to stay flexible in the tools and techniques that I use so there are some variations to my style. Also, quite often I find that a certain look suits one book or project better and the next one might be needing less texture or more lines, for example. However I think all of my work has a childlike spirit to it.
My main style is a collagey cut out style that uses hand painted textures, but I also use linear ink drawings and colour these digitally.

Sept ChEngelxs_1

Oct ChEngel P

You’ve been creating these desktop wallpapers since way back! I’m a big fan of them, and was thrilled when you recently relaunched it again. Could you tell me a little bit more about them – what’s your process when you design them, what has made them popular, and why do you create them?

I’m happy you like them!
There’s something I really love about calendars, moving through the months and seasons. And I thought it would be a great way of sharing my art with people on a regular basis. Over time, a style that’s less crowded and more evocative than my usual picture book art has developed and I was looking forward to creating something seasonal each month.

The process is almost always like this: towards the end of a month, I think of an outdoor scene and setting that I would love to be in for the coming month. In most cases I even have a clear idea of the geographical location for this. (September 2015 is by the Mississippi Delta) I sketch it out on the back of an envelope or supermarket coupon and then create the final art on my computer, using Photoshop.

Some of my calendars were kindly featured on beautiful Poppytalk a few times and were therefore getting more popular. I was really thrilled about the fact that people around the globe were using my art on their desktops as well.

However all that came to a sudden halt in March 2012 when my first baby, Maya, was stillborn. The windy coastal road which was the March image stayed on my desktop for over a year I think. This was such a life changing event that time, days, seasons and calendars did not have any relevance to me… I delved into clients work and didn’t have much space for personal projects.

But of course life moves on fast and now I’m happy that I can squeeze in the calendars again. This time around they’re inspired by my nature loving toddler 🙂 and feature scenes of an outdoorsy kind of childhood. I’m bringing together my two different directions now I guess.

You’ve been in the illustration world for quite some time now – what are your thoughts about the industry in general? Is there a big difference in the way things are done now, compared to before?

I think illustration has become a more recognized artform again and is used more widely across many areas plus amazing things can be done now with a computer.

Also it’s become easier to connect with people these days through linked in, twitter and so on. These things didn’t even exist when I was first starting out as an illustrator, even something as unspectacular as sending attachments and uploading final art digitally was still seen as something pretty amazing.

But now that I think of it, sending samples and book dummies in the post also had a straightforwardness and simplicity about it although it may seem too time consuming nowadays. The speed of things has definitely increased, and there are pros and cons to that.

colouring page1s_1

What was something you wish you’d known when you first started out? (aka what words of advice would you give to up and coming artists and illustrators?)

Never stop sketching and exploring different angles. When you’re stuck, think of something that’s part of you and your world as this will make you passionate and enthusiastic about your own work.
Thanks so much Christiane!

You can download October’s desktop wallpaper from Christiane’s website right here!