From Corporate to Creative: 5 Ways to Make a Drastic Career Change (Slightly) Less Painful

by: Haley O’Bryan

I never wanted to go to college.

I wanted to move to Milan and become a famous author/artist/runway model/owner of 17 dogs.

Only being 18 with strict parents and no cash can be limiting, though, so I did end up going to college after all. And given my creatively-influenced aspirations, I chose the most appropriate major possible: accounting.

From Books to Balance Sheets

The year was 2008, which most would argue was one of the worst years in the United States’ financial history. Thus, the expectation from my parents to do well in school and get a job became a firm requirement, rather than an expectation. Fast forward five years and I had both my Bachelors and Masters degrees in accounting, had passed all four sections of the grueling CPA exam, and was about to embark on a job as an IT auditor for a Big 4 accounting firm.

There was no runway under my feet. I hadn’t written a story or drawn a proper picture in years. I had completely deviated from the creative little girl who wanted to be the next Beatrix Potter back in 3rd grade.

But hey, at least I had a job.

I began my flashy new job during the summer of 2013. Numbed with excitement at the prospect that I not only had a job but a well-regarded and hard-to-get one, I was initially thrilled.

Initially being the key word.

After about six months, I started to realize that my chosen profession was not only outside of my skill set but the direct opposite of what I wanted to do with my life.

My job, while challenging and educational on the technology front, was very rules-based, technical, and uncreative. My free-spirited soul was rearing its rebellious head, and it came to me: I need to stop this. I need to create. Specifically, I needed to write.

Okay, perhaps it wasn’t quite the epiphany I’m making it out to be. Figuring out that I needed to go back to writing/art in some way was actually a gradual realization that required several additional months of soul-searching. But once I figured out what I needed to do, I knew that the next step would be to stop thinking about changing my life and start taking actions to change it.

Back to the Drawing Job Board

I found my new job as a catalog/website editor in June of 2015 after spending 6 extremely intense months searching for a more creative position. Because of my extensive accounting background and non-existent creative job experience, you can imagine that finding someone to take me seriously as an artist was an arduous task. I applied to over 80 jobs and maybe heard back from 10. Of the 10 that responded to me, five gave me an interview. Of those five that interviewed me, four basically laughed when I tried to explain why I was making a career change. Only one – which happens to be my current employer – accepted me with open, enthusiastic arms as their catalog/website editor.

Having gone through this ordeal, I’ve learned an unbelievable amount about living a creative life, especially when doing so involves switching into a polar opposite career. I know how it feels to be trapped by the security of a decent 9-to-5 job, but still waking up every day craving a more artistic life.

Creating Your Escape Plan

If you are finally ready to make your escape and start living a creative life, consider the following points as guidance:

  1. Do extensive research on the options for creative jobs out there and narrow down a few you could see yourself doing. Creative jobs come in all forms from sculptor to playwright to magazine editor. You may love art in all forms, but you’ll be overwhelmed if you try to go for every option at once. You shouldn’t necessarily get too specific, but try and isolate your search to a few different jobs rather than any job that lets me create something, anything.
  2. Tailor THE CRAP out of your resume. When it comes to job-searching, a resume is often the gatekeeper between you and the recruiter. If you fail to tailor your resume to the specific position you’ve applied for, you may risk being glossed over. I know it’s a pain, but you should almost have a different resume for each position. I hate to say it, but the same thing goes for the cover letter. You may hate me now, but writing a sharp cover letter just might be your ticket in.
  3. Talk to people, online or in person, about opportunities and what it’s like to have their position. Like many industries, the creative world is one that revolves around relationships. Ask around like a mad person (but tactfully, of course) about job offerings at creative places or even just people who are looking for a creative partner in something. People are also good for informational interviews, which can be as simple as meeting up for coffee and asking them what they like/don’t like about their job. If you truly don’t know anyone with a creative bone in their body, you can throw a (virtual) rock and hit a hundred (online) people who are part of an (online) community. Striking up a conversation with someone online takes such minimal effort, I can’t imagine why one wouldn’t do it.
  4. Understand that you may have to take a stepping stone job. If your dream is to sell your art in fancy New York auctions, understand that your first move might have to be something like doing marketing for a small museum or writing for an online art magazine first. As long as it is closer to your overall goal than the job you’re trying to leave and it helps you, you know, survive and eat and all that, it’s probably a wonderful opportunity, if only for the interim.
  5. Don’t wait for an opportunity to create. Whether your craft is writing, drawing, or making films, start creating! Whether other people pay you for it or not, you are only a creator if you create. This work will serve as an informal or formal portfolio for you, so show the world how awesome you are!

Nothing Worth Having is Easy to Get

No matter how defeated you get, you should never, ever give up on making your dream happen. It may not happen overnight, you may have setbacks, and you may have to change your plans, like a billion times. But I promise, even thinking about how you want to change your life is a big step, let alone taking action. Keep taking those actions, and eventually you’ll lead yourself to where you need to be.

What’s your story?

Are you eager to live the creative life you’ve always wanted? Or, have you already made it to the other side and have some advice for us who are still making it happen? Write your thoughts in the comment section below!

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Haley O'Bryan

About the Author

Haley O'Bryan

Haley O’Bryan started out in the corporate world, but is now happily working as a university catalog editor living in sunny Long Beach, CA. In her spare time, she loves reading, practicing pole artistry, and working on her dream of becoming a full-time writer and illustrator. You can visit her at her website Infinite Corners

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