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How I Became an Artist

Tips for changing careers

This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post on March 8, 2016.

By Ozge Samanci

My childhood and young adulthood in Turkey flew by while I was studying seven days a week to make it to one of the few highly competitive prestigious public universities. In order to please my parents, teachers and society, I studied mathematics.

As it is today in Erdogan's Turkey, in the 80s, the political and economical environment was unstable. We were always told to study something "real" and pursue our passion as a "hobby." I did not want to be a mathematician, but I did not know what to with my life.

During college, I was depressed. When I tried to imagine my future, all I could see was being trapped in a cubical in an insurance company, suffocated with work for which I had no passion. In those years, I wished there would be a book that would have given me hope. There was not, so I decided to write it.

"Dare to Disappoint" is a graphic memoir and my growing up story in Turkey. In it I tell how I heard my own voice, amid voices of militaristic, politically polarized, economically unstable culture. I became a comics and media artist after studying mathematics.

Like me, for various reasons, people may feel trapped into careers where they have no passion. Recent studies show that around 50 percent of employed people wish to change careers and up to 86 percent of job seekers want a job outside of their current field. If that includes you, how do you make a major career transition?

There is no magic formula and the transition will require passion, patience, persistence, and possibly the support of people who care about you. Based on my experience, here are three pieces advice.

1. Practice becomes life-style

Author and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell suggests that a talented person needs to practice 10,000 hours to become an expert. I agree to an extent, and even Gladwell acknowledges that becoming an expert is dependent on the starting age, talent, effectiveness of the practice and other factors.

In the last year of college, I began drawing obsessively up to six hours a day. Five months later, my own progress shocked me. I looked at my drawings or watched my hand draw something and say, did I really draw this?

When I became obsessed with drawing, I drew at home, I did systematic exercises but also I carried a notebook and a pen with me wherever I went. If I was sitting with friends at a cafe, I drew while I talked to them, if I was at the bus stop, I drew while waiting for the bus.

After a point, drawing felt natural, my hand demanded the practice. I learned that even before reaching 10,000 hours, the progress during a relatively short focused duration is stunning. The hours that we invest to cultivate our passion can turn into a life style.

2. A long process

One common misconception is to assume transition is going to happen suddenly. One morning you wake up and you have the courage to quit your job and you become a stage actress. In most cases, the transition happens over years.

To reach the ability to draw what I see in my mind, for many years I drew obsessively. But drawing was just one part of my passion. I wanted to have a unique aesthetic for creating graphic novels. After ten years of drawing, I experimented for five more years by making one image per day and posting it to my online comics journal. I began mixing drawings and collage. I taught myself to use watercolor and acrylic. I became fearless about making mistakes and I learned how to turn mistakes into a part of the work, all of which helped inform the art for my book.

Also, when you face challenges or barriers or think the transition is taking too long, know that the end goal isn't everything. You can also focus on the pleasure taken from the journey.

3. Two full time jobs

Unless you have personal wealth, you will probably have to work two jobs through the transition. Meaning, staying at your original job to pay the bills while you invest in your passion project until that grows enough to be how you pay the bills. In time, the line between the day job and the passion project gets blurry and they merge.

I worked as a teaching assistant at Bilgi University in Turkey while working as a comics artist for a weekly humor magazine, Leman. My income from the comics magazine was barely $100 per month. My "real" job as a teaching assistant at a university was demanding, with long days and weekend hours. However, this job allowed me to pursue a Master's degree in Radio TV Film with a scholarship. Then, I become a lecturer. I moved to the United States and earned my Ph.D. I became a faculty member.

Throughout this process, I continued to draw compulsively, as if drawing was my second full-time job. After years, I obtained a meaningful balance between being a scholar and a comics artist and my day job blended into drawing and art. For me now, there is no day job, there is only passion.

If we are stuck in a career we do not like, we can choose to be living dead, or we can decide to commit to the time and effort needed to take a step toward a life that we feel is worth living.

Ozge Samanci is an artist and an assistant professor of radio, television and film at Northwestern University. Her debut graphic novel, "Dare to Disappoint: Growing up in Turkey," has just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

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