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It’s been five years since my 30s gap year (2016/17); it’d be nice to look back.

The universe gifted me with my first career in Art and culture (the mid-late 2000s). I enjoyed it and am very proud of being able to make a living working behind the scenes in the Art. I have no stats, but I’d imagine about 1 in 100 graduates can earn a living in the Art after Art school, maybe even less.

Like many, I had a somewhat linear path and worked my way up, intern-assistant-manager-so-on. But working in a small sector meant diminishing upward-mobility as I kept on. Although I was second to GM for a national art program at one point, I was repeating myself – unbeknownst to me, I allowed myself to become one-noted and put myself in a silo.

When the environment changed following the 2008 GFC, I was stunned by how much I had cornered my career, but I made an excellent decision to start working for myself. The early 2010s were good for business and bad for personal wellness. 

I carried everything from my experience up to that point with me, which unfortunately also included the frustrations, disappointments, and the knowledge of not being able to achieve my financial independence no matter how hard I tried (it’s Sydney, enough said). It was around 2014 when I binged on RuPaul Drag Race (something that will always cheer me up); everything that Bianca del Rio said and Michelle Visage’s “Stop relying on your body” meme somewhat tripped a wire in my brain – “what else can I do?” was the kick in the ass that I desperately needed! So, I took time in 2016 & 17 to rejuvenate, learn new things, try other industries, and test myself. In a nutshell, I kept asking, “what else can I do?” pretending I was one of the queens judged by Michelle

For me, my gap year taught me that I need to be willing to grow and take directions; and being older helped me to be more appreciative of what I learnt; yep, I should probably have filtered some bits out, but I’d always remind myself that I can probably learn something from the overall scheme of things. At the end of the year, I acknowledged my stubbornness helped me to a certain point, but not digging in my heels would help build my longevity. I promise myself to keep applying that way of living.

– The first segment was blogged on 19/12/2017

When I wrote the 2017 segment above, I couldn’t imagine myself being where I am today. Have I achieved financial independence? Nope, but I think I’m on track, and fingers crossed it’d happen before I turn 50 (seriously, I’m keeping my expectation low). 

With the benefit of hindsight, I want to summarise some practical things I might’ve done, and I hope you’ll find them helpful. 

For a start, I’m still stubborn, and I will begin with the silver lining of the Art experience, which taught me to be resourceful and follow my interest. It’s hard to reboot mid-stream – adjusting my mindset took a lot of work. It took a lot to teach myself to let go of (and understand) the “dead-end” feeling in my previous career. My breakthrough moment was when I had the strength to acknowledge that my original path was something that I stumbled across, it worked, then I kept on doing it again and again, and I became afraid of trying something new. 

The past five years were about future-proofing myself and preventing being left behind by time. The post-gap year me took on things that needed me to learn/upskill and put myself in situations (projects) where I must talk to people, and it’s not only about finding mutual interest/benefit. It’s also about learning what inspires them and then looking into the footnotes. For example, look up a writer that was someone’s off-the-cuff mentions and watch their TED talk. 

Did I say plenty of yeses and some I probably shouldn’t have? Yes. And with that, I learnt to filter. When you’re looking up information or people you don’t know online, it’d not be hard to stumble across glossy stuff and well-curated content; some are likely sales pitches, and there’s no need to buy in everything you’re looking at; understanding there may be a reason for that content is available for free online because it might also purpose as a passive sales pitch, don’t feel bad to say, “I appreciate the content, but this product is not for me”. 

Know my boundaries and don’t take on something only for the sake of “rebooting” – sometimes, it’s about understanding the physical or mental limitations and determining if it was the suitable exchange of resources or reimbursement. I have bills to pay, and I can only give out my freelance service for a fee! But if the reimbursement is reasonable, give it a go. 

Another good trick is to ask. “What are my reasons for saying no to this opportunity?”. Is it because it’ll stretch you too thin? Do you find the person you’re dealing with not trustworthy? Or is the new experience too similar to what you did in the past, so you’d be repeating under a new job title? If that’s true… hmm… have a good think about it. Seriously.

In 2022, I’m going to update the “Stop relying on your body” meme to “Stop relying on the universe’s first gift”. Deciding to explore and have gone off-track those years before was one of the best gifts I’ve given myself. 

Of course, now I no longer have that freedom to take a year off anymore, but I’ve chosen to see this slightly unconventional path that I took allowed me to design my life. I looked at my picture from 10 years ago, and I actually look younger now. Who would’ve guessed that self-exploration is a form of skincare? 

Do I see myself working full-time in the Art again, maybe later in life, at this very point, I want to keep on developing some financial stability while being able to enjoy Art without the business lens. 

– Revisited: 29/10/2022
What learning and networking mean to you in 2023?