Do you choose a creative career or does it choose you?

Yuko Shimizu

“I chose when there was no other choice left”…

Yuko Shimizu is an award-winning Japanese illustrator based in New York City. She was selected as one of “100 Japanese People The World Respects” by Newsweek Japan in 2009. You may have seen her work on The Gap T-shirts, Pepsi cans, VISA billboards, Microsoft and Target ads, as well as on the book covers of Penguin, Scholastic, DC Comics, and on the pages of NY Times, Time, Rolling Stone, New Yorker and in many other publications over last ten years.

But illustration is actually Yuko’s second career. Although art has always been her passion, she had initially chosen a more practical path of studying advertising and marketing at Waseda University and took a job in corporate PR in Tokyo. It never quite made her happy. At age 22, she was in mid-life crisis.

I chose a creative career when it came to a point where there was no other choice left.

I really feel it when people who have been creative all their youth end up choosing practical paths, and tell themselves that the fun of their youth is over, now they have to grow up by choosing practical paths to make living as adults. Because, that’s exactly what I did. Well, in the beginning.

When I was in kindergarten when I was asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said “I am going to be an artist”. I was like three or four. I had been drawing ever since I could remember all the way through high school.
But when it came time to decide what to study in college, I chose to study marketing and advertising (not the design kind, but the business school kind). All the grown ups around me, especially my parents, didn’t want me to chose an impractical path of going to art school. I don’t blame them. Especially I was not determined enough to insist, it was ultimately my own fault. The reason for choosing advertising and marketing was because I thought those were the most creative of the practical field.

After I received a degree from a university, I even worked in corporate PR for 11 years. All the time feeling pretty miserable, but still couldn’t freakin’ make up my mind.

Yuko Shimizu
For me, the turning point came when I was over age 30 and started thinking about far in the future of my adulthood seriously, and simultaneously I got, not one but two, mentally abusive bosses from hell.

What I realized then was that when you really feel you are in the rock bottom, it’s absolutely terrible, but if you look at a brighter side, one good thing happens: you see things more clearly than ever, and gives you courage to make decisions you can’t make when you are feeling somewhat comfortable in your life.

When I felt my adult life was not working out for me at all, that was when it gave me courage to pursue what I have always loved, but never had the guts to go for. I revisited my kindergarten self, who was more right than my 30-something fake-adult self. (I moved from Tokyo to NY and enroll myself in art school, but that’s a whole another story I won’t really get into details here.)

We hear ‘Do what you love’ as a creative mantra. It is easy to say, and it sounds fantastic in our ears. But here is what it really means. Life is hard, and being a pro is hard, regardless of whether you work in creative field or in more practical paths. What helps us to pursue what we love is because when things are tough, and we are really really stressed out, and we still have to wake up in the morning and somehow make things work, then it would be much more tolerant to be doing what we love than what we don’t love.

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