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Nikki Newman: The Side-Track Trap

I had a near miss last week, this time of the work variety.  What happened? I very nearly applied for a job that had absolutely NOTHING to do with what I want to be doing but seemed like an easier option at the time. Let me explain.

Over the past 3 or 4 years I’ve been getting the creativity back into my life – art, craft, writing – after a long artistic absence (try several years!)  I’ve written about this before in my Facing the Fashionistas and Losing in Style pieces on Good Enough Mother so hopefully you know where I’m coming from.

The fact is, when I graduated from university almost 16 years back I found that my entirely academic degree was worth very little in the working world. So after several months of bar work and soul searching, I figured that enrolling on a secretarial training course would at least bring me some kind of decent paid work.  Plus it would get me to London where all the excitement and potential was too.

That’s when it started: getting side-tracked from the things I really wanted to be doing, side-tracked so far that I lost sight of it all entirely and forgot where I wanted to go or what was right for me.

I still have a self-portrait I did one day when I just got sick of tapping away at the keyboard working on my typing speed; beneath the forlorn face I drew as I slumped disheartened in front of the mirror, I added the title ‘I Should be Learning to Type’.  Now I will admit that touch typing was probably one of the most useful practical skills I have ever learnt but I found the work I ended up in soul-destroying:  because I wanted to write, I worked as a PA to an agent representing writers.   Later I looked at proof-reading jobs.  Because I wanted to be more creative, I trained to be a teacher but spent all my time doing anything but my own creative work (don’t get me wrong, I loved so much about teaching, but there’s little room for your own needs in the classroom. That may sound selfish but it left me frustrated). Because I wanted to create beautiful pictures, I looked at training courses in all sorts of things: floristry, garden design, make-up artistry… anything but actual art and writing.  Totally and utterly side-tracked.

Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way (the book that changed everything for me) calls it becoming a ‘Shadow Artist’.  It’s the way you end up on the periphery of your dreams but not ACTUALLY doing what you feel most strongly and passionately about.

Now I know there’s a lot to be said for having a good steady, predictable career.  It pays the bills for starters.  But I’m in a fortunate position right now in that I’ve got the chance to put the mornings while my son is at school into my art and writing without the pressure of having to bring in a large second income.  For now at least.

As a result I’m on the cusp of launching myself into a larger market with the support of a like-minded friend I was fortunate enough to make over the new year – she’s a jewellery designer and together we’re going to hold events, hit the craft fairs and encourage and support one another along the way.  It’s incredibly exciting!

But in the midst of it all, I’m getting scared: what if I can’t make good enough art on a consistent basis?  What if I run out of time before our first exhibition (next month) and don’t have enough stuff?  What if I don’t sell anything?  Is my work of any real consequence or meaning?  Why can’t I paint like this or that artist? And with those thoughts in my mind, I’m finding it hard to get anything done! Panic!

Wouldn’t a steady job be easier? Wouldn’t it save me all this self-doubt?  Isn’t there something comforting in that kind of routine?

My son’s school newsletter came home last week with details of a job opening at the school kindergarten.  Ah ha! I thought, just what I need! It fits in with school hours, it’s part-time, I love working with kids, it’ll pay a steady wage, I can turn up, do the job, it’ll be great to be in a school environment again but in a more fun way, then walk away at the end of the day, job done!

I very nearly applied.

But alarm bells started to sound and I stopped myself because at the end of the day, it isn’t what I want to do and would take too much commitment, time and energy from my real goals. So I’m keeping to my long-term plan, which is to make a living out of my art and writing.

It may sound like an easy option to choose:  working from home for yourself doing what you love (it certainly sounds pretty good when I put it like that!) but it’s actually quite tough (yes, violins please) because you’re on your own, in a bit of a vacuum sometimes, wondering if you’re moving forwards or going backwards. But if you can push through the tricky doubts, the times when things just aren’t working, and avoid the side-track trap, I believe it can work.  All I can do is stay true to MY path, nobody else’s, and roll with it.

But what about you? Have you found yourself side-tracked by life? In what ways? I’d love to hear your stories – and how you turned it around…

Nikki Newman, 36, from England, currently lives in Qatar, where she moved this year due to her husband’s work. A former teacher and proud mother of 7-year-old Oliver, she’s currently focusing on settling her family into their new lives, while also pursuing her passion for painting. To see Nikki’s work please go to:


  1. Lucy Evans

    January 20, 2011 at 11:40 am

    Like you I was trapped what I should do and what I want to do, thinking my qualification would of been for nothing. But in the end I feel I have made the right choice with Floristry rather than working with children. was took that path because it fitted in with the children but in the end my children were fitting in with work. ok I need to work in a super market in the evening to make money and I enjoy mixing with people so no hardship, but the once a week I spend in the florist is fab and I feel it’s where I belong. just need to get paid job but no rush, enjoying being Mum.

  2. Rachel Vidoni

    January 20, 2011 at 9:05 pm

    Seriously. If you are ever in Boston we need to do coffee (or wine) because you just sang the same song I’ve been singing for the past four years. Us writers that work from home are a miserable lot, aren’t we? Always worried about our craft and our art; if it’s worth creating for the sake of creating since it doesn’t (or possible won’t) make us any money. My job search and desire for steady work ebbs and flows with the numbers in our bank account: when we are doing well I am content..when things are tight (more often than not) I feel like I’m not pulling my financial weight. My background is in teaching as well, and though I was good at it and there were parts I enjoyed, I didn’t love it and don’t want to do it again. But it is five more zeros than I make now and it comes with benefits. I am holding tight to my creative vision too…at least for now writing brings me satisfaction and joy, even if I’m not signing books at Barnes and Noble. Hang in there Nikki, and if you feel alone when you’re at home creating paintings (which are wonderful btw) email me. Chances are good I’m sitting here in front of the computer trying to string sentences together!!

  3. Nikki Newman

    January 21, 2011 at 2:09 am

    Thanks SO MUCH for your words, Rachel!! I had a brief spell of loving teaching (the first year perhaps!) then it became sometimes like, often dislike (is hate too strong a word? All that bad behaviour, all that marking, made me wonder what exactly I had trained to do)…so I don’t really have a desire to teach in schools again either (plus it screwed up my health!) so I identify exactly with where you are too. Yes, let’s do coffee/wine sometime! Boston is definitely on my list of places to visit when we do make it to the US (hopefully next year, that’s the plan!) 🙂 So thanks again and I will think of you across the way there when I’m sitting here, paintbrush in hand/ keyboard at fingertips wondering what it might be like to earn a salary again – I’ll drop you a line and you do the same, please! Take care and keep writing (keep believing), you’re fabulous at it! Nikki x

  4. Nikki Newman

    January 23, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Hey Lucy, thanks for commenting! I’m so pleased that you’re getting back to your floristry, with anything creative it’s a slow-burn and once you’ve found or reconnected with a path that just makes you happy and feels like your dream, then you’ve just got to keep it in your life, even if it is one day a week as you’re doing, unpaid, it will pay off, that job will arise and you’ll be in the right place for it, until then, enjoy getting back to a calmer, more fulfilled, more balanced you my friend 🙂

  5. SusanDevey

    February 1, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    Hey Nikki! Love the new plans…I’ve been following your posts on FB and now I know what it’s all about! Keep at it and I’m sure it’ll pay off. People I’ve shown your artwork to have been really impressed and I’ve been proud to call you my friend!
    I know what you mean about being sidetracked too…when I moved to Devon in 1998 (not far from your neck of the woods) to take up the post of secretary with an animation company, the plan was to give it a year and then use it as a step up into tv and eventually film, but as happens, I got sidetracked by the offer of a rapid promotion and ended up running the studio for four years. Luckily for me, redundancy pushed me into moving on – something I’d thought about a lot, and although I moved into another production job back in the West Midlands, I eventually took the step towards pursuing teaching – not as glamourous, but something that had always niggled away at me. At the time, I thought I’d take a year out, get my PGCE and take it from there.
    I can honestly say that I haven’t looked back – despite things getting tougher, rather than easier, each year.
    As an aside, although I do love being in the classroom and teaching (despite being in my 6th year and hating the marking and the bouts of poor behaviour!), my mum, sister-in-law and I have agreed that we’re going to hit the craft fairs as well this year. Hopefully, with our combined efforts we might be able to turn our hobbies into a little bit of extra cash! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you too!

  6. Pingback: Nikki Newman: Finding The Right Mentor

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