Catherine Anderson, 55, has lived many lives.
She’s a native of South Africa whose father and grandfather were lawyers. Yet in the 1970s, her father thought secretarial school was the only route for her.
So in 1978, she enrolled in secretarial school. And later became a lawyer.
She practiced law in Durban for 14 years. During that time, she and her husband, Paul, had two children. She was the only woman partner in her firm, was approaching burnout and wasn’t enjoying the work.
The family’s move to the United States in the mid-1990s allowed Anderson the break she needed. She figured she’d be a stay-at-home mom, but once her children were in school, she said her “job seemed like it was cleaning and cooking.”
Back in South Africa, she had taught quilting classes. “The teacher was always in me,” she said. So was the artist she hadn’t yet acknowledged – but she was moving closer to both.
She read “Inc. Your Dreams: For Any Woman Who is Thinking about Her Own Business,” by Rebecca Maddox, who instructs readers to write down everything they love. Anderson wrote, “Images, vintage books, small books, chocolate.”
But finding a job incorporating those things? Impossible, she thought. So she went back to law. For two weeks. “I felt dead inside,” she said.
Next up: Buying a youth sports photography franchise, where she learned how to take pictures. After a year, business started picking up, but she was still unhappy. Anderson developed an eye twitch, an outward side of her internal struggle.
“My dad died at 51,” she said. “At the time, I was 47. I thought: What if I only have four more years to live? Do I want to be miserable?”
So she took a year off – something, she notes, that wouldn’t have been possible without a supportive spouse. During that sabbatical, she converted their garage into a studio.
She got an estimate from a builder and then – in a moment so serendipitous it seems it could happen only in the movies – she looked at her bank statement and had the exact amount required.
Anderson soon discovered that all her experiences – the questionable career choices, the burnout, the ennui – combined to set her on a new, happier path. “When you take steps toward what you want, the rest of it meets you halfway,” she said.
After she built the studio, work started “flowing to her,” she said. Her workshops cover topics such as iPhone photography, photography as meditation and artistic journaling. She published “The Creative Photographer” in 2011.
The eye twitch, though, didn’t disappear. She worried it would prove a distraction. Then she heard Diane Rehm on NPR and realized Rehm’s voice disorder doesn’t keep her from hosting a radio show. “It’s about courage,” she said.
She’s lived many lives. But none happier than the one she’s living now.
‘Follow your joy’
Lawyer-turned-artist Catherine Anderson shares her thoughts on building a new career. Among the things she learned: Even the unhappy stints in ill-suited jobs can serve their purpose.
Trust your path. Obstacles are put in your way for a reason.
Follow your joy. You can make a living at what you love.
Set money aside. Anderson recommends saving enough to allow yourself a full year off to explore. Some students in her workshops are so exhausted from toxic work environments that they need a year to “detox.”
Plan ahead. Start working in the direction of your dreams before you leave an unsatisfying job.
Make sacrifices. You can get by on less than you thought.
Consider lifestyle first. “It really is more important than what you’ll earn,” she said.
Learn more about Anderson’s work at creativepilgrimage.com.