Have you ever felt stuck in your career? Ever thought about quitting your 9-5 job to follow your passion instead? At some point I think most of us have, but few do more than think about it.
That’s why I was so excited to hear Bella Lo’s story — stuck in a job she disliked, Bella decided to take the leap from art hobbyist to professional.
A couple of months later she landed her first design position at Wizdy Games, a startup that makes educational games for kids.
Hearing this I immediately wanted to know more — and she was nice enough to let me interview her! We talked about how she got into graphic design, the hardest parts about switching careers, and the YouTube video that finally made her decide to take the plunge. So, without further ado, here’s my interview with Bella Lo:
The Way Back To Art
Can you tell me a little bit more about what you do at Wizdy Games?
— Sure! I’m Wizdy’s current designer. I design visual content such as infographics, informational posters and articles, and their promotional media.
But you haven’t always been working with art and design, right?
— Haha, it’s complicated… I took art lessons and was classically trained all throughout grade school. Maybe I got burned out at that point. By the time I was in my last year of high school, I didn’t think it would be practical to pursue a career in art. Plus, I thought some parts of it were boring. So I decided not to do art anymore, and stopped everything related to it.
After high school I studied social psychology, focusing on child development and social influence. I had been volunteering at an after-school program and wanted to become a counselor. My favorite thing to do was to hang out with the students, talk to them about their hobbies, and encourage them to apply themselves and chase their passions. Little did I know it was advice I probably needed myself!
Did you have a feeling at the time that you wanted to pursue art as a career?
— No, I had never considered art as a career option before – deciding to pursue it was very spontaneous. Whenever I got home from my previous job, I’d watercolor or sketch. If I had a free minute at work, I’d sketch or doodle. It was very therapeutic for me, but that’s all I saw it as.
After I quit my job and was looking for a new one, I found myself lingering on creative job postings. I was looking for after-school programs and non-profits, but what actually got me excited were those “graphic designer needed” postings! I realized that I had always been interested in talking to my friends in the creative industry about their work. One conversation led to another, and I thought, well !@#$, I might as well just switch!
What do you think made you dismiss art as a career at first?
— A lot of it was the stereotype you keep hearing about how art students graduate and become Starbucks baristas. I didn’t realize how rude it was to say things like that until recently. What’s wrong with being a Starbucks barista anyway? Nothing!
I dismissed the possibility of entering the creative industry because I worried too much about what people might say about me. I know better now. There’s something magical about jobs where you can create something. There’s risk in it too, but I really admire people who do what they love.
Taking The Plunge
Do you remember a certain point where you made the decision to get back into art? Or was it more of a gradual realisation?
— A little bit of both. It was a gradual realization, but of course I had my doubts: I’m starting so late in my life. Shouldn’t I just suck it up and keep doing what I’m already doing? So what if I hate it, there are people older than me who hate their jobs but they can’t quit can they? What if I can’t get a job and just waste my next few months training for nothing? What am I going to do if my money runs out and I actually just suck at art and design, and I’ll never get a job? Things like that.
Now the really silly sounding part — bear with me — the “!@#$ it” moment was when I watched Shia Labeouf’s infamous “JUST DO IT” video. I had heard my friends talking about it, people referenced it a lot and I thought “Hah, I love motivational stuff, I’ll check it out”. I think a lot of people take it as a joke because it’s so over the top, but when I watched the video I felt like he was speaking directly to me. Maybe I just needed someone to shout “JUST DO IT!” to my face.
The part that really made me decide to just do it was when he said, “Yesterday, you said tomorrow!” I thought, what if one day I’m 30, or 45 or 50, I still hate my job and think, “I wish I had studied graphic design when I was 23.” Better to do it now, and if I find out I am terrible then at least I won’t regret it later.
I hope I can be that kind of inspiration to somebody, some day. I had a few friends who were very encouraging as well, so I definitely didn’t pull myself up by my bootstraps — I had a lot of help and encouragement along the way.
So once you made the decision to switch careers what did you do?
— First, I did some research. Google is your friend. I searched for things like, how do you get started in graphic design? What are some things you should know before getting into graphic design? What kind of gear do you need? Is it POSSIBLE to get a job if I start now, without a degree?
I also met with friends who were more than happy to tell me about their jobs in graphic design or illustration. Even friends who weren’t in the industry were more than happy to refer me to people. I was floored by people’s willingness to help. If I hadn’t asked, or had been too embarrassed to talk about it, I wouldn’t have gotten any help and I wouldn’t be here right now.
After getting all of that background as to what I was about to do, I felt a lot more confident. Then I got a subscription to Lynda.com. This is not a paid advertisement! I learned so much from the online lessons and the instructors on that website — I can’t thank them enough.
How long did it take before you got your current position at Wizdy?
— I’d say, about 3-4 months. I got the position because a friend was looking out for me and referred me there. Again, I didn’t pull myself up on my own bootstraps – a lot of help came my way!
So you spent those months studying?
— Yep! Studying, learning and practicing the design applications, meeting with people… I also did some freelancing as well! That was really good practice for me, to use what I had been learning. I posted some of my work on Facebook and friends and acquaintances started approaching me about work.
I thought that was so cool – it was really encouraging to hear that people liked what I was doing enough to message me about it, even if a project ended up not working out.
Working As A Designer
How do you feel about the present?
— I feel great! I love what I’m doing right now. Even though I’m designing the “small things” like postcards and stickers right now, I think it’s good for me to learn how to do them first. I often stop and think about how fortunate I am to be in a position where I can restart my career and enjoy it. There are still doubts nagging at me, but I try to see if they have any substance — if not, I just move on and keep trying.
Where do you want to go next?
— My dream is to work with a passionate team of designers and make infographics or educational posters. I absolutely love making something boring into something interesting. There are lots of exciting things to learn in the world, but people aren’t accessing that information because it looks boring!
So, where can we find you?
— You can find me on LinkedIn — feel free to connect or message me at any time! I’m also on Behance if you’d like to take a look at what I’ve been up to, and I also have an Instagram if you’d like to take a look at my more casual stuff.
Thanks a lot Bella, it’s been great! Finally, do you have any parting words of wisdom for those thinking of rebooting their careers?
— If you ever wake up in the morning and tell yourself ”I wish I could just quit my job and follow my passion” — just do it! And remember — do your research!
That’s it for this time — hope you enjoyed reading the interview as much as I enjoyed making it!
Would you like me to do more interviews? Maybe you have someone particular in mind whose brains I should pick? Please let me know in the comments below and I’ll see what I can do!