Choosing Your Own Path No Matter the Circumstances

Artist Christa David on making what you love your full-time thing

When Christa David was 14 she got pregnant.

Christa was in high school. She was at LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (otherwise referred to as the FAME school). She was in a college-bound program preparing for big things in life. And then she got pregnant.

So Christa made a decision. She would create a different story than the one told about girls like her — young, poor, black girls who got pregnant. She recognized:

This is just something that happened and though, it is traumatic there are still opportunities. There’s still a choice I get to make because as the end of the day it comes down your choices. There is still a choice I get to make in this situation. I get to wake up everyday and I get to do my best and I get to dream.

And her dream started with non-negotiables.

At a very early age, the moment I knew I was going to become a mother, I had to reckon with myself and say, “What are going to be my non-negotiables because, as life is about to be drastically different, I need to have some things that I will do and I will not do going forward.”
So I made a list of non-negotiables and top of the list was simply, “I will not drop out of school. Education is a non-negotiable because not only is it going to improve my circumstances it is going to allow for opportunities for myself and my daughter.
Going to class every day is a non-negotiable. Doing my homework every night, no matter how tired I am, is a non-negotiable, going to my Saturday writing class is a non-negotiable. There will be no breaks. You will keep going.”

And keep going she did.

Christa went on to attend two ivy-league colleges. She got a bachelor’s in African-American studies and a master’s in Public Health. While Christa went to school so did her daughter. When Christa graduated she got a job as a public health researcher in New York City. She worked hard and was promoted again and again until she became a supervisor earning a six-figure salary in a big city with a grown-up daughter.

But Christa wanted more. She’d gone to art school as a child, she loved art, and she never stopped making it.

I had spent about six years making art in the cracks — nights and weekends that kind of thing. At the third year mark I started to get uncomfortable and I started to want to make art during the day not just at night and during the weekends. It just got increasingly painful. I wanted to flip the ratio of how I spent my time. I wanted to spend more time making art than in meetings.

So Christa left. She left the job. She left the six-figures. She left the security and the identity and all that was known — for a dream. A dream of being a full-time artist.

It’s been a year now. A year full of ups and downs. A year of loneliness and community. A year of hustling and marketing and making. And it’s been hard.

I don’t encourage people to leave their day job. It is not romantic. In fact, it is very, very, very hard. This is the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do and I became a mother at 14. Being my own boss has been harder than being a mother at 14. Seriously.

But Christa has persevered. She just had her first solo gallery opening. She has collectors around the country. Her following is growing and she’s making a new story for herself. Again.

In this week’s conversation on The Creativity Habit Podcast, Christa talks about the three non-negotiable in art and business, how to deal with envy and jealousy, the most (and least) effective ways to market your thing, the ups and downs of being your own boss, and how to transition from a six-figure career to life as a full-time artist.

You can listen to our conversation here.

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