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Here is why you shouldn’t assume your dreams are unrealistic

To: those who think their passion is an unrealistic career path

From: Keeley Shaw (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To those who think their passion is an unrealistic career path, 

Since I was a kid, I have loved creating impactful art for other people. 

Conveying a message through pictures has always come naturally to me. In seventh grade, I started drawing quotes on canvases and selling them to my friends and family. My mom has a whole closet full of random pieces that I have made through the years. But as a child, I never even dreamed of turning my art into a career. I didn’t think it was an option because I thought it was unrealistic.

My parents encouraged me to pursue a path that was more clear – one that would offer me financial stability. When I got to college, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. But ultimately, I decided that I loved kids, so I pursued a career in education. And that is where all of my attention went for the next eight years. I graduated from college and received a master’s degree in special education. 

It was a fallback plan, but I did enjoy it. I started in early childhood education and worked primarily with individuals on the autism spectrum. After I received my master’s, I spent a year leading an after school program for individuals on the spectrum. . During that time, I began writing a children’s book about autism. It was a passion project, and I wanted to see it through. The book never actually mentions the word “autism.” Instead, it explains how you can build a connection with someone entirely different from you. It’s a book about understanding and friendship. I drew all the illustrations for the book, and it was fun for me. It became my outlet.

Keeley published a children’s book.

Once I published my book, I started an Instagram account to promote it. There was no idea or plan when I began posting on Instagram. I just shared art that I enjoyed making. Sometimes I posted quotes. Then, I started to get into the enneagram, a model of the human psyche that breaks people down into nine types. I did a post for each type, and that’s when my following began to take off. 

However, as we got further into the pandemic, I began to go through cycles of depression. Besides the isolation I felt from staying home, I also felt alone in my feelings around politics, social issues and the state of the world. Illustrations became a way that I could express my personal feelings. At first, I was hesitant to post because I didn’t think anyone would care about my struggles with mental health. But as it turned out, my personal feelings resonated with a lot of people. 

There was one post that went wildly viral. It was about friendship, and it got about 100,000 likes. 

I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, what has happened here?” 

Then, more posts went viral, and I started to think, “This is what I am supposed to be doing in my life. “

So, on the side, I started pursuing art as a profession. First, I drew portraits of families. Then, as my Instagram continued to grow, recognizable organizations  began reaching out to me to draw illustrations for them. I couldn’t believe the offers I was getting to sit home and draw on my iPad. In May, I left my job and made art my full-time profession. 

Working for myself gives me a lot of flexibility. This past summer, my sister and I traveled up the northeast coast. We went to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut, visiting all these quaint, cute towns. 

One day, I remember sitting on the coast, staring  at the ocean, thinking to myself, “This is my life. This is real. I don’t have to sit at a desk from 9:00 to 5:00 or be committed to anyone else’s schedule.”

If I knew this was possible, I would have pursued art sooner. 

Knowing what I know now, I don’t want you to waste one more minute of your life ignoring your passion. I’m not saying quit your job right now. But start working toward your goal with a clear intent of turning your passion into your full-time position. If you put your whole heart into whatever it is you want to do, you just might be surprised to see what is possible. 

Every day, I get to do just what I have loved since I was a little girl, which is to create impactful art for other people. 

And in doing so, I have created an incredible life for myself. 

You will never know what you can do until you have the courage to try. 

Good luck! 

Keeley Shaw
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