This Techie Turned Artist Will Inspire You To Change Your Life

The thought of leaving a successful career in tech to pursue artistic endeavors may sound terrifying, but for Elle Luna there really was no way around it. The pivotal, aha moment that took her from working for startups like Mailbox and Uber to spending time on what she was really passionate about hit her hard, and she hasn't looked back since.
The S.F. artist and designer opened up to Medium about making that dramatic career change in what remains one of the best personal essays we've ever read. So, we jumped at the chance to converse (over email) with the creative talent, and we came away with some seriously smart life advice.
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Illustration: Courtesy of Elle Luna.
Tell us about what you do and the transitions you made over the last year.
"Well, in January I launched The Bulan Project, a textile project with master batik artists in Bali. We create limited-edition pieces of livable art. In April, I shifted from textiles to words and wrote an essay on Medium called 'The Crossroads of Should and Must.' I never could have anticipated what would happen with this essay. In a few short weeks, it was tweeted to over five million people and read by over a quarter million readers. I saw it popping up everywhere from Bloomberg to Fast Company.

"Since then, I had a solo show exhibiting 100 self portraits that were created in 100 days as a part of an Instagram project...called #the100dayproject. Now, all of my efforts are in service towards that Medium article. Clearly, we hit a nerve. I want to understand how we can take what was so inspiring about that essay and help even more folks."

Describe the moment you KNEW you had to quit your job. What was that like?
"I had been having a recurring dream about a white room: concrete floors; tall, white walls; warehouse windows; and a mattress on the floor. A friend asked one day, 'Have you ever thought about looking for your dream in real life?' I hadn’t, because that sounded ridiculous. But, the question started to fascinate me. It seemed a little weird and wonderful to go chasing some sleeping vision in the real world.

"So, I started looking. I eventually found the white room from my dreams in real life. Once something like that happens to you, you begin to understand that the universe has plans for all of us — if we'll only listen. I got the apartment and I dedicated myself to it full time."
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Photo: Courtesy of Elle Luna.
Your Medium article was incredibly inspiring. Tell us a little more about the concept you discuss throughout: should versus must.
"Shoulds are everywhere. You should read this book. You should go to that event. You should ask that question. They can be small; they can be big. When they’re big, they can be large systems of thought that seek to convince folks to live their lives differently. Should provides lots of rewards. Carrots. 'Dancing monkey treats,' as Seth Godin calls them.

"Must is different. It's about the essence of you: what you believe; what you stand for; what you want; who you must be; and how you must live. Must doesn't have options, like should. Must isn't always easy. In fact, it can be brutal. But, choosing must is the greatest thing we can do with our time here in this life."

What was the scariest moment for you when deciding to quit your job in tech and pursue art?
"Anaïs Nin said it best: 'And the day came when the risk to remain tightly inside the bud was greater than the risk it took to blossom.' We get to a point when the scariest thing is not following our voice, our passion, our must. Scary is staying in... Scary is parking our dreams for another day, for tomorrow. Or, worst of all, believing the kind of life you want is no longer something you'll be able to have. Now that's scary. And, that means that choosing must becomes liberating. I heard Janis in my head as I typed that — 'Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.'"
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Photo: Courtesy of Elle Luna.
What was the reaction from your team?
"Mutual respect and understanding. And, lots of hugs. I love hugs."

You mentioned in the article that taking moments for personal growth and reflection is important. How do you do that?
"Last Friday night, I had an Uber drop me off at Ocean Beach for sunset. I sat there for an hour listening to the water. I watched campfire makers arrive and build the most beautiful fire pits. Collections of people gathered around these fires. Afterwards, I walked home across the city. Through Golden Gate park, through the pho restaurants of the Outer Sunset, through Dolores Park with the city lights off in the distance. I found little hidden staircases that dropped me into neighborhoods I’ve never even known existed. I scooped up a fresh peach, which was especially lovely given they’re at the end of the season.

"I was traveling while at home. I brought a blanket so I could stop at any point along my journey. I wandered all night. It was quiet. And, it was just me. No phone. No check-ins. No photos of the ocean for Instagram. It was lovely, and [it's] important to integrate that kind of time with ourselves."

Do you have any regrets at all about leaving tech?
"I wouldn't change a day of my life."

How has your time spent in the that industry informed your art?
"I believe that art can be in our lives in an everyday, highly functioning way. We can be surrounded by things and places and spaces that are high art, fine art, exquisite experiences that are transcendent — daily. When we combine our musts — whether that be painting or creating spaces or taking photographs or composing music — with the power of the Internet, anything is possible. Anything. Isn't that amazing?"