It's Okay To Still Be Figuring Out Work & Life

Mari Andrew's new book opens with a wry dedication to her mother: a drawing of a heart with the message "To my mom," and a scribbled addendum: "I'm sorry it's not a grandchild."
If you aren't sure what to expect from Am I There Yet? The Loop-de-Loop, Zigzagging Journey to Adulthood, Andrew's note sets the tone. Equal parts memoir and illustrated guidebook, it chronicles Andrew's journey through adulthood as she navigates love and heartbreak, professional indecision and success, and personal struggles — some of which have led her to her current line of work as an illustrator.
Like many working people today, Andrew has worked in several different jobs, including at a law firm in New York City where "the days felt meaningless and unending" after only a few weeks. After a terrible breakup and the death of her father in 2015, she committed to drawing (a long-time passion) and publishing at least one doodle a day as an outlet. In short order, her illustrations and humorous, insightful commentary gained an enthusiastic Instagram following (@bymariandrew) of more than 781,000 people.
Andrew tells Refinery29 what she has learned about the nature of work, how she had redefined success on her own terms, and how to come out on top when life throws curveballs your way.
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Copyright © 2018 byMari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
Am I There Yet? contains a mix of work and life advice. What are some of the moments when life got int the way of work for you or vice versa?

"We're at a pretty interesting point in 'work history,' at least in the very privileged part of the First World. I think millennials sort of overcompensated for previous generations (doing the work that society chose for them) by creating a new story that your work has to be an extension of you, your beliefs, and your passion. [But] I had a million jobs in my twenties and none of them really reflected my passion. In fact, I didn't know what my passion was! I had a lot of things I enjoyed doing — eating, dancing, talking with my friends, decorating my apartment, traveling — but found it really stressful to constantly hear 'Don't give up on your dream!' when I wasn't sure what my dream even was.

"I was very fortunate to find writing as a comfort, outlet, and a talent pretty early in life (I consider age 23 to be early in life!) and always wrote as a hobby and as a way to express myself. When I finally gathered enough life experience to finally feel like I could write a book, that's when I wanted it more than anything. I finally understood all the inspirational Pinterest quotes I'd been seeing for years, which didn't really resonate with me before. I had to tell this story, and I'm so proud of how hard I worked for it — writing early in the morning and late at night and taking extra jobs to support the thing I wanted most. I sacrificed so much for it. That's a beautiful experience: wanting something so badly, and creating a way to make it happen for yourself. My book was a true labor of love, emphasis on labor.

"I don't really think I'm cut out for a job to consume my whole life. I absolutely hate being busy. I HATE being on my phone; the physical act of being on my phone makes me so grumpy, which I realize isn't great for my chosen career path! I hate how often I feel like I have to check email on weekends. I think some people may see that as a status symbol, but I feel so free when my inbox is empty. I think my challenge this year will be to create (and stick to!) a structured routine and set work hours. I worked in food service for many years, and something I deeply loved about it was the ability to just leave at the end of the shift — truly leave. I can't do that with what I do now!"

You turned something that was an extracurricular outlet into something that became your work. What has that been like?

"I could say so many things about it, especially because it happened in a very short time frame. I quit my 'day job' just over a year ago. I thought I'd make most of my money from prints, but now I don't even sell them anymore.

"I am learning new things about myself every day and it is the best thing — I'm so lucky I get to do this. I recently read that, in your late 20s/early 30s, time starts to speed up because you're not trying as many new things; you've probably developed a rut so the weeks and months fly by so quickly. I don't like that feeling. I want to slow time down — it's so precious! You can do that by constantly challenging yourself and learning new things, which I have the great fortune to do every single day. I swear I've been 31 for a decade."
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Copyright © 2018 byMari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
Do you believe in keeping the two — work and your creative outlet — totally separate? If not, how do you make sure one doesn't overwhelm the others?

"I'm fortunate to have started this whole crazy journey a bit older in life (when I was 28), so I have a few tricks up my sleeve. For example, I use my Instagram page as a fun sketchbook. It's different from the work I actually do to make money. During the day, I do my actual job — tons of administrative crap, lots of emails, and drawing for editorial or commercial work.

"At night is when things get sexy: I pour a glass of wine and draw my feelings; it's seriously the best. I love it so much. I would do it if Instagram disappeared tomorrow. It makes me so happy. But that's not work — that's something I do for fun. I still see my Instagram account as something I do purely for fun. If it's not fun anymore, what's the point? I'd quit in a heartbeat if it ever felt like a chore.

"I'm a pretty regimented person and need a routine. Ironically, I find a lot of freedom and fluidity in a routine. If I know exactly what to do at 8:30 a.m., I can have fun with the details — what music to put on, what to wear, what intention I'm going to set for the day, which dance class I'll take tonight. If I have an entire day free, that's when I feel suffocated."
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Copyright © 2018 byMari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
You lived an incredibly nomadic lifestyle for a while. How did you establish a routine — or are there any impractical but fun things you would recommend?

"When I'm at home, I love keeping things fresh and interesting and totally new. I love going on field trips! But abroad, I crave a routine right away. I need to find my coffee shop immediately, and then I'm there every single day at the same time. I was so fortunate to get to spend a few months in Spain (even though one month was spent in a hospital!) and I took two hours of flamenco class every day. It makes you feel like you actually know people, even though you don't.

"I remember going to a coffee shop after I was released from the hospital in Granada, and the barista remembered me; she was so concerned! I felt so loved by this total stranger.

"I would definitely lead others astray if I talked about the impractical things I did. I am the human embodiment of 'curiosity killed the cat.' I am always following the music, the dancing, the cute guy, the group of cool teenage artists who probably think I'm a weirdo. Where are they going? I need to know!

"Something I adore about solo travel (the only kind of travel I do) is that you get to follow your whims. Intriguing staircase? Sure, I'll see what's at the top. Abandoned church? Let's see what's in it! Of course, the first rule of travel is to be respectful, but if you're reverent to the culture and respectful to locals, you can let your sense of adventure dazzle you."
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Copyright © 2018 byMari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
What helped you while you were going through tough personal circumstances, like your father dying and when you got sick? Any advice for people who are trying to keep it together?

"In all the times I've truly suffered — post-trauma, during grief, through near-fatal illness — I was so amazed by the power of the mind. The human mind is absolutely incredible. We are capable of hope, and if you have hope, you have everything. A really powerful trick is to think about your future self: How are you going to get there?

"When I was sick, the doctors told me I wouldn't be able to dance again for six months, which was in September. I circled a big heart around September 1st and worked hard for that September girl. I did my physical therapy exercises three times a day, went to therapy for my mental health, talked with my most precious empathetic friends, and made sure that I did the very best I could to dance by September. That future date gave me so much hope.

"Additionally, I let my struggles inform my life, my friendships, and my work. I really struggled to create art during those bleak months of recovering from illness, so I was honest about that struggle. I'd say, 'I don't know what to draw today.' That resonated with so many people because they had been there too, in their own ways.

"With friends as well, I just couldn't be my normal sunshiney self, but I know they appreciated having a friend who could walk with them in their own pain. I absolutely hated that I couldn't exercise or do the things I normally love doing, but I took that time to learn about history and wine tasting and things you can do from an armchair. I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but I had to be extremely resourceful and I think that's one of the many gifts of pain."
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Copyright © 2018 byMari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers
A lot of this book is about navigating personal and professional uncertainty. Where are you now on that journey and what's next?

"I'm just the luckiest person alive. What people don't see when they look at my book or Instagram following is that I'm always stressed out about money, and where my next job is coming from, and whether a guy likes me or not — but I'm so grateful people want to hear what I have to say, and I have so much more to say!

"I'm currently writing my second book, which I am very excited about, and I am really settling into New York life. I moved here seven months ago and it's such a beautiful dream. However, the thing I'm happiest about right now is how slowly time is going for me. I generally think it's bullshit to try to 'live every day as though it's your last' because some days just suck. BUT: I am savoring all the moments in between the emails, the tiring travel, the internet trolls, and the rent checks!

"I have an incredible circle of friends who have shown up for me during my book launch, and I've been so thankful for the gorgeous, wonderful crowds at my book events. I don't even want to think about what's next because I'm too excited about right now — like the pad Thai I'm going to eat for dinner!"

All images reprinted from Am I There Yet? Copyright © 2018 by Mari Andrew. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

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