INTERVIEW: Lifestyle and Career Change


An interview

When I met Gerry, he had just begun a new career – large 3-dimensional works of art and sculpture, and huge murals on buildings – and I felt so inspired. I just seemed to breathe easier, knowing there’s the possibility of jumping into an entirely new career later in life, being courageous enough to persevere through the initial growing pains of learning – especially when your first efforts are so large, so public, where everyone can see them.

Now that I keep my eyes open to it, I see people starting new skills and projects from scratch quite often, and it’s beautiful; old age doesn’t need to be a boring, winding-down time. We can begin something new (within our capabilities) and even become expert at it when we’re eighty, ninety years old.

Look at the life and wisdom that come out of his sudden, unexpected changes.

Gerry – “A minister told me, ‘For a person to make a dramatic change in their life, they have to go through a severe emotional confrontation with themselves.’ And that was my case.

I had prostate cancer, my Dad died, and my son committed suicide all in one year.”

“I was forty-seven or -eight at the time. I had worked at different jobs – in sales, renovations, my background was mostly construction – carpentry, welding, fabrication, that kind of blue-collar work. We (he and his wife Sue) raised the kids, provided a good home.

Then there was all this trauma that came into our lives. First I got through the cancer. Then I handled Dad’s death; at least we were a little prepared for that, since he had been in poor health for some time.

But with (his son) Scott there’d been no hint – it seemed to come out of left field. He had some serious problems to deal with – schizophrenia, muscular dystrophy. (But they hadn’t seen any signs of him being suicidal) When you’re in his position you just don’t pick up on the people around you who might be trying to help, you’re self-absorbed with your own pain. He never fully grasped what kind of pain he would put us all through, doing it in our living room. He used my hunting rifle, while we were upstairs in our bedroom. It was just brutal for us.

The guy who most helped me afterwards had gone through the suicide of his own son two years previously. Same thing – hunting rifle. He found out that night about Scott and came over, helped us through it.

You deal with it as best you can. It never goes away, I deal with it still. One of the tragedies of life where you wish: ‘If only… if only….’ You move on, but at the time you’re dealing with it… it’s so brutal. So brutal.

It’s not an experience I go back to often; when I’m speaking at my church I’ve used it as an example of a tragedy that God helped me through, how He helped my family get through it. When we began to bring it up publicly… I’m amazed at the number of people who have to deal with suicides. Holy cow. Unbelievable how many people choose that route. I found out there was one teenage suicide each month in Prince George. (B.C., Canada, where they were living at the time)

What is it somebody said: ‘When the pain of living becomes greater than the pain of dying…’.”

“I’ve got some very, very strong religious convictions, my whole life is based around my belief in God; God got me through that. But what this whole year of trauma said to me is, ‘Man… let’s re-evaluate life.’

We sat back and thought, ‘There’s got to be more to life’.”

“We’ve always wanted to travel, do something different, so we sold everything we had. We sold the house – that was where Scott died. Sold our furniture. We bought a motorhome and just took off and traveled. We spent a year. Mexico, all over the United States, Canada. It was a healing time, but also a process of evolving, finding where we are going now.

We had no bills to pay, no debt, no commitment to time. The only thing we owned was the motorhome, and we had thirty thousand dollars in savings (left from selling everything).

And my wife is my best friend, we do everything together. It was wonderful. A lot of people said, ‘You’re nuts.’ But then they looked through our daily journal of the trip, with cartoons I did, photos – then they’d say, ‘I wish I would do that.’ It’s a big step, but it comes down to whether you’re willing to pay the price.

So we just woke up, got up when we wanted, and did what we wanted to do. Just, ‘Do we go here, or there, or do we stay?’ Totally free. We phoned our kids every few weeks to let them know where we were. I spent my time painting; I had painted to a small degree before that, and on the trip I really started to get into this art perspective. We’d go park on a beach in Mexico, and other places, and I’d paint.

And we’d come up with a lot of different ideas of what I would now work at, because I wanted a change. There are all these consequences to take into consideration, but we were just going to do it. I’m an eternal optimist, we would just handle whatever consequences came to us. That’s what you have to do. I decided I was going to pursue art, so we thought about all kinds of art.”

“When we returned from the trip, of course I needed to work – and we were still living in the motorhome and needed a house. Someone said, ‘Go see Paula, she has a small (sign company) shop.’ So I asked to rent some of her shop space to do my art, and I started this company.

I first did the relief carvings for (a local automobile sellers); when Paula saw what I did she was amazed that I could do this stuff. She asked me if I wanted to become a partner. I wasn’t interested, I didn’t want to run a sign company. But she persisted, and I started to feel the pressure to make a living. So I jumped in.

We were successful. We sometimes had a tough go at it; I can remember times when she and I took home a thousand dollars or less between the two of us, for a month’s work. It was not a huge money-making venture in the beginning. But we kept at it.”

“I walked away after four years – I wanted to pursue more of the art end: the theming (sculpture for theme parks, tourist attractions, etc.), murals on buildings. I lean more to sculpture than to painting. I love using my hands, physical work, creating with my hands.

But her company is still there, so we’re still together in a way; the sign company is all hers, she does her own thing. We share renting the same building, and we give each other a set percentage of our profits – we felt that was a good gesture to keep things fair (since they share space, some tasks, some job recommendations).

The first major job I did was building the Treehouse door (a local craft store with a beautifully sculpted door), and that led to other commissions, murals. We (he soon had employees) designed the artistic look of the insides of some local casinos. There were times when business was slow, I had to do things I didn’t enjoy, like signs. But I’d always keep feelers out…

There were never any times that I thought I’d quit and try something else, it was straight ahead, no matter what. I knew that, with my work ethic and background, I could always get work. I was told when I moved to this town that you can make it as an artist if you’re not a flake, and if you can produce work on budget and on time.

I’ve always approached my art just like my work background – you work from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, take a couple coffee breaks – just like any business. I use my sales background to sell the ideas. So it was never a case of should I do something else – I was going to pursue it.

But I don’t want my company to evolve to twenty employees, multi-million dollar projects – then your whole life revolves around your employees (and the business end of things, rather than the art). Sue always reminds me when I start getting into too much of a business mode, ‘Remember why you started this – it’s because you love doing it.’ Because it’s easy for me to start viewing my art projects more as work – ‘Gotta get those hours down, etc….’

I now have another partner with some of my projects, mostly the murals, and he has a more balanced approach. He says, ‘The quality of the work is number one in importance; if you make money doing it, that’s all the better.’ I like giving him the final say as to when a project is complete, done well, because I tend to take some shortcuts.”

“So out of all this (pain and transition), I finally pursued my passion, which has always been art.

I run across so many people who are artistic, creative. They say, ‘I love to paint, draw… but I have to go work in the mill ’cause I have to raise my family.’ But I had to do that, too, I had a family to support. (Yet, after the traumatic events) I realized: people need to pursue their passion, rather than (in addition to?) be worried about making a stupid living.

We’re in a society where so many people are pursuing mundane, even horrible jobs just to put bread on the table, and man, do I ever feel for them. There’s a lot of talent out there (and they don’t know they have it, or don’t know how to use it). A lot of talent.

Even people who are already really artistic; I encourage them, but they’re really… cautious. Really afraid. Change is probably the hardest thing for anyone to do. If it was easy, people would be zipping through career changes all over the place.

But the older you get, the harder it gets to do. Your limitations increase, physical capabilities decrease. If you’re financially well-off, have a good retirement fund, then you can think of change easily, you’re kind of just playing at change. But for the average Joe, if it’s your livelihood, you’re fifty years old and you have a family to support…

I’m responsible enough to know that if you have a family – we had four boys – you don’t say, ‘I’m going to pursue my passion and let the kids starve.’ There’s a balance, a transition that’s the ideal, when you’re doing both. (Doing work that’s necessary to pay bills, while also taking steps to change your life towards concentrating on your passion)

In retrospect, if I’d had small children when all this happened… I wouldn’t have made the same choice. I would have had to deal with all these things I was going through, but still maintain the old job. With a family to support, you’ve got to be safe financially before making big changes.

I have to go by what my values are, religiously. It would fly in the face of my values to just walk away, shirk my family priorities and responsibilities. My first priority is God, the second is family.”

“There were reasons my (job and lifestyle) transition was easier: when we came back from the trip we still had some money, about ten thousand dollars left. We still had the motorhome to live in. The boys were all adults, they lived away from home by then. They were very supportive because they knew I was doing what I love doing.

Sue has been very supportive. She worked sometimes, and she works for my company now. Her support has been a big factor in the transition. No arguing. Can you imaging what it would be like if your wife is saying, ‘Man alive… you’re going to change!?’

But they all know… it’s the old adage: ‘Do what you love, and you’ll be successful at it because you have a passion for it.’ If you have the character (the courage?) to go along with it, it’s usually a success.

I wish I would have started this company at age twenty-eight, instead of forty-eight.”

“The kids have looked at what I’ve done, so it gives them a little sense of… it can be done. My son wants a change, I know he’d love one. But his wife has a very (rigid) traditional upbringing and attitude from (another country), she would fight tooth and nail at any suggestion of stepping off the ‘norm’, the nine-to-five job.

Another son has been thinking of a career change… going from law, into art… becoming a sculptor. So if I’ve influenced them by showing that a radical career change (is possible, can be successful, and make you happier)… there’s nothing wrong with that.

Now I wouldn’t have any fears about changing careers again, if I ever wanted that.”

“Now, I have no regrets.

No, I have one regret: I wish that we hadn’t sold everything; I would have liked to have kept the house, some home base to come back to. Other than that, no regrets.

I’m at a point where I’d like to make a trip like that again. We will do it sometime again, just to take off. We wouldn’t sell everything, and I wouldn’t change careers again – there’s nothing else I want to pursue, art still feels right, and there’s an improvement in my art as time progresses.

I feel we are meant to pursue our passion, because our passion is our built-in destiny, so to speak. Each of us is a totally unique creation, each of us has talents, and to not pursue that is… somehow wrong, a waste of a life.

Art is my passion.”


1 Comment »

  • Stefanee Kai Bowler says:

    Hi Gerry
    You and your story is so amazingly inspiring and I thank you for what your story is going to do for my husband! My husband, David, is turning 49 in July and has done Construction his whole life. He ventured out about 3-4 years ago and started his own construction business thinking that was the problem and that would make him happier. It did for a short time but the continued hustle, dealing with people that on most days drive him insane, realizing that this isn’t what he wants to do anymore, and the fact that the physical work is starting to get to him is starting to take it’s toll on him. He’s very artistic and talented and I know that he could put that talent somewhere else, but he feels lost right now not knowing what to do. I would sell everything tomorrow if I knew that would help him get inspired, I just want him to be happy and live life to the fullest. What you and your wife went through is unimaginable and I’m so sorry for your loss, but I think it’s amazing how God brought you through it and in turn you found true happiness and inspiration in your lives. If only everyone lived that way we would live in a much better world! So thank you for inspiring me and I know your words will sink in and inspire my husband as well!
    Thank you and God Bless you and your family!

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