Reclaiming My Joy: From Art Major and Career Counselor to Entrepreneur – Story by Kara Johnson

The Rebel story by Kara Johnson.

Childhood artistic pursuits.

Ever since I can remember, art and creation has been my happy place. From a very young age, I spent most of my free time drawing. And I was pretty darn good at it. Art class was always my favorite in elementary school and as I got older, I took every art class I could. I majored in art in college and graduated with an art degree with dreams of becoming a professional artist. That’s when things started to change. I constantly got comments and questions from family and friends: “Art, what are you going to do with that?” or “Oh that’s nice, but what are you going to do as a real job?” I was very lucky that my parents supported me in studying whatever I wanted and not discouraging my artistic pursuits, however, the rest of the world was not so supportive.

My career path and assessment.

After receiving these messages over and over both overtly and covertly, I began to question myself and my chosen path. I felt pressure to choose a more “practical” career. After some soul searching and exploration, I decided I wanted to work at a university. I had worked on campus as a student doing technical support and really enjoyed the environment, so I started looking for jobs on college campuses. I didn’t know exactly what kind of job I wanted, but I knew I wanted to work in higher education and do something to help students.

I ended up landing an entry level administrative role in the career services office at a prestigious university. As luck would have it, my boss was a career counselor; she was very generous and offered to do some career assessments with me. I distinctly remember taking an interest assessment (the Strong Interest Inventory, for anyone who is familiar) not too long after starting there. My highest areas of interest were Artistic, Realistic, and Enterprising. “Enterprising?” I thought. “What? That’s not me.” I mistakenly equated Enterprising with sleazy sales people and manipulation. And that was NOT me. The Artistic and Realistic areas I could definitely understand, but Enterprising, not so much. So I dismissed it. For years I dismissed that little clue into my personality and went on my way.
Fast forward a few years and I had completed a master’s degree in counseling with a specialization in career development and started working as a career counselor at a university. I absolutely loved it. I loved working with students and helping them navigate their educational and career journeys. I did this work for over a decade and for the most part, life was good. Until it wasn’t.

Loss and personal reflection.

Over the course of the last 12 years or so, I experienced some pretty significant losses. I lost my dad to cancer – he was 57 years old. A few years later, I lost my mom, also to cancer. She was 62. A few years after that, my best friend lost her battle with a long term illness – she was 39. There were many other family and friends lost along the way too. These losses rocked me to my core and, over time, made me start to rethink my life and my priorities. Both of my parents worked so hard at jobs neither of them were particularly passionate about, in the hopes of enjoying life some day down the road. Well, neither of them lived long enough to see that day. “This can’t be all there is”, I thought. I started to think more critically about the way most people live their lives and question if there was another way – a more authentic way to live. And when the COVID-19 pandemic happened, it was yet another signal to me that something needed to change. I didn’t know what or how, I just knew this was not how I wanted to be living.

Burnout and the need for change.

In September of 2021, on my birthday in fact, I had a complete meltdown at work. I had reached my breaking point. I was completely burnt out and exhausted from more and more getting added to my plate – things that were not in my job description and that were pushing me further and further away from what originally brought me joy in my work. I decided to take some time off to see if I just needed a reset, or if this was a larger issue. The time away was amazing. I went on a yoga retreat. I spent a few days at a condo in the mountains by myself. I hiked. I listened to podcasts. I read.

When I returned to work, I felt pretty good. I was rested and ready to get back to the routine. At least I thought so. But about a week after returning to work, I was right back where I was before I left – anxious, overwhelmed, exhausted. That is when I realized this was much bigger than needing some time off to rest and reset. I also started to understand that my deeper underlying discontent was due to the fact that I wasn’t calling the shots in my own life. I had no control over my time or what was considered a priority. I was basically living my life the same way my parents had before they became ill and died – trading my precious time for a steady paycheck.

Becoming an entrepreneur: overcoming preconceptions.

I am not an entrepreneur.

At least that is what I always thought. Remember, I thought enterprising meant sleazy and manipulative. Well, actually, I never really gave entrepreneurship much thought at all. I wasn’t aware of anyone in my life that was an entrepreneur or business owner – everyone in my circle of friends and family was either a student or traditionally employed. Entrepreneurship seemed like something “other” people did. But during my mini sabbatical from work, I began listening to some different podcasts. One of them happened to be The Rebel Entrepreneur. Immediately something clicked. So much of what Alan talked about resonated with me and put words to the thoughts that had been floating around in my head. I started to look at entrepreneurship differently; I started to wonder, “Why not me?” Maybe entrepreneurship is a way for me to live a different kind of life – one with more freedom and autonomy. On my own terms.

So, it was the culmination of many things – a professional breakdown from burnout, taking some time to reflect on my life and what I wanted, rediscovering entrepreneurship, as well as the support and encouragement of a fantastic coach (shout out to Jillian Johnsrud!), that led me to take the leap and leave my “safe” university job for the great unknown.

It has been an interesting and bumpy ride for sure. The first days and weeks of not having to get up and go to my “job” were wonderful and challenging at the same time. While I loved not having to answer to someone else or work myself to exhaustion doing 5 different jobs for the pay of one, I also had many moments of feeling completely lost and directionless. I didn’t know what to do with my time. I had plenty of things I wanted to do, but I was overwhelmed and paralyzed by the options and the ambiguity. My goal with leaving my job was not to retire or do nothing, I actually really like working and being productive, but I didn’t know how to focus or structure my time.

The Rebel School: free education and support for aspiring entrepreneurs.

As I continued listening to the Rebel Entrepreneur, I learned about the Rebel School – the business Alan Donegan created with Simon Paine to provide free education and training to anyone interested in starting a business. Now that I had more time freedom, I decided to look into the 10-day Rebel course.

At first I wasn’t sure if I could attend because I am in the U.S. and work. However, I really believed in the Rebel mission and was committed to learning everything I could about entrepreneurship. So, I signed up for a Rebel Nationwide course. It was the BEST decision I ever made. Even though I had to get up super early to participate in the live course, it was absolutely worth it. I learned about everything from choosing a business idea, to sales, to social media, to building confidence and staying motivated. Beyond the course content, what was most impactful was the community of people I was able to connect with. Everyone from the facilitators to the other course participants were incredibly caring and supportive. Entrepreneurship can be really lonely and isolating at times, but having a supportive community of like-minded Rebels helps me feel empowered to take action, even on the hard days.

Even though I have over a decade of experience in career counseling/coaching, I didn’t know the first thing about starting a business. With the support of the Rebel community, I launched my own career coaching practice, Untamed Life Career Coaching. I am still early on in my entrepreneurship journey and even though it is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, I am grateful for the opportunity to become more aligned with my true, authentic self. I have lots of ideas and dreams and making this leap has also allowed me to rediscover my artistic roots and spend more time making and creating. I don’t know what the future holds, but it feels good to be in charge of my own destiny.

Recommendations for aspiring entrepreneurs: attend a Rebel School Course.

So, if you are thinking about starting a business, or even if you’re just curious about entrepreneurship, I highly recommend attending a Rebel School course. Most events are offered online in the UK time zone, but if you are not in the UK, don’t let that deter you. You can attend all or just certain parts of the course and course notes are provided at the end of each day, so you can catch up on anything you missed. And upon completion of the course, as a Rebel alum, you have access to ongoing support and resources. Also completely FREE.

What do you have to lose?

Kara Johnson.