It took me a good long while to finally get started in my dream career. One of the many things I learned along the way is to not be afraid. Specifically, for this entry, taking breaks, avoiding burnout, and being refreshed!
Breaks can take many forms. In my case, after 9/11, I took a small hiatus to join the US Army Reserve, go to basic and advanced training, before returning to school to finish my Bachelor's degree. During that time, an unintentional break in the form of Operation Iraqi Freedom took me away from schooling again, but this time it was to fight a war. Thoughts on the ol' conflict aside, I was able to at least take a sketchbook, a decent laptop and a few books with me to keep up to speed on things. This was 2004, and I was 22. Upon returning, with some wider insight on culture, conflict, and creativity, I finally finished up that pesky degree.
Pursuing jobs after that was rough. Pittsburgh didn't have a lot to offer. I took on temp non-art jobs, lived off of savings, and somehow survived. Moreover, my portfolio was suffering (ie bad), and I had a moment where I thought I didn't want to be a 3D artist. Welcome to the quarter-life crisis. That moment lasted quite a while, and I pursued secondary interests in illustration and concept art. Long story short, that didn't work out. I still love to draw though!
Eventually, I got my head together and realized that to succeed, I'd have to take a huge risk. I realized that 3D art really wasn't so bad, and I wanted to pursue it. Being in the military, the Reserve specifically, allowed me apply for a special program called "Active Guard Reserve". This program (AGR) allowed me to be a full-time military member with all the bells and whistles included. I was stationed in middle of nowhere Massachussetts, but this location did have some creative outlets (namely a medieval armory and a couple figure drawing studios). Having a hobby outside of art also helped, and since I was very, very tired of wasting time on WoW, I wasted time AND money on MtG. But this allowed me to get inspired and have an outlet. Very important to have hobbies. Also, running and lifting do amazing things for the mind, body and "soul". More on health/fitness in a future post. During my spare time I would be found figure drawing, "regular drawing", and learning the 3D art process over again (and sometimes I'd even doodle on printer paper at work.) Anyway! The point here is that it's alright to take a non-art job. Don't let your ego get in the way of your own success. Keep doing the creative pursuit whenever you have the time. Be relentless!
Now, after my three year contract was up I found myself in a situation similar to the one after graduating. I had a plan of attack this time. Turns out, planning is important. Something young Justin didn't care to think about. I had some leads from conferences and meetups, but nothing solidified. Despair and burnout were beginning to set in. As mentioned in a previous post, I was flipping through an old sketchbook one night, when I found "SMU Guildhall" jotted in a corner. The rest, past this point can be found in my prior post. :)
Breaks! Can happen as often as you let them. They can be planned, in my case joining the military. Unplanned, in my case, war, anxiety, depression. Make the most of them. Be like water, and flow!
Burnout! Pursue relentlessly, but don't forget your health. Mental, physical, emotional. It's alright to take breaks. For mental and emotional health, there are a multitude of ways to help yourself; explore what would work best for you. My solution is mindfulness meditation or zen meditation. Both have done wonders for me, and multitudes of others.
F5! Pursue a secondary or tangential skill that could compliment your work. Go outside your comfort zone. Figure drawing and oil painting helped me to see forms and color more clearly. It also kept me feeling challenged and refreshed, because I was around other artists (both hobbyists and professionals) on a regular basis. Physical endeavors help refresh the mind and body at the same time. I'm a fan of weightlifting and jogging, but pushups are great to do throughout the day.
Hope this is useful!