Mari Andrew on comparison, selective vulnerability and creative careers

Words by Madeleine Dore
Art by Amelia Goss featuring photography by Stephanie Geddes

Throughout her 20s, illustrator and author Mari Andrew didn't quite have the dream creative career as a writer she longed for. She didn't feel as if she'd experienced success – however big or small – but rather 'meandered' through various jobs. 

But with the zig-zags and seemingly wrong-turns, she acquired an insight that is the very thing that contributed to her extraordinary success as she settles into her early 30s. 

“I'm lucky in what I do because I draw on a lot of different experiences  for a creative material – if I got my dream creative job when I was in my early 20s, I wouldn't really have that much to talk about." 

From her experiences with envy and comparison, to its antidote, or finding your mission as a creative, to selective vulnerability, Mari Andrew has many insights for people of all disciplines to ponder.

On eliminating comparison…

I think as you get deeper into a career or field, you are exposed to more people to compare yourself with. That hasn't really been a challenge for me with illustration because I'm so new to the industry, but it has always been a challenge with writing.

Writing had long brought me happiness, but for a long time I didn't see it as a sustainable career – so many people were so much better than I was. I used to think, “why start now, I am 28, I can't start a writing career at 28,” because I thought I was so old.

I would Google writers who started out at 35 or older to make myself feel better, because it felt like the writers I admired were experiencing success so young, or at least got a good career going in their 20's – and I didn't have that.

Illustration was a way to express myself in a similar way to writing, but there was less of a block as I didn't know much about the industry, so I didn't even know what I was comparing myself to!

What it taught me is that I'm the only person I'm competing with and you just have to trust that your voice is the one that belongs to you and nobody else has it.

I will say though, if you are envying everyone in your own industry, maybe do something within another industry just as a side project so you don't care about it as much.

On selective vulnerability…

I am very vulnerable in my work, but selective vulnerability is a very important creative tool.

I think it's very easy to judge vulnerability when it is online or in one Instagram post because it can look like the whole picture, but it very rarely is. It's usually just a very small part of what's going on. For me, in many cases I'm vulnerable about something that happened a long time ago that I've already figured it out.

Though it can be a difficult thing to have people feel sorry for you – I tend to get a lot of people giving me advice and that can be really challenging for me. Sometimes I feel vulnerability is so shocking in our society that people don't really know what to do with it. They feel like they need to fix it.

On making sure you’re working on your own mission, not somebody else’s…

For the first maybe nine months of freelancing, I thought I had to do everything I was asked to do. I thought that I had to make prints because so many people ask for them, which is so nice but it’s also a lot of work and it's not very much money and I ended up feeling like I was resenting it.

Then it was actually Zoe Foster Blake – my mentor, my angel – who taught me to make sure whenever you take on any project that it is in line with your mission, because when you don't really feel like it's totally in line with you, it's going to be someone else's mission.

I did a lot of refining the past couple months about, what is my mission, what is the core of what I'm trying to do as an artist and writer, and what is really going to align with that mission?

Setting a mission for your creative work is challenging because you can't always do what you want to do and expect to pay the bills, but you can certainly be a lot more discerning. You can always ask for more money, and you can also say no to things that don't really work for you.

On the multitude of ways to be creative…

I think incorporating other creative things into my life that I’m not very good at and aren’t my career has been really helpful for me. If your job is in a creative field, it's easy to neglect other creative pursuits and fall into thinking that if you’re not making money or working towards this one passion, then it's not really valuable.

For me, it’s taking a dance class where it's just totally fun. I'm never going to be a Samba champion, but I really enjoy the music and I love doing it.

That helps me just be a more playful and silly person, which helps me reconnect to the reason why I did art in the first place – to connect to my inner-child and be really happy when I'm doing it.

On the end goal being enjoyment, not success…

I think that in every creative pursuit, whether you're really good at it or not, the end goal has to be enjoyment.

It is hard to make a living and it is hard to be successful, but I also don't even know how you would measure success. At what point are you a successful artist? It's so nebulous, so the metric for me is, “Am I enjoying this?”

The question that I have to ask myself all the time is if Instagram didn’t exist, would I still draw? Would I still want to connect with people? Would I still have these ideas? As long as the answer is yes, I'm going to keep doing it. If I'm doing it for the sake of having a large following or even making money, I think that's when things have gone off track.

Further reading:

A day in the life of Mari Andrew