What Happened When I Gave Up Everything To Pursue Creative Freedom

Risking it all

person walking on rocks near the ocean

In less than a year and without warning I gave up my marriage, my career, (almost my leg), two homes, and most of the things I once thought were important. All of my security, all of my stability, gone, and by choice. I threw it all up in the air and decided to follow my dreams, to risk everything. Maybe I fail, but it’s okay. Hopefully the fireworks will be beautiful as it all comes down, and I’ll always hold this belief that it was all worth it.

I’ve spent my whole life as the Responsible one. At barely eighteen I ran away from an incredibly dysfunctional home and moved into an apartment alone, three thousand miles away to start college and support myself, working three jobs at all times. I rarely played. I wanted to be an artist, an actress, to study film—but these were risky non-careers and no one in my family ever went to college, nor would anyone be there to pick me up if I fell. As an alternative to what I believed would be impending definite homelessness, I pursued “real” academics and put myself through grad school. I found great work for the government in Australia and then moved back to the US after four years away. After the pangs of unemployment in a struggling 2008 economy kicked in, I took a job temping, making coffee and emptying the dishwasher at a startup. I would have happily mopped the floors with my master’s.

My temp job turned into an enviable career and before I knew it, my wedding photography business was real too, turning down work after reaching twenty-one weddings in a year. I was back to working seven days a week, trying to fit art in whenever I could. Then one day at the end of last year, everything changed. Within twenty-four hours of thinking I had the best life in the world, I suddenly knew I had to start the upheaval. I ended a nine-year relationship after finally acknowledging that while it was perfect, it was mostly wrong for me. Before I could process the blow of the break, of what I had just done, I got into a Vespa accident and broke my leg, plummeted into a deep, dark depression, and then found myself at the bottom of a self-inflicted well. There was so much light, and I knew it—but it was far. I had to reevaluate. I started writing a lot, listening more carefully, making art about it.

I had never felt more alone in the universe, and so I realized that I needed to seize the opportunity of having nothing left to lose. There wasn’t anyone to disappoint or think of other than myself, and I needed to fully embrace the control I had over my existence, the ability to make choices, to fail if I wanted to. So I quit my job, the career I had built over four and a half years, my only source of security, of family, of warmth. A career most people would die for. I decided I finally needed to open the shop I had been daydreaming about for years. I took out a loan, a personal investment that cost as much as my overseas master’s—one I’ll happily spend my life mopping floors to repay if I have to. Because I get to be a new kind of Responsible.

I get to set up Electric Blanket. There will be interesting local art and beautifully curated vintage clothing, and we’ll sit around a huge barn table to have family dinners and poetry and essay readings, make installations, and watch local films. If we’re lucky, children will come and make things with us and teach us about the things we’re too grown up to see on our own. There will be a sanctuary for emotional expression, a place to nurture the thing that lives in so many of us that we rarely tap into. Yes, I know art galleries and/or vintage stores aren’t moneymakers. I don’t care. Maybe it can sustain past the first year and maybe it can’t. But either way I get to execute on a vision, my vision. At worst, I spend a year making things in a pretty space while reading books and playing with my shop cat. Maybe some friends come by to visit and sit on a colorful couch surrounded by wood and vintage colored glass and beautiful art. Terrified? Sure. But sometimes listening to the heart, to the universe, to that electricity running through us, well, sometimes that has to win.

So to start: there’s a zine and a purpose, a concept and a plan. There’s passion and soon, hopefully, a space in the deep insides of the Mission in San Francisco. Come see what’s brewing as it brews. It starts at Electric Blanket and ends with a shop. (Or more. Who knows!)

Jillian is an artist and photographer (Little Bat Photography) who has spent the last four and a half years managing brand and trademarks at Twitter. She has a BA in Law & Society and an MA in International Relations, but really just wants to make beautiful things while surrounding herself with wonderful people. To that end, she’s soon to be the owner and curator of Electric Blanket gallery, space, and vintage shop.


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  • Lindsay

    All I can say is…wow. After everything you’ve gone through, it’s truly an inspiration to hear you’re finally pursuing your dream. I’m still trying to figure out what my passion/dream is career-wise, and I hope I find it too.

  • You are amazing. Truly. This is very inspiring. I hope I can one day do something exactly like this.

    (Question- are you going to be putting out a call for art? I’m an artist and I would totally love to work with you.)

  • Anonymous

    Talk about a great piece for a month with the theme of Risk…

    Bravo. Congratulations Jillian.

  • Amy March

    This reads a bit like an advertisement, which is unfortunate since the story is so interesting. I’d love to hear more about the marriage ending aspect of this decision. Always interesting to grapple with how many gradual changes you can make before you really need to break things and start over.

    • Ella

      My thoughts exactly.

    • Caitlin

      Agreed. I wish I knew more about the reasons for all the “upheaval” and the process she went through before deciding to leave the marriage, job, etc. (that all happened in 24 hours?), and less about the actual new venture. I felt a bit sold-to.

    • Anonymous

      I agree to a small extent – but I don’t necessarily feel sold to and I can’t even say I feel like its advertising – since I don’t understand what the heck fi is being advertised. I went to the actual site and STILL can’t quite figure out what this is, but it sure is interesting. While I was also curious about all these changes and how one has a perfect marriage that wasn’t perfect for her (?) – its the authors right to write what they want. She chose to focus on the risk she took in starting her own business instead of the gossipy details of her relationship break up.

      If you look at it as a story of starting a new business and taking a risk, it fits thematically this month.

    • meg

      I suggested Jillian not get into too much detail about her marriage ending. It’s frankly not the place to do it, in a non-anon way. Relationships ending are private and complicated, and for her to speak about it publicly in a forum where she’s well known is not appropriate, or fair to her long time now ex-partner.

      As for it being an advertisement, I don’t know that it is. I did ask that Jillian add a line inviting people to come visit, once she has a space up and running. (Since there is no space now, it’s not much of an advertisement). But I didn’t want this to read as a cool project Jillian’s doing with her friends, that she doesn’t want the greater community involved in, because she does. For Jillian, this project isn’t just about her, it’s really about her spending a year working on growing community. As someone who does that as a significant aspect of their job, I can say that to begin that process, you do have to let people know what’s happening. Family dinners at Jillian’s new space, once she has a space and they start happening, are probably going to be free (or donation only, or cheap, I’m not sure), so me asking her to invite everyone down is not at all about money.

      I totally get that the marriage ending aspect of the story is interesting, and we’ll continue to share pieces like that. But they’ll continue to be anon, or at least by people not well known by the community, so they can be shared appropriately, with regard to everyone’s emotional safety.

      • Laura

        Sorry I was aiming for the exactly button but my fat finger hit report. Sorry

    • meg

      Also, I should add: there are two stories here. You’re saying you want to hear a story of a relationship ending, which is valid. We have told those stories here before, and will continue to tell those stories on APW regularly.

      That’s not the story of this post, though. The story of this post is Jillian building a business to fail. That’s the story I asked her to tell, because it’s interesting, it makes me think and ask questions, and it’s not a story we’ve ever told here before (and may never get a chance to tell again).

      • Ella

        Thanks for the clarification, Meg. I do think (judging by the number of “Exactly”s these ?? posts have garnered) that a good number of our community was confused by the post. Even though the detailed part of her project was only about two paragraphs, because the post is relatively short, it took up about 1/3 of the space, which seems a little heavy for APW. I think we were just a little thrown off because non-advertiser posts about industry people are usually more of a side-bar rather than an integral part.

        I completely understand that Jillian wouldn’t want to go into the specifics of her split in such a public way. I think we were all just a little confused as this isn’t normally the type of format we’re used to seeing. You’re right in explaining that this is a post where industry and personal life combine in a public way, so it’s tricky, especially at APW where we’re so used to seeing it “bared all”.

        • I think ‘confused’ describes it perfectly. I was definitely confused…it felt like the background just got rushed through to get to an advertorial ending. I don’t have an issue with advertorial but in this case it just left me a little confused.

          • Cleo

            Agreed. I think part of the reason for that is that this venture is untested. It’s great that Jillian is taking a risk that works for her, but without a story about her venture, whether it failed or succeeded, or even is being tested, the purpose of this post is a call to action. And because it’s a call to action about a business, it’s an advertisement.

            I would like to read a follow up post about Jillian’s venture. I think hearing about her struggles and triumphs to get this business off the ground would be interesting and useful, especially considering the concept of the business/space is vague and seemingly ephemeral at this point.

        • I totally get that she wouldn’t want to divulge a bunch of personal relationship info… but I think what stymied me is that none of the decision making process was included. I know that one day she had a life she thought was great, then suddenly she decided it wasn’t and changed everything (seemingly overnight). It would have been nice to see a little more of the emotion, realization, and thought that went into that decision to make a change. Did something happen that made her see things differently? Did everything just suddenly “click” for no apparent reason? Did she have a prophetic dream? I think that’s the element we’re all missing, and we could have had that while still keeping the details about her marriage private.

      • Susan

        Your company’s relationship with this person as an advertiser makes this seem like an advertorial. After all, there are similar posts for “sponsors.”

        • meg

          It’s not. First, all advertorials are disclosed. Second, Jillian doesn’t even have anything to sell.

  • I completely agree, I wondered how much the end of the relationship had played a part in the decision to change a life completely, and why?

  • Kate

    I’m a little ashamed, but this post and the Electric Blanket website are bringing out my inner Ron Swanson. Maybe I’m just not cool enough, but I’m not quite getting it.


    I know here at APW we normally advise people to just ignore those who “don’t get it.” But maybe Jillian would find it worthwhile to simplify or clarify her business plan.

    • meg

      I think Jillian’s business plan is a little bit of a wild experiment right now. Hence, built to fail. And also if you’re local, come down and see it in action eventually. I will be, because I don’t totally get it yet. If I did, I’d be less fascinated ;)

  • Anon

    I would love to give everything up for my dreams. My problem is I don’t have any dreams.

    • I know you may not be looking for advice, but you sound a little bummed out so I just wanted to say that not all dreams need to be grand, sweeping, change-your-entire-life things. I think we all get caught up in the idea that “pursuing your dreams” means you have to throw caution to the winds, give up everything you have, and do something a little crazy. But that’s not always true. Some dreams don’t require you to give up everything, and that’s OK.

      A teeny tiny, baby, seed of a goal that maybe you think is too “silly” to be a “real” dream still counts. Anything you want to do in your life is a dream!

      K, that’s all. Good luck. :-)

  • What a confusing post — sorry to say!

    Nearly all stories like these tell the same story –that in order to be “happy” someone has to come a point and decide between two poles — continue leading the life they have, or radically pull the carpet under from it.

    To each there own…but consider this:

    How come no one goes the middle way? The more gentle, compassionate and peaceful way? Preserving the best of what is in place, allow to close out what was not, and forever seeking each experience as a growing/expanding into who we’re naturally becoming. Not everyone has (or even needs) to think that making BIG chances in life has to be to this literal.

    I’m an example of the opposite….my revolution started quietly in my own room, with one deep breath and a pledge to love the life that had been entrusted to me – like a gardener working with the soil, the sun and seeds already there. Adding when it fitted…never harshly pruning for the sake of “prettier.”

    And my life is beautiful and I consider it a blessing — not because anything really changed drastically around it, but because I chose to look at it with refreshed eyes. And from that, all I ever wanted to experience I have…and will continue to.

    But that’s just me :)

    • Maddie

      I think plenty of people make that decision. It’s just that those choices don’t always make for the most compelling stories. I, for one, would make a very boring story of how I got where I am, because it involved a lot of little, carefully measured steps.

      • I think that is still interesting and, frankly, I’d love to see some slightly more ‘middle ground’ human interest stories here. Risk doesn’t mean having to throw in the towel on everything that came before. There are calculated risks in life and those stories are worth telling, too.

        I guess I guess I get concerned that by only telling the ‘upheaval’ stories, people who are at a crossroads in some respect might think the only way to choose a path is to exclude the path that got them to the crossroads and it doesn’t have to be like that. Great for some, but change in one’s life or taking risks doesn’t have to involve mountainous debt or a pit of depression. Frankly, stress like that would literally take me to the brink.

        • It sounds like you have a story to tell, and one that might fit the niche you’re describing. If it’s a story you’d like told, you should tell it. In a community of crowd-sourced content, they can only publish what’s submitted.

          • Maddie

            What Sarah said. I definitely don’t mean it’s less compelling to read middle ground stories. It’s just that we don’t get them as often, probably because it’s less compelling to write. I mean, heck, I’ve written posts about wanting to slow down and sleep eight hours a night, so I’m not one to talk. But generally we tend not to get as many stories about the middle ground, hence more of the upheaval ones.

        • meg

          You guys: it’s Risk month. Of course you’re getting a lot of stories about big huge life changes and risks this month, because the theme is Risk. If you’d submitted an awesome post about small calculated risks, we would have run it too. Next month, different theme, different stories.

          We run tons and tons of middle ground human interest stories here. In fact, most of our pieces are pretty middle ground human interest stuff. People planning weddings, me having a baby, Maddie working on her work life balance, people negotiating the balance of chores. One of the points of risk month was talking about… big risks (and little risks, to the extent we got those stories).

          While I get that an upheaval story isn’t going to work for everyone, I still think they are important stories to tell. When you end up in a pit of depression and need to make a huge huge life change to get yourself out, you don’t often choose to be there, and stories of other people who have been there can help.

          Would I take on a mountain of debt to make a life change? No. But that’s why I find the story of someone who would so interesting: because it’s NOT a choice I would ever take. Likewise, I firmly believe that we’re all smart enough women to read stories of other people’s choices, and not feel pressure to say… all run out and quit our jobs and take huge personal loans to start creative businesses, but at the same time, still take something from the story of someone who did.

    • Emily

      I can’t speak for Jillian, but in my own experience, I’ve found that the need to do something drastic is a reaction to something drastic happening. The idea of choosing the middle way is really lovely, and something I’m sure I’l be able to do someday, like drinking eight glasses of water every day or running a marathon, but sometimes LIFE doesn’t choose the middle way. And when that happens, when a bunch of horrible crap piles up on you all at once, sitting still can be unbearable.

      • I partially agree with you! But why keep waiting on someday?

        I used to live that life of putting pressure on myself to make BIG leaps, BIG changes — and what it got me was anxious, in knots and second-guessing myself all the way.

        Life IS stressful at time (ok, lots of times!) That is given. For the long run it’s better to figure out a way to manage and relate to stress than run, leap and hope that “maybe this time I’ll make the right choice and the have no stress at all.” That isn’t possible or even fair to overall wellbeing.

        Nothing is permanent, everything changes –you either love that or hate that fact, but that’s a personal choice.

        • meg

          I think what Emily is saying is that not all of us are in places where we can take the middle way: where drinking eight glasses of water a day is a reality. Sure, yes, in the long run it’s good to manage and relate to stress. But it’s important to remember that those of us who have the ability to do that in the present moment are blessed. I fully count myself among the blessed right now. We can’t guilt people who are in moments of upheaval to just “try to walk a mile a day”, when they’re trying to survive.

          Once you survive, then you get to work on walking a mile a day, and you remember how lucky you are every. single. day.

    • I hear you on this, big middle way fan over here, but who is to say that these seemingly-major changes weren’t actually happening slowly instead of all at once? That Jillian ending her marriage or job was in fact a thoughtful, honest way to preserve the best of what was in place inside of herself, and a closing out of that which was not?

      In my experience, a relationship takes a long time to unravel, the decision to end it or leave doesn’t suddenly occur so much as maybe you finally admit to yourself and to each other that the end is a real, live option. And sometimes you’ve been fighting this truth so hard for so long that when the clarity comes there’s no working on it, no turning back. Same goes for a job, or a city, etc.

      And flip that into a positive, too – a new idea, a new plan, a new relationship can seemingly explode into being all at once when really it’s been bubbling below the surface for a long time.

      • This is really insightful, and I think a lot of this insight we can only find when we’re looking back on things from a fair distance.

        • Absolutely, I totally agree.

      • meg

        So smart.

      • Aims

        “I ended a nine-year relationship after finally acknowledging that while it was perfect, it was mostly wrong for me.”

        “In my experience, a relationship takes a long time to unravel, the decision to end it or leave doesn’t suddenly occur so much as maybe you finally admit to yourself and to each other that the end is a real, live option. And sometimes you’ve been fighting this truth so hard for so long that when the clarity comes there’s no working on it, no turning back. Same goes for a job, or a city, etc.”

        Ladies, thank you for the post and the thoughtful comment.
        I am going through the process of realization that my 8.5yr relationship isn’t working for me. We’re not married, so that makes things slightly easier, but not really. Anyway, Jillian, I appreciate your bravery. I find your story inspirational and amazing. Melissa, your comment gave me clarification.
        So thank you both for being awesome.

        Jillian, good luck! I will be watching and cheering you on from down under. :)

        • hugs to you. in fact, bear hugs to you.

          • Aims

            Thanks. :)

    • Rowany

      I think APW does have articles like that, like Manya’s unexpectedly controversial “How to be in love” and the aftermath. Maybe it’s just not exactly your story, which means that YOU should submit a post :-)

      • meg

        I possibly just snarfed my water through my nose, remembering how ANGRY people were about our most-middle-ground post of them all. Or, you can’t win ;)

        Look: some people were LIVID when we ran a post about drinking tea in bed with your partner. Some people really don’t like a post about throwing it all to the wind and making a hugely scary change. My sense is, the post that gets you the most worked up is probably the post you have the most to learn from. I’m not sure what recent post that is for me, but now I’m going to have to go figure it out.

  • Damn, all I can say is: Get It, Grrl.

    Your risk absolutely sounds terrifying and awesome. Keep us posted, yeah?

  • anonymous

    This is a hugely inspirational post for me and for many others, I’m sure. Judging by the above comments, it’s not a necessary condition to make such dramatic upheavals in their lives for the pursuit of their passions and dreams, but it seemed necessary for you and I applaud your courage in doing so. I look forward to the further development of Electric Blanket.

  • Jillian, what you did took guts, and I wish you all the best!

    The tagline of electric blanket: “where your insides can be exposed without fear of contamination” is pretty great, and what I’ve seen of the idea so far makes me sad to be on the opposite coast!

  • Charis

    I’ve read the post a couple of times now, but I still just really don’t understand it!

    I can only really frame this post through my own experiences I guess, and the thing is, I don’t have a big safety net right now even with my permanent job. I’ve got student debts and I don’t make enough money to have savings, and owning my own house is a very distant dream. I live pay-check-to pay-check and a dream career is just that- a dream. I may never make it reality!

    I think because of this I just can’t imagine giving any of that up- as I have read it- for an abstract concept.

    I just hope Jillian is going to cope if the business fails- does she have a safety net, a caring community? I really, really hope she does!

    • meg

      What’s interesting to me is that Jillian has coped with far worse. She comes from one of the more difficult backgrounds of people I know, which she touches on here. I often find that those are the people that take the scary risks because… they’ve done it before.

      That said, I hear you. And that’s a story worth sharing, if you ask me.

  • Good therapy will teach you that there’s risk in putting your insides out there. There’s a really good chance they’ll be rejected, and that you’ll be disappointed maybe then insecure or untrusting, unwilling to keep going. Rejection sucks. But the payoff is sometimes worth it. This is the point of Electric Blanket, and funnily, also in my decision to write this post. I was pretty scared to write something for APW because I love all of you and think you’re great. Almost all of my clients are APW and most become friends. So telling you all that I did some crazy shit is actually really scary.

    Yes, it’s all vague. Conceptually and practically. I get that this is frustrating for some of you, but you don’t have to get it or love it. It’s not for everyone. That’s what makes the world interesting, we can learn from some things and throw out others when they’re not for us.

    The post: It’s about risk. Of course life decisions don’t have to come after craziness or polar choices in the road, and we don’t have to give everything up to find happiness. They come differently for everyone. Lives are filled with risk- my latest round just happened to come all at once this year and in a big way. Why don’t I talk in detail about my divorce or my accident? It’s personal, obviously. My marriage was great, my partner was one of the greatest men I know- and while I’m super open about everything, that’s not a story I think is fair to tell the world in this context.

    The shop/ concept/ whether this is an advertisement: Until there’s a physical space, there’s nothing to sell other than the encouragement for you to tell your stories, to think about feelings and emotion and the things inside that we don’t share because we don’t feel safe or supported. At some point there will be a store where things like vintage clothes and art will be for sale, but that’s secondary to the purpose of building a community around storytelling and supporting our creative sides. Events will hopefully be free (potluck!) or free with the exchange of a story, etc. It’s not supposed to read as an advertisement for anything other than your participation in a project that could be awesome. Like I said in the post, this won’t be a huge money-making venture- but it will hopefully be beautiful for as long as it can sustain life. It’s a project and a gamble I believe in.

    I half promised myself I wouldn’t read comments because let’s be honest, this is the hardest part, the inevitable rejection from those who don’t get it or think it sucks- totally fair, but never fun- however all of the amazing stories and emails and notes that made their way to the Electric Blanket inbox today made me realize that it’s important that I at least clarify what I can, thank Meg and team for their support, and let you know that it’s ok if you hate it or think it’s too vague. That’s a feeling, and feelings rock.


    • meg

      “and let you know that it’s ok if you hate it or think it’s too vague. That’s a feeling, and feelings rock.”

      Yay Jillian!

    • Oakland Sarah

      Hey Jillian,

      You might seek out Actual Cafe in Oakland–as I think they have a very similar business model/idea. Sure, they are a cafe and sell coffee/food, but their primary purpose is to create community. They even have laptop free weekends to encourage people to talk to one another and have designed the seating in such a way to also encourage community building–so, there are definitely businesses that exist (and are in the area) that focus more on the community than the bottom line. I would also encourage you to seek out “the HUB” as you develop your business plan. It’s a really neat co-working space with offices all over the world (they have ones in SF, Oakland, and Berkeley). http://bayarea.the-hub.net/ You might find some like-minded people who can help you bounce ideas around. Also, there’s a neat business (also in Oakland) called Sole Space. It’s a combo Shoe Store/artist space/event space. The last time I bought shoes there (hella cute shoes, too) someone was hanging out in the space making prints. I’ve also been to a fundraiser in the space. http://solespace.com/

      Best of luck to you!

      • Thanks, Sara! Awesome.

        • Also seek out the Brooklyn Brainery and 3rd Ward Brooklyn for community building, idea exchanging models.

  • Vanessa

    As one of the lucky couples who gets to benefit from having Jillian as our wedding photographer in three weeks, I have to say how proud I am of her. I have seen the first edition of the zine, and it is nothing short of beautiful. The art, the poetry…I adore it and her.

    • I feel equally as lucky- thank you Vanessa. I can’t wait to celebrate with you and D and keep adding happy moments to our journey.

  • Vmed


    All I have to say is, much love from the midwest.



  • I love this post. I think it’s beautifully written. And i don’t think it’s vague, I thonk it’s personal. As someone in the middle of a transition which is 5 months in and seemingly going nowhere, I completely adore the idea of building an emotionally safe space just after total upheaval.
    Sometimes the only thing you can possibly do for your own sanity is to leave everything you know in order to bring real change to your life. It’s what you need to do, and it’s incredibly brave.
    Bravery comes in big and little packages, just like life does.
    For some, success is to calculate steps to get what you want, for me, I don’t know what I want so I don’t know what to calculate. But what I do know is that my intuition is more important than a paycheck because on order to be my best self, I need to be my whole, healthy me.
    I can’t wait to find out what your space turns into Jillian! If I weren’t in Seattle, I’d let you borrow my farm table.

    • My insides couldn’t be more warm or fuzzy or happy after reading this, Sera. Thank you so much. I hope you can come visit SF one day and see the space and say hello. <3

      • I would live to. I’ll be checking in to see what you’re up to!