As the old adage goes, if you choose a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. While we can’t guarantee that it won’t feel like ‘work’ at times, there is something uniquely fulfilling about taking a leap of faith to chase your dreams. So how do you get from dream to reality?
Meet Gavin Aung Than, who did just that. We know Gavin as an Inspired alum, having trekked the Inca Trail for World Vision Australia in November 2013. However we soon learnt that he is so much more! Gavin is Zen Pencils, a freelance cartoonist who adapts inspirational quotes into comic stories. Quitting his unfulfilling job at the end of 2011, Gavin followed his true calling and has turned his real passion into real life.
IA: Was there a key moment when you knew you weren’t fulfilling your passion?
GT: I was frustrated at my job for a number of years, but I guess it peaked as my 30th birthday approached. I know age shouldn’t matter so much, but the fact that I was turning 30 and wasn’t where I wanted to be career-wise really made me take stock. Plus I had gotten married around that time, so I felt it was time I took control of where my future was heading.
IA: To achieve your dream of becoming a cartoonist, did you take one big leap of faith or jump across many stepping stones?
GT: The story that makes for exciting newsletter reading goes like this: I quit my soul-sucking corporate job, sold my house and took a massive leap of faith to start Zen Pencils, which is true. But the less exciting story is that there were many stepping stones that led to that decision. I had been drawing and working on comics since I was a kid and continued as I started working. I was fortunate enough to work in the newspaper industry as a graphic designer, and was able to get some of my comic strips published. So there where many years of working on my passion in my spare time. If I hadn’t put in those years of practice, there’s no way my leap of faith would have worked out. So I like to advise people that once you think you’re ready and you have put in the hundreds or thousands of hours of practice, only then should you take the leap of faith.
IA: What has been the most rewarding thing about creating Zen Pencils, and the highlight of your career?
GT: Hearing the amazing feedback and stories from readers has been the most rewarding thing. The comics really seem to be helping people from all over the world, which is something I had never planned.
And I guess the highlight would be having my first book collection come out last year. It was a dream come true. I’m now a New York Times Bestseller!
IA: What are your three best tips for following your dreams?
GT: I think everyone’s path is different, and there’s no instruction manual on how to follow your dreams. But here are some things that helped me:
- Do something UNIQUE which fits in with your passion. I had created two previous webcomics before Zen Pencils. I spent years working on them but they never really succeeded because there were literally thousands of similar webcomics being produced. It was only when I hit on the idea to adapt inspirational quotes, which had never been done before, that I finally got somewhere.
- Once you’ve got a plan just got for it and TAKE THE LEAP.You might have been ready all along, but sometimes our own fear and anxiety hold us back from taking that final step. I wish I had taken my leap a few years earlier.
- Ignore the naysayers. My favourite quote from Teddy Roosevelt sums this up better than I can.
IA: You once said you put all your eggs in one basket. What’s the benefit of having no backup plan?
GT: Well I guess it forces you to take it extremely seriously, because there’s no ‘Plan B’. Making it work becomes an ‘I have to make it work or I won’t have a roof over my head’ scenario. Sheer terror can be a great motivator!