Guest blogger and IP specialist George McCubbin writes how having the confidence to request flexible working arrangements allowed him to combine law with a flourishing second career as an artist.
I was in my second year of being a lawyer, working at one of the big law firms in Melbourne, Australia. I had finally found my place within the legal profession – having studied law and science at university, I was excited by the realisation it was possible to continue practicing both by specialising in intellectual property. However, as much as I liked the work I was doing at the time, it felt deeply unfulfilling.
I had grown up always creating things. I mostly drew and then started making short animations, and even interned at Disney back when they had a studio in Australia. But at some point during university I had stopped being creative, I think it was a mix of a heavy workload studying, and the social side. It happened so gradually that I didn’t even notice, until I got to the point above of my second year at work as a lawyer.
After feeling quite low for a number of months, I realised something needed to change. I approached my then boss and asked for a leave of absence of six months. I toyed with the idea for ages. Not wanting my request to be seen as a weakness or have it interpreted as an indication that I didn’t like my work, I kept pushing on until reaching breaking point. To my surprise, at the time my boss was completely understanding and supportive of the idea. Within a matter of weeks, I was on a break from the firm.
It was during this time that I started creating again. Initially it was a painting that I made for a friend, mainly because I couldn’t afford to buy him a real birthday present. That painting was so well received I made another, and basically spent my six months travelling the East coast of Australia, surviving just by making and selling paintings. It was so different to working in a law firm, but I felt at ease again.
As my six months neared its end, I increasingly started to look forward to working again. As much as I enjoyed the pseudo-vagrancy of my life at that point, I missed many aspects of my legal job – the intellectuality and problem-solving, the social side with my colleagues, and the rush that I got when involved deep in litigation. I knew it was the right time to come back, but was worried about falling into the trap of discontentment again. I didn’t know whether I could balance work and painting.
Upon returning from my leave of absence, I came back to work full-time (although at a different firm, as I had an interesting offer over the intervening period). I loved being back but yet again felt myself getting more and more distanced from any creative pursuits and noticed those familiar feelings creeping back. With similar reservations and concerns as when I asked for my initial leave of absence, I approached my bosses at my new firm and asked if I could work part-time. Once again, and to my surprise, they were also completely understanding and encouraging.
And that was about six years ago. I have since moved to London, but have continued to work part-time. The last decade has taught me that my concerns about having the necessary discussions with my bosses at work were misplaced – I have encountered nothing but support and encouragement at each firm. I also realised that my mental health and ambitions in life deserved to be given priority, and to try and stand by them regardless of what I thought would be the reactions of others.
I am now a senior associate in a great team in London, working passionately in intellectual property litigation. I am painting continuously and engaged in other projects in the art world. I just closed my first solo show in London, which had 50 of my paintings made over the last few years. If you want to find out more, you can have a look at my website www.goodnightthief.com or my Instagram (@goodnightthief for my art, and @goodnightgallery for my curatorial account).