Catherine Rains is living her dream job creating intuitive mixed-media art, but it was an unusual road to get there. In fact, her original career plan was something else entirely. Up until her thirties, Catherine held a stable position as a university Career Counsellor, while her eyes were firmly set on climbing the ladder to land the role of Career Development Director at a larger US university. The only problem was, she hated the job she was already at. “I started to think to myself: why do you think you’re going to like a bigger job when you hate the smaller version?” she explains. She had a profound revelation that her resistance to life was creating her ‘stuckness’, and thereafter her world began to shift.
“I was about halfway there, I probably had seven more years to go before I would have hit the goal of this ultimate job, which is basically a guaranteed job for life,” she says. “At the same time, I was really quite miserable. It’s great helping people find their calling, but managing a team of people was just not my thing. So I started doing career counselling on myself.”
There is a twinge of irony in the fact that Catherine had actually chosen her career counselling job using standard career development tools. That said, it was a good fit intellectually, but it was also highly stressful and lacked purpose. “People were yelling in my face, wasting my time. People think university jobs are glamorous, they’re not. They’re political,” she says. She started using a technique that had nothing to do with intellect and everything to do with joy.
“There’s an exercise where you list all the things you loved to do as a kid. I made this really long list and it included things like Barbies, Hide and Seek, and collage. I’d only made one collage in my lifetime, I was ten years old and it was awful, but it gave me so much joy at the time. And by the way, at that time I thought I had no artistic ability. My parents are both artistic, but I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t paint, and I thought those were the minimum requirements for anyone to do anything artistic. But collage, right? I mean, who can’t tear up paper?”
When you check out Catherine’s artworks you’ll see that things have definitely progressed further than “torn up bits of paper” (and I’m fairly confident her twenty-four-thousand Instagram followers agree). But that’s where her journey started; hating her job and making rudimentary collages in her spare time to add some joy back into life. “It was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so much fun’, and I wasn’t thinking about it as a career. I was just thinking, ‘Yeah, OK. There has to be some clue here because it gives me joy. So just follow the joy.”
After three years Catherine was still at the university but had accumulated piles of collages. She decided to “be brave” and frame some of them. “I put them all over my university job office, and my students would come in and they would go, ‘Oh, you have children!’” Catherine looks me in the eye and says with dry wit: “I don’t have children. I don’t know why that didn’t bother me! I mean, the collages were bad. They were really bad.”
While continuing to follow her joy without having any idea where it would lead her, she also began secretly playing a game to land a new job. Catherine explains: “I had a colleague at another university tell me that someone had called her up and offered her a job out of the blue. Here I was dying to get out of this job, but I had no idea where I wanted to go. I was making these collages, but that wasn’t a job. So I said to myself, ‘If that can happen to her, it could happen to me’. So I started playing this kind of bizarre game with myself, and every time the phone rang I would say, ‘This is my job, someone’s calling me with my job.’ The phone must’ve rang twenty times a day and I kept doing it. I didn’t realise at the time that I was actually doing affirmations.”
Affirmations aside, Catherine was still very unhappy with her job, and was engaging in internal battles with everything that was happening around her. “I’d have a staff person sitting in front of me, taking up my time, or a boss pontificating about the world in a two-hour meeting, and my brain would click on: ‘Why am I sitting here? You know, I have so many other things to do besides listening to this clown!’ I remember looking out the window and a thought came into my head that said, ‘What you resist persists.’ I realised, oh my God, I am resisting this job. Yes, it was logical to hate it. But I think that’s the ingredient a lot of people miss when they try to affirm things into existence; if you’re resisting at the same time that you’re trying to get somewhere, you’re basically standing still.”
At that moment Catherine decided to come up with a ritualistic way to stop resisting. The process began with simply paying attention to her thoughts. Every time she noticed her mind complain about her current reality, she focused on allowing the present moment to simply “be”, repeating to herself the phrase, “This moment is my destiny”. Catherine credits the spiritual writer Eckhart Tolle as being the person who, through his books, introduced her to the idea of stepping back into the present moment rather than getting lost in thought.
After three months of this process: following her joy with art in her spare time, playfully affirming getting a call about her dream job, and practising non-resistance, her future boss did call. “It was the Myers-Briggs company. I hadn’t applied for the job. I didn’t even know the job existed. They were offering me things I had dreamed about my entire life but hadn’t even told anybody about, because I thought they were really unrealistic. Like, who gets to travel the country on a company expense account?”
The new job went well, but Catherine’s art was now delegated into the small spaces of her life when she wasn’t travelling. She sent a photocopy of one of her collages to a friend in California, who framed it and hung it on her office wall. A wealthy client saw it and asked to purchase a print of the piece. In that instant, Catherine realised she could sell her art for a living, and everything began to change. In 2001, after four years of researching and planning, she left the Myers-Briggs role to live her dream of doing full time art. By 2004, she was winning awards at competitive fine art festivals and holding solo gallery shows, and selling her art to both retailers and wholesalers.
Then, Catherine’s journey took an unexpected turn. In October 2004, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was completely blindsided. I was only 44 years old and had always taken good care of myself, and had no family history.” As her body healed, she returned to her full time job with Myers-Briggs with an intention to stay for only a year, purely to save some money before returning to her art. During this time she was also experiencing difficulties in the relationship with her now ex-husband, and was also practising non-resistance in this area of her life.
“My ex-husband was a really sweet soul on the outside, but he was manipulative, very controlling, and I went through a six-month period at the end of my marriage where he was constantly yelling at me for the most ridiculous things. Like, I walked in front of the television when he was watching it, or I asked him if he wanted a pizza. So I was verbally fighting back, like: ‘What? How dare you?’ I realised, ‘Oh my God, I’m resisting this man.’ So I began to not join him in the arguments. My motto was, ‘No matter what you do, I’m not going to fight with you. You can complain to me if you want, but I’m walking away, I’m not playing the game.’”
How did he respond?
“Oh, that made him furious, and eventually that actually led to us being divorced. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was also having an affair with a good friend of mine. But that’s what I think non-resistance does: if you don’t resist where you are, the universe realigns you to where you’re supposed to be. I am remarried now and it was actually the biggest blessing ever.”
Catherine is first to admit, however, that this experience didn’t feel like a blessing at the time. “I was devastated. And the way I dealt with the grief was I allowed myself to fully feel it, I one hundred percent went into it. Pretty much every three days I was in a pile, a ball of tears on the kitchen floor. But what I kept myself from doing while I was crying, was continuing the dialogue in my head.”
She explains that this method of feeling but not indulging the mental story was the same technique she followed after the breast cancer diagnosis. “I’d say things to myself like, ‘This is it, I could die!’, before switching off those thoughts with a single word of agreement: Yes.” Then, she’d return to feeling the sadness that lay beyond the noisy mental storyline.
The intended one year back with the Myers-Briggs company to save some money turned into more than a decade. “Sadly, I had created very little art in all that time. Finally, in 2015, I decided to stop making my day gig an excuse for not creating art, and decided to reorganise my life to focus on what was most important. I started bringing my art studio with me on the road by packing suitcases full of art supplies and doing art from my hotel rooms at night.”
In 2017, Catherine felt inspired to approach her employer about the possibility of working part time. To her surprise, the company responded with an enthusiastic ‘Yes’, and the current setup works perfectly. “I have five days a month working for Myers-Briggs, which is really the most amazing balance because it gives me the cushion not to have to force the art to be what it doesn’t want to be.” Meanwhile, her art business is consistently doing well, with the collages becoming less formalistic and more intuitive over time, and in my opinion even more beautiful.
Moving forward, Catherine’s plan is to continue to follow her joy by creating her art, and see where that takes her. Recently, she’s been running live art workshops via Zoom, in addition to her collaging. And of course, she will stay diligent in the process of letting go of inner resistance by feeling what she feels, without believing her thoughts. “It’s easier for the big things than it is for the little things,” she admits. “And I have to practise it all the time. Like, just twenty-four hours ago I said to myself, ‘Dang, you’re doing it again!’
She adds: “But when you stop putting that old energy out, you don’t get it back. It’s all about non-resistance, you know, and it has come about in many, many different life lessons and probably will for the rest of my life. When I stop fighting, life just happens, and it puts me in a place I had no idea I was going to land.”