Lessons Learned as a Teacher Turned Professional Artist


Words by Megan Elizabeth // Images by Chi-Chi Agbim

When I began my teaching career just out of college, I was completely convinced that I would enter the classroom and be imparting my knowledge on the students in my class. That attitude quickly vanished when I realized that it would completely flop and I would definitely burn out as a teacher in the process. I came to the understanding that by being a facilitator, Socratic method-style, instead of an “expert”, I would actually have a much more interesting, interactive and learning-friendly classroom where the pressure was off me to constantly perform, be flawless, and know it all. My classroom quickly transformed into a “flipped” classroom where students worked alongside one another to figure out the answers to problems, as a community. I was proud to acknowledge that I didn’t know all of the answers and instead could show my students that together we could figure it out. More of the students who otherwise weren’t able to shine had a chance in this system because being “wrong” was a celebrated part of the journey. And the students who were used to being “smart”, myself included, had our work cut out for us.

11 years later, here I am.

I am the artist and small (one-woman) business owner behind Art by Megan and my time as an educator taught me to celebrate the process of learning. I taught high school for 9 years and loved it so much, but 2 years ago I realized that I was ready for the next adventure and took the plunge to follow my dream and start my own business when my family relocated to New York City.

OK, but how do you start a business when you know nothing about running a business?

Well, for starters, you realize that knowing “nothing” is actually impossible. You always know something.

But you have to build the confidence to convince yourself that this is true. You have to teach yourself to dig deep into past experiences where you pushed yourself out of a comfort zone and taught yourself to do something that seemed otherwise “impossible”.

For me, the realization came from knowing that I had lived abroad in Spain and learned a new language and earned my master's degree in Spanish Literature, even when it seemed impossible for someone who hadn’t spoken a word of Spanish until high school. I had become a parent and learned how to take care of a tiny, precious, totally dependent person, even though it felt close to impossible, because my husband pushed us and encouraged me to fully believe that we are a dream team. I had built a house with Habitat for Humanity with my bare hands and the help of a group of amazing people as a 22 year old, even though I didn’t know how to build a house and had never met someone who looks like me who had.

So, technically speaking, I had already taught myself how to do a bunch of “impossible” tasks, so I owed it to myself to try again.

Here are some pointers that I learned in the process of creating Art by Megan:

1. Start by doing research. Ask friends and family for ideas, look online for resources, check out a million books at the library and write down ideas in a journal, brainstorm like you’ve never brainstormed before… And never stop.

2. Find a community of people that you trust for help, advice, and answers. Pour yourself into that community and never take their kindness for granted.

3. Accept the fact that you will be teaching yourself in the same style that I learned to teach my students, through complete trial-and-error and through building a community, slowly, over time.

But you know what else you have to do? You have to share, without expecting anything in return. You have to give up the notion that you lack information on topics that you know about and be willing to share that information with others. And usually, the sharing is reciprocal and both parties benefit. When it really works, many people come together and share and it's straight up magical.

When I moved to NYC two years ago with my family, I knew one person in the city. I knew that if I wanted to start a business with a good foundation, I would have to expand my network. So, I attended the first Tuesdays Together NYC meeting in Brooklyn and my life was changed. I met people that night that wanted to share their ideas, no holds barred. They wanted to help other small business owners taking the plunge to succeed. Without meeting this amazing group, which I now lead alongside 3 other amazing creative entrepreneurs, I would have burnt out.

In order to succeed as a creative, we need to constantly be learning and sharing.

We need to be willing to teach another person, competitor or not, something that we know about and share that knowledge willingly. The more that I have shared with members of my group and creative self-starters that I have met along the way, the more I have learned. We need to become life-long learners who crave information and are willing to educate others once we master a concept.

Initially when I began working as an artist, I remember thinking that my skills from being a high school Spanish and Art teacher might not really apply to my new career path. I was wrong. Dead wrong. I had been training to become a business owner my whole life. Once I was able to meet others in the same creative fields, I realized that Robert Frost was right when he said, “Two roads diverged in the wood – And I./ I took the one less traveled by, / and that has made all the difference.”

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Megan Elizabeth of Art by Megan is an abstract artist in Brooklyn, NY. Inspiration for all of her artwork comes from waterscapes, sunsets, bright colors in nature, and the silhouettes created by extreme light or darkness. Megan absolutely loves working as a painter and am constantly exploring and taking adventures with her family and ill-behaved beagle.

-To read more about Megan and her adventures, follow along on Instagram @artbymegan.
-Check out her original artwork, commissions, and prints on her site at www.artbymegan.com.
-Find a TuesdaysTogether group near you and read more about The Rising Tide Society here: www.risingtidesociety.com.