x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Keeping the dream alive: corporate by day, creative by night

Three people explain how they work regular jobs during the day to allow themselves the chance to pursue their passions at night.

Omar Abu Omar's creative passion is photography, which he works on after his day-job is done. Antonie Robertson / The National
Omar Abu Omar's creative passion is photography, which he works on after his day-job is done. Antonie Robertson / The National

“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” the quotation by Confucius goes. The reality is, however, many of us are just doing a job that enables us to pay the bills.

Creative types, such as artists and musicians, have it even worse, as making a full-time living from painting or producing music can be very difficult. It is therefore not surprising to find that there are many creative individuals out there who, once they’re done with their corporate day job, work through the night to pursue their creative passions.

Dona Daher, a 36-year-old corporate communications manager, can be found leading meetings and handling a heavy workload by day, and wearing sweats and putting a brush to canvas by night. The self-taught artist started drawing and creating handicraft instinctively at a very young age.

“At about 14, a family friend introduced me to oil paint; I started reproducing paintings I saw in books and fell in love with the medium. Throughout the years, I began to experiment with different styles and techniques, and to create jewellery and accessories with beads, leather, and even some metals. During university, I was painting non-stop,” she says.

Daher also hung out with a group of street artists and got into graffiti art, launched her own “mini business” selling some of her jewellery to friends and friends of friends, and entered two of her paintings in a group exhibition. Her eclectic inspirations are reflected in her art and to this day she cannot stick to one style, colour or theme.

After completing degrees in law and political science, Daher took on a number of corporate roles in her hometown of Montreal before moving to Dubai in 2008 and landing a job as an internal communications manager. She had a “secret plan” of working on her art in the evenings, which she says quickly went out of the window once she realised that the concept of work-life balance is almost nonexistent in Dubai.

Daher wasn’t to pick up a brush again for years, until a friend pointed out an art gallery to her just across the street from her apartment. “I had a quick burst of energy, a ‘revival’ if you want, of the hunger I had when I came to this city. I quickly took photos of my paintings and went across the street to meet the gallery owner.”

The gallery owner loved Daher’s work and offered to host her own solo exhibition. “I instantly reverted back to my university days, secluded myself in my apartment after work, and lived off oil fumes for months on end – I’d work from 8 to 5 and paint from 6 until 11 until I finished my collection of 18 paintings.”

Her solo exhibition, State of Mind, opened in January, and Daher says she would give up the corporate world in a heartbeat if she were able to support herself and her lifestyle through her art.

“The only ‘riches’ I was born with was my family’s love, and although it’s the only wealth I could ever wish for, it does not permit me to pay my rent, my car, my clothes, my food – and neither can the job of an unknown artist. Even though I’m not particularly fond of the corporate world, I am grateful that it has enabled my family and I to live decently. Now if only my art could do that,” she says.

Omar Abu Omar is a social media marketer by day and photographer by night. The 26-year-old got into photography around nine to 10 years ago when he first bought a small digital camera. “I started sharing some of the pictures I took with friends and they encouraged me to post them on forums and photography sites. I started to explore photography more and to gradually upgrade my gear,” he says.

Abu Omar, who likes taking pictures of people, pets, skyscrapers and cityscapes, clicks pictures approximately two to three times a week. “Taking the pictures is one thing, though, and finding the time to back them up, organise and upload them, is a totally different matter, though,” he says.

The budding photographer admits that sometimes it is difficult to keep up the momentum of taking photos regularly. “Sometimes I’m not in the mood or I don’t have energy for photography, but I make an effort to try to go out and shoot,” says Abu Omar.

“It can be relaxing sometimes, especially when combined with some good music or company.”

Abu Omar says that there are advantages to both photography and his corporate job, but that what he likes the most about photography is that it allows him to capture moments and memories. He also adds how giving up the corporate world for photography is an option for the future, but not one that he will be taking up any day soon.

Faraz Khan, a 30-year-old cultural specialist, is a passionate musician. He explains how he’s lucky enough to have a day job that gives him enough time to spend the evenings jamming and creating music under the moniker of Chronicles of Khan.

“My 8 to 6 job is dedicated to my work – planning reports, working with teams, executing projects on a yearly calendar,” he explains. “Everything post 6pm is a whole different world – creating music with organic instruments, tracking sounds onto a digital audio workstation or playing with multiple musicians to compose a song.”

Khan, who describes his music as “alternative, acoustic and independent”, explains that poor pay stops him from being a musician full time.

“If I want to play music 24/7 and fulfil my personal passion, I’d have to play in a bar five days a week to an audience that isn’t really there for the music. The pay would be bad and never enough if you want to have a one-bedroom apartment in Dubai, a car and to go out in the week. That’s where the full-time job kicks in. Musicians sadly don’t get paid that well in the UAE,” he says.

The musician admits creating music and maintaining a full-time job is tiring, but says that his corporate jobs have taught him discipline. It is clearly paying off, as he’s currently working on a studio album and playing select gigs around the city in his spare time.

“One of the companies I worked for had a slogan, which was ‘make it happen’, and I used to use it in my personal life. I’d think, Khan, you can think of a million excuses, like you’re too tired or you have no time, but if you really want to make music, you will make it happen,” he says.

How to keep your desire fresh

Faraz Khan says that the “no time” excuse is very common, but that the key to pursuing something creative in your spare time is to never give up. “If you’re very passionate about something, you’re going to make it happen. If you can wake up for work at 8am because it’s something you have to do, then wake up early at the weekend, make yourself a nice breakfast and then make music, art or whatever it is you enjoy. Just don’t ever give up on your dream,” he says.

Dona Daher believes that people who are innately artists don’t have much difficulty staying inspired and motivated to paint. “I’d say being an artist is so innate it comes naturally. You do not really lack motivation because every cell in you is screaming to live out what it truly is: an artist. It’s enough motivation to know that you’re doing what is so true to who you are,” she explains.


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