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How to Quit Your Shit Job and Become... a Ceramicist!

This is how project manager Elza Jaszczuk swapped her soul-sapping desk job for soft clay and a pottery wheel.

by Rose Stokes; photos by Tom Kurek
22 August 2019, 4:21am

If the world is going to be on literal fire in a few decades' time, you may as well spend the rest of your life doing something you actually enjoy. That's where our Quit Your Shit Job column comes in, speaking to people who turned their back on their totally average and uninspiring jobs to pursue something they truly wanted.

This week, we hear from London-based ceramicist Elza Jaszczuk, who quit her soul-destroying job as a project manager to throw pots and manage a pottery studio in Peckham, south London.

VICE: Hi Elza! What did you do previously?
Elza Jaszczuk: I studied languages at uni in Poland before moving to London, where I ended up working for a translation firm. I was a project manager so was overseeing all aspects of delivery, from liaising with clients to sourcing translators and ensuring that work was completed on time.

Why did it suck?
I was living in a state of constant fight or flight, and couldn’t escape the feeling of pressure – managing multiple projects means you’re never really finished on anything, as there’s always something else that’s demanding your attention. It’s like spinning plates. And the work just kept snowballing.

The hours were long too; I was so exhausted all the time, I couldn’t even contemplate socialising. Worse still, I’d get home desperate to rest but completely incapable of sleeping. It was so frustrating, and obviously this had a massive impact on my overall quality of life.

What did you switch to instead?
I split my time between managing operations for The Kiln Rooms in Peckham and working as a self-employed ceramicist. I sell my pieces, which are mainly decorative, to individuals and, increasingly, interior designers.

Was there a lightbulb moment?
To be honest, I just burnt out. I was stuck in an inescapable cycle of work and insomnia, and desperate for something to help me relax. I came across a ceramics class run by my local council and thought I’d give it a go. I’d always admired ceramics as an art form, and was buying and collecting pieces from an early age, but I hadn’t ever tried pottery and had absolutely no artistic education to speak of. I went along to my first class and was a total natural. I later realised that it was the most I had enjoyed myself in ages, which was the kick from the universe I needed. It felt like coming home.

It obviously took a while between that moment and quitting my job, but once the seed was planted, change was inevitable!

Ceramicist Elza Jaszczuk
Elza Jaszczuk with one of her creations. Photos by Tom Kurek

What do you love most about your job?
It sounds like a cliché, but it gives me peace, freedom and happiness – I finally feel like I’m exactly where I should be. My health has improved dramatically, including my sleeping pattern, which obviously has a positive impact on absolutely everything else in my life, from my work to my relationships. I’ve also met so many people from all walks of life; everyone has different backgrounds and experiences, which makes for really interesting conversations. Oh, and moving away from office work helped me to realise how much you can do in ten hours when you’re not staring listlessly at a computer screen!

Are there any downsides?
I just wish I had more time! It flies by when I’m in the studio. And it’s just a given now that any gifts I receive revolve around skincare – working with clay really dries out your hands. I guess if you were into manicures, you’d have to give them up, but luckily I don’t care about that.

There’s obviously a tendency to be very self-critical when you’re working for yourself, but I try to focus on improving with every project, and learning from any mistakes I make.

Is throwing as easy as Demi Moore makes it look in Ghost ? Or as sexy?
Haha, in a word – no! Throwing is challenging but so rewarding. I love working with my hands and feeling connected to the materials; it’s very therapeutic. In a world of rapidly escalating technology, doing something away from a screen is so nice. There’s something very raw and honest about it, and I love that if you make a mistake, you can just start again.

As for the other question, let’s just put it this way, there’s no Patrick Swayze at the studio!

What do you wish you'd known about your new job before you started?
How happy I’d be after making the switch. I just wish I’d swapped sooner really – if I’d known how fulfilling my new life would be, I’d have left my old job a long time ago.

What was the single worst moment of your dull job?
There wasn’t a singular moment as such, it was more of an accumulation of moments of restlessness and lack of sleep, which eventually led to a crash. Honestly, looking back, I can’t believe I carried on as long as I did.

Rate your life out of 10 before, and now:
It sounds dramatic but honestly, I was about two out of ten before I changed, and these days, I’m pretty consistently at the opposite end of the scale. Ask me on a good day and I’ll say 20!

How smug do you feel when you talk to your mates in shit jobs?
Not smug but empathetic, as I know what it feels like. Every individual’s journey is different, but I am a total advocate for changing your path if something isn’t working for you.

What advice would you give other people who hate their jobs?
Instead of wasting all that emotion on hate, try to channel that energy into making a positive change – the sooner you can do that, the sooner you can get to where you want to be. And remember that your old vocation will still be there, and you’ll still be qualified if you ever regret your decision and want to go back. It obviously varies from case to case but I can honestly say that I’ve never looked back!

@rosestokes

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

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Quit Your Shitty Job