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Meet Elise Gray

Today we’d like to introduce you to Elise Gray.

Hi Elise, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
My journey as a writer and artist began over a decade ago. When I was I was in high school, I was homeless for nearly a year. During that time I was able to use my art and my writing as a form of self-therapy and escapism. It taught me a discipline that I’ve carried into adulthood and got me where I am today, a business owner and executive at a marketing agency.

Now, I teach others to write professionally. I lead a team of writers and graphic artists at work. In my business, I craft unique collages with a surrealistic touch. Over the years, my art has evolved as I have. It’s now not merely a means of escape but a form of expression.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
It’s certainly not been a smooth road. On my path, I’ve had to battle self-doubt, mental blocks, and tons of imposter syndrome. In order to get where you need to be, you have to give yourself permission—which can be difficult if you don’t think you deserve it. Growing up in and out of trailer parks with a single mom, I had a hard time believing that I was allowed to want more than the jobs that were offered at the time. After I started believing I deserved to be happy, I quit my job in banking and never looked back. The creative ideas immediately started flowing to me.

Every day for 50 days, I created one piece of art. I found myself waking up with new ideas—it was surreal. Being able to be in control of your mind, your happiness, and your ability to create is true freedom.

However, freedom is not without its consequences. At first, I was only making enough to sustain my bills, but I genuinely didn’t care because I was so happy. Also, once I stabilized myself and got more creative work, money was still tight. For the first few years, I couldn’t really afford to go out all the time or spend money carelessly. I had to really penny-pinch to make my dream work. Then there was the working itself. It was challenging to always be the friend at the party with a laptop in hand, or always have to run off for a meeting with a client, or to have to cancel on plans because I’d worked 80 hours that week and was too tired to hang out.

I think the biggest struggle I had was loneliness. People don’t like to discuss that part of success very much. You generally have to isolate yourself and keep your head down working to hit some of your stretch goals. You’ll miss birthday parties, fun events, and all the little things that happen in between. I spent almost all of my 20s working very hard, so I could enjoy the rest of my life.

For me, my dream was worth the price I paid.

Appreciate you sharing that. What else should we know about what you do?
I am a surreal collage artist and writer. For art, I specialize in collages, but I also draw and paint from time to time. I’ve been shown at a range of places, including the Hive Art Gallery in Los Angeles, as well as the Pancake and Booze Art Show in Houston.

As for writing, I have a range of disciplines under my belt. I currently work in advertising for a couple of big brands, and also write freelance for a magazine. I’m currently in the process of writing my first book, Everything But the Pythagorean Theorem, which will likely publish sometime in 2023 (if I can get off my butt and finish it).

I believe my diverse skill set, curiosity, and work ethic are what sets me apart from others. I’ve met many people who are smarter, more talented, and sometimes even more efficient. However, I often find myself in surreal positions in life despite my shortcomings, simply because I allow myself to.

You can do a lot of things in life, create shortcuts, etc. For me, I’ve found nothing really trumps someone putting in the work.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
The biggest risk I took was moving to Los Angeles by myself, with no friends, and just seeing what happened to me. The second was leaving a stable career and resume that I spent six years building up behind. I can’t express to you how many people questioned me, told me not to do it, and said some iteration of, “You have a good job. Just stay where you are.” I am fairly glad that I did not listen to that advice, but there were definitely moments where I was panicking.

I would say I view myself as a risk-taker. I will leave a job if I am unhappy. I will leave a relationship if it isn’t working. I’ll move across the country if I have to (and I have, several times now). While I am able to calculate the risks when I am making decisions, I often feel the reward of my overall happiness is often on the other side of the risk. There’s been nothing I’ve gained in life so far without stretching my neck out a bit.

When I became a professional writer, I had to risk leaving behind my banking career. At that time, I was making about $24 an hour at it with no degree. I had worked hard to hit that hourly wage and at the time it was a lot of money for me. When I finally got hired at an agency, I was making $18 an hour but I was finally considered a professional writer. I quickly found that everyone around me was better educated and came from much better circumstances than I. Instead of that intimidating me, it motivated me. There had to be a reason that I was allowed in the room with these people. So, I kept working. I had to risk my finances, my ego, and my comfort for a few years while I re-worked my way up. But I did it because I love writing and creative work.

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