Like many other artists, I did not start with a career in the arts. In fact, back in high school and college I thought that art classes were only for those who weren't smart enough for better things.
It took me several years of doing art shows before I was actually comfortable saying to someone, "I am an artist," without apologizing with the additional words, "but I used to be an engineer." I guess I was still afraid of being judged as somehow inferior because of my chosen profession.
The funny thing is, whenever I say the words, "I am an artist," I get an interesting reaction. The best words to describe this reaction are awe and admiration.
People are afraid to take risks. Being an artist is definitely a risk. As an artist, you risk your free time, you risk relationships, you risk security, and of course, you risk rejection. The average non-artist has no concept of what artists go through to create and market their art.
It took me many years to fully understand the risks that I was taking. Yes, I am still concerned about those risks, but they are risks I am willing to take because I am not willing to give up my art.
With that realization came the clarity to say, "I am an artist." To the non-artist, that is awe-inspiring. We are doing something they can only dream about.
With that realization also comes responsibility. Not only should you proudly say, "I am an artist," but you should actually BE an artist. Take those risks. Expand your possibilities. Do the art that you were meant to do. Share your gift with the world. While the fear and self-doubt may not go away, it can be conquered.