Digging into a creative profession is hard, friends. I’ve never had the answer to “what do you want to do when you grow up?” and here, at 32, I’m still not sure I’ve made a definitive, set-in-stone decision.
So many of us grow up as head-in-the-clouds kids. Maybe you were idealistic, too. A procrastinator. More focused on finding and doing things that filled your soul than completing assignments and checking off to-dos. We were called flighty and impractical. Dreamers.
So it’s a counter-intuitive title, right? “Creative Professional.” Sometimes feeling like a satisfier — that we’ve conformed to using our talents to work for “the man.” Bending our desire to create so that it fits within societal acceptance. And you’re never sure you’re in the right place.
For those out there who are constantly searching, always reaching for a new, exciting idea, or enticed by a concept that has no formal form — I see you. And I’m here to tell you that it is possible to keep searching while simultaneously building a career that validates your process of living.
I don’t have it all completely figured out, but I have discovered 4 ways to keep the light on (both literally and figuratively).
1. Find a means to your end
Some of the best advice I was ever given as a fine art student desperately searching for direction post-graduation is that we need to acknowledge that “Starving Artist” is not a practical career choice. We MUST be diligent about finding a means to satisfy our material needs, and you can do so without giving up your identity.
“Find the means that will support your real work,” my professor urged. “Realize that sometimes we have to do a job that’s not exactly what we want so that we have the power to bring out the work we want to offer the world.”
It was one of the first times that I had heard that a creative life didn’t have to be completely separate from a practical “job.” That my constant pursuit of whatever it is I was/am searching for CAN coexist with another, completely separate form of work.
The Challenge: find the balance. I DID lean into the professional world — hard. My first job was working in higher education, and I eventually fell backwards into a marketing and non-profit development role at a large corporation. It served me well — until it didn’t.
We had taken a long weekend trip to a lake house with some close friends, and while I was on the dock in the sun with my six-month-old, my phone rang. It was someone from my office. Instead of ignoring the call, I turned to a friend and said, “Oh, can you watch her? I need to take this.”
20 minutes and a frustratingly-pointless phone call later, I returned to the dock. My friend complimented my devotion to my job, telling me I was, “such a driven career woman.” That is not someone I ever wanted to be.
And so, four months later, I left.
2. Don’t fear change, but make it purposeful
I found myself searching harder than ever — now for both the opportunities that would keep up the means and for the work that would help give me back the guts of who I was.
Self-reflection can be a powerful tool when we’re feeling unfulfilled. With one afternoon dwelling on two questions — “what am I good at” and “what do I love” — we can identify a purposeful direction. For me, it was easy to come to the conclusion that writing was my most direct lane to creative growth (and income).
The Challenge: don’t find one opportunity and settle into mediocrity. Accepting the “means” concept doesn’t mean that you need to stay put in a role that doesn’t fill you.
It’s OK to keep searching. It’s OK to say yes to new opportunities and to keep going after the work that appeals to you. To put aside the “job jumping” mentality and reframe your mindset around the pursuit of opportunities.
But you MUST be intentional about the work you accept, move through, and pursue. Be sure that it’s serving your growth and carrying you to a higher level of both professionalism and self.
In the last year, I have written for no less than 20 companies. And I’ve onboarded and off-boarded clients all in an effort to find the path that best serves me and my family. With each new client and relationship, I’ve grown and found a new realization of what I need to feel filled.
Currently, I’m sitting on two accounts – one that solely utilizes my writing and design work that I accomplish from the solitude of my little home-office, and the other that allows me to lean into my passion for non-profit development (and music) and that, this weekend, will have me speaking to an audience of nearly 2,000 people. Both allow my creativity to seep into my work in different ways, and both inspire me in how I create away from work.
3. Surround yourself with people who get it
There is nothing more powerful than the connection of like-minded people. Whether you’re in an office setting or finding your way through the gig-economy, find other creatives who fall into your headspace.
Connect with them to get through the sometimes-drudgery of daily to-dos. Commiserate over feeling misunderstood and the frustration of the search. Celebrate each others’ victories and push each other to always be better.
The Challenge: be sure you’re in with other creatives who possess desire and drive. It’s easy to take a “woe is me, I’m so misunderstood” stance as a creative individual, and to fall into an unproductive and melancholy existence. Instead of playing the victim (and allowing those around you to ONLY make you feel like a victim) find the people who are equal parts understanding AND empowering.
Seek out and foster relationships that fill you up as much as the work you desire to do! And always be open to learning from new people you encounter.
“Walk with the dreamers, the believers, the courageous, the cheerful, the planners, the doers, the successful people with their heads in the clouds and their feet on the ground. Let their spirit ignite a fire within you to leave this world better than when you found it…” ― Wilferd Peterson
Find the creatives who challenge and change you. Who set you up for success even when it might mean they have to take a step back. The ones who won’t be afraid to give you tough love when you need it.
4. Stop apologizing for your process
The way you live and search for meaning is valid.
The choices you make are the right ones because they are the ones you will live with tomorrow.
Your pursuit of meaning is not an inconvenience to anyone else, and they shouldn’t make you feel like it is.
It’s OK to go against the expectations of those around you and to find the path that allows you to contribute in a way that makes you feel whole.
The Challenge: Have the confidence to stand behind the you that is in process.
Be sure in your unsureness.
Don’t settle. Keep searching.