I thought it may be fun to open this up as a topic today on decor8, Career Advice for Creatives. Warning: This post is a long one! I’m interested in talking about this because many emails arrive on a weekly basis asking me for career advice. So many aspiring bloggers, writers, and designers out there — it’s exciting! And though I love to read your emails, I often wonder why you are writing to me looking for help because I don’t think of myself as qualified to give career advice, I don’t consider myself a mentor. Your emails have shown me that I greatly underestimate my own ability in this area. I try to reply to as many of them as I can, but I thought for the sake of reaching more of you at one time that I should write a little on this topic today here on decor8.
My hope is that readers will chime in with their own advice and that in the future when new readers write in looking for career advice, I can refer them to this post and the comments that will no doubt be left here by so many of you.
Where to begin? Hmm. I guess it is hard for me to give advice when it comes to career paths because I am still fine tuning exactly where I belong myself! I think I always will and I have grown to love and accept this about my personality. From your emails, many find it interesting that I jumped into the freelance pond after so many years of swimming around in the corporate sea. I think you like positive examples of how others make the switch because you are in the big sea currently and dream of smaller ponds. If so, I understand completely. Leaving it all behind was a pretty big risk for me but if I had stayed I would have risked a lot more. I guess I will begin by telling you the ugly truth regarding a little meltdown I had at work in ’04 that got me to thinking that a change was needed.
Towards the final days of my career I remember feeling physically sick when I had to go to work. Do you ever feel this way? It’s normal now and then, but if you feel ill on an almost daily basis you need to see a doctor like I did and he told me that I was in perfect health but I knew better. Often after arriving, I would zone out at my desk because I couldn’t quite absorb all of the information flying at me any longer. I felt depressed, but only when I was in the office. The moment I left I felt full of energy. No one sensed I was losing focus at work, I was always able to keep up with things and often exceeded expectations on purpose — I didn’t want anyone to think I was unhappy there. But my body was telling me I needed to make some changes. A year before I resigned, I was on a yet another conference call and with the mute button on, tears starting rolling down my face as I tried not to cry out loud. After the call, I found a windowless conference room, locked the door, and sat in that very dark room and cried for what felt like 10 minutes. After my mini meltdown, I pulled myself together, wiped my eyes and put on the Holly smile emerging from the conference room walking a little taller and feeling more confident than ever. Why? During that meltdown there in the dark the lights went on. At least in my mind. I told myself that I would find a more creative career path and that I could make changes, it was in my power. I told myself that crying in a conference room was pathetic. I couldn’t allow myself to experience this amount of pain for any job. It was my low point. I knew I had a mountain to climb ahead but I was ready.
After the mini melt, I started to lace up my climbing boots. It took me one full year before I resigned. You have to prepare your way before you quit a lucrative job in a field that you spent years building. Lucky for me my husband does not depend on my income to sustain us. Please do not think for a moment that I feel comfortable with this fact, jobs can change in the blink of an eye so I never place all of my eggs in his basket. I’m very independent. I remember the day my father took me to the town hall on my 15th birthday to register for a social security card so I could start working part-time after school. I had to contribute a weekly percentage to my parents, and they didn’t need the money, but they wanted to teach me the value of it. I have been working ever since. I’ve also learned that money is not something one can fully rely on to always be there. That is why I had a hard time at first with the idea of leaving behind my job to give up this ‘control’ that I’d long held so tightly. When my husband first relocated to this country from Germany in ’01, I was the primary source of income for the first year while he worked on his English. He spoke the language, but it was the written word he needed to master in order to get back into his field. Once he mastered English, he easily found employment and has been with the same company now for over 5 years. But the first two years we had to sacrifice a lot. And I remember that sacrifice and so in ’04 when I decided to leave my career behind, I reflected on that challenging period we had experienced as newlyweds vowing to myself that I would not repeat that if it was in my power. My husband works full-time and is very driven and dedicated so I never worry about his ability to support us. But I was scared to walk away from my secure weekly paycheck because with that came comfort, the comfort of knowing that if something happened to his job that we still had mine.
I decided that the comfort of income wasn’t as important as the comfort of a joyful, happy spirit. I wanted to regain joy and the steady income wasn’t doing it so my answer was quite clear. Sacrifice the pay and pursue a career doing what I felt passionate about.
Because this could easily turn into a book, I’ll wrap up soon so that others can jump in with their own experiences and if you have questions for me, please feel free to ask.
I resigned in ’05 and have never looked back. Never once did I doubt myself. I’ve had success, and I’ve had failures. I’m happy that I made the change, it worked for me personally. It is difficult for me to advise someone else on how they should go about embarking on a new career since there is no ‘one size fits all’ recipe. But I can tell you that I would not go back to a ‘normal’ job. I have nothing against it at all, in fact I know that had I not spent nearly ten years being professionally groomed in a pretty intense and competitive environment I may not be able to do what I am doing today. I almost wish everyone could work a corporate job alongside powerful executives for at least a year. There is something to be said for the exposure, the accelerated rate as which you acquire new skills, the contacts you build, and the second skin it can help you to grow. There are also parts of it that I miss but I am careful not to focus on the past because the only direction in life is forward.
I do not think working for ‘the man’ is wrong or selling out. We tend to judge others for the roles that they take on as adults, it is not up to us to direct the life of another person. We can only be a good example and be the change we want to see, not force others into a role we think is best for them. That is why I’m careful when I talk about this subject. I also am careful to not form cliques where I limit myself only to others following the same path as my own. It’s best to surround yourself with people who are happy, however they achieve that happiness is their business. One of my closest girlfriends manages communications for a huge company and works nearly full-time remotely from her Boston-based home office. She loves it, she can walk her dog on her lunch break and have some flexibility with her 9-5 schedule. She is very successful in her field, I see her in an executive role by the time she is 40. I don’t think for a moment that she isn’t following her dreams because she’s working for a corporate giant. In fact, I know for a fact that she is over the moon happy with her job. I admire her very much! Recently she was published in a popular business journal because she is an excellent writer and the opportunity to write outside of her company was thrilling and fun for her. She finds creative outlets outside of her job and gains much satisfaction this way. My wiring is a little different that’s all. I wanted to start my own business, just as nearly everyone in my family started their own business at one time or another. The point is that we are all coded differently so there is no point in comparing yourself to someone else or thinking that your path is wrong or the only right one out there. I do not think freelance work is a bowl of cherries. There are lots of pits just like any other job.
To wrap this post up I’ll conclude with an email that I sent to a lovely reader who wrote in today seeking career advice. This is what I said in reply.
“Let me remind you though that I am not a career counselor though I think it would be a really fun career path to be one for creatives! With that said, I really cannot advise one on next steps in their career. I do not know your talents, I’ve not seen your work, and I do not know your personality type (introvert, extrovert, enjoys working alone, with teams, etc.). I also am not at all familiar with want side of interior design you personally like. I do not know your strengths. Is it writing? Community building? Is it decorating, knocking down walls, kitchen design, etc. I wish I could advise you but based on lack of information and not having met you in person, it’s very hard. When I was getting started back in 2004, I took a class. You may want to just enroll in a class — pick something you’ve always wanted to learn in the design realm and enroll. You will then have access to college professors, peers, and career counselors. I met with one at Northeastern University and our conversation was life changing. A good career counselor can help. Also books on the subject. Write lists of your strengths and be as detailed as possible as you write a page or two in your notebook describing how you envision your day. Will you meet with clients? Will you rep someone? Will you work from home? In an office? It’s good to do
all of this personal evaluation before you approach a career counselor because they can work better with someone who knows themselves well already.”
I concluded with these remarks, “I wish I had the magic wand, I would wave it and poof! you would be working in the best field imaginable. But life is a series of risks and challenges. Each help us and to remove them from anyone’s path does not help them to grow and learn.
I cannot give you the answers, but I can tell you that self evaluation and taking a class got me started and I’ve been very happy with my choice so far. One recent thought I heard that stuck is, When you are trying to accomplish a goal, you will hit brick walls. Remember, brick walls aren’t put there to stop us, they are placed there to see just how badly we want our goal. I think that is really good to remember as you make this journey. You mentioned being nervous – FACE your fears by just doing it.” – Holly
If you would like to add to my comments above, ask questions, or jump in with your personal experience of how you got started as a writer, blogger, designer, decorator, etc. please please please do! This can’t be all about me! :)