The advice our parents gave us doesn’t stick. The work climate we live in is completely different, and we’re all facing down a mountain of internships while it seems that every generation that came before remains so self-assured for an unfathomable reason. The career climb becomes even harder when you’re a creative; with no steady employment and terms like “self publishing” and “multimedia management” to intimidate you, it can feel like you’re navigating early adulthood blindfolded. How are we meant to handle this?
Luckily we (kinda) have (some) answers, and it’s only thanks to a series of happy accidents that we’ve managed to turn bumps and blunders into nuggets of knowledge, which brings us to some of our favourite advice…
Treat every experience as an opportunity to learn.
Sure, this applies to discovering what your employer’s target market finds most engaging, or which computer programs you work the most efficiently with, but it also applies to the less successful events in your working life. Maybe an employer strings you along, or an interview goes badly. Perhaps even, someone took the custom vase they commissioned from you and ran off to Madagascar to get out of paying. These things are frustrating, but they always yield something valuable. Being able to translate letdowns into lessons is crucial in the big wide world of creative work. Like Kelis said, “you might trick me once, but I won’t let you trick me twice”.
Utilise everything at your disposal and make your presence known.
This includes even your most niche talents, as we’re often expected to be quadruple-threats in fields we can’t even begin to pronounce. Can you write? Deliver speeches? Fix IT issues? Arrange flowers? Your expertise is worth something, so allocate enough time to practise your passions, they may come in handy. Despite what some say, everything is profitable if you find your market, and you might be more well-equipped than you knew. This advice extends to all of your networks – new acquaintances, a friend of a friend, even that aunt you never speak to. Don’t be afraid to let people know what you’re working on, and more importantly don’t be afraid to ask about jobs. Keeping a blog or a nicely preened Instagram can go a long way, informal as it sounds. As much as you’re searching for a creative job, an employer is searching for you, so wave your arms a little.
Finally, don’t make a habit of accepting scraps.
This is difficult as nobody will get their ideal job without breaking a sweat, but if you find yourself jumping through hoops for free, indefinitely, and for a constantly unclear reward, maybe, just maybe, you’re punching below your weight. Being hungry is fantastic. Being starving is a problem. With desperation and naivety come lower standards, and higher odds for swamping yourself by accepting every offer you encounter, just because you’re so grateful to be working at all. Learn how to say “no” to things that won’t benefit you. There’s a lot of respect for starting from square one, but don’t let anyone ever make you think that’s where you belong.
Words by Esmeralda Voegele-Downing