Why pursuing creativity can be a great career move

·7-min read
Photo credit: Tom Barnes
Photo credit: Tom Barnes

Emma Gannon is, famously, not just one thing. The writer, podcaster, journalist, novelist, teacher, publisher and more, has perfected the multi-hyphenate method, publicising and, in many ways, normalising, the idea of working across multiple fields and disciplines.

She published her debut novel, Olive, in 2020, and has written four books, from her first in 2016, to her latest, (Dis)Connected: How to Stay Human in an Online World, due for release this December, on careers, creativity and the internet, subjects also discussed in her award-winning podcast, Ctl Alt Delete. Gannon brings this savvy to her role at Skillshare, where she teaches how to achieve success in the often tricky creative fields.

Here, she shares some of these insights into pivoting into a creative career, and why this can be beneficial to your wellbeing.

Debunk the mystery of creative careers

"I think when we talk about finances and confidence and making time for creative projects, there's so much mystery around it. It still seems like there is not that much information out there about how to get into these careers, and that's why I want to do everything I can to get rid of that mystery. Whenever I discover anything that is of value to me, I can't sit on that information - I like to share it with others. That's why communicating with or listening to as many other people in creative careers as possible, is so important, they have so many lessons to share."

You can make money from creativity

"I think one of the things that holds people back from taking a creative plunge is that they think they won't make money. You absolutely can. It may not be as straightforward as other careers, but you can. I think one of the worst mistakes I made was believing that you have to suffer to be creative. It doesn't have to be hand-to-mouth worrying; you can set up regular income streams and I talk about this a lot in my books. You can have a salary, you can have a monthly income, that allows you to do all the adult things like having a mortgage and paying your bills. This isn't just a random lifestyle where you take bits here and there. You can set up a really solid and secure life for yourself. That's why when people say: 'Oh, you're so risky, I can't believe you left your job'. I'm like, that was one income stream that I left and I have five now. It's actually more risky to have one job, I would say!"

Now may be the perfect time for a creative career change...

"This past year has been so turbulent for so many in the workplace, with mass redundancies and job insecurities. But often, when we are presented with a big change like this, it can be the perfect time to take that risk and embrace something you have always wanted to do. There is a mourning period for a job, but also a reminder that your identity and your job are not the same thing. Something like creativity is more innate to you, and embracing it at this point in your life is a great idea. I am in the school of thought that when you're in chaos, it's actually a really good time to make a massive life change, because the world is already spinning out of control so you may as well throw one more thing at yourself. There's an odd element of comfort to that."

...but change doesn't happen overnight

"Creative career changes take a lot of time and work and effort so don't be discouraged if things don't happen fast. I hate fad diets, because you may get somewhere but it never brings sustained growth and happiness. It's the same with a creative career; just work through it step by step and take it slowly."

Photo credit: Courtesy
Photo credit: Courtesy

Be prepared to deal with risk and fear

"I make peace with the fact that some things just don't work; I make that deal with myself before I do anything. So it's not a surprise if it fails. I have to remind myself that there is always a possibility that I might fail. Often it is simple: when you realise that something works, you carry on doing it. And when you realise one thing doesn't work, you just stop doing it. Over time you just start navigating towards the thing that is working, but it does take a lot of wrong starts. That's all part of the process."

Don't internalise rejection

"When we are children, we throw ourselves into new challenges all the time; we aren't afraid to be creative. Somewhere along the line we lost that, and I think it's because we begin to internalise every negative comment we receive as we grow up. Every time I get a rejection I have to remind myself not to do that, but obviously it is very hard. I feel quite established and happy with where I am in my career at the moment, but I still get a rejection and it can floor me for a few days. I don't think you magically don't care about rejection, it's horrible!

"However, something I learned from a psychologist recently, is that when you're rejected, you basically feel the same emotion over and over again. It's not a new emotion. When you were five, being told that your friend does want to play with you, that is the same feeling as being 32 and being told that no one wants to buy your book. So realising that it's a normal emotion throughout your whole life, I think is what allows me to be aware of it and know that I can survive it. It didn't stop me from growing last time. So why would it stop me this time?"

Feedback is crucial

"If in doubt about whether to make that creative career jump, ask your closest friends or closest colleagues what they value about you what they think you're good at. Often we cannot see our talents very easily, but they're quite obvious to other people so that can be a really good place to start."

Make peace with sacrifice

"I would say that you do have to make peace with sacrificing things when you're starting out. This can be financially or even just with your time. Making this change means doing a clean up: saving some money, changing up your lifestyle. And that means sacrificing with time as well. So maybe it's not going to the pub every single Sunday. As hard as it feels, you often have to ask yourself: is this actually helping me on the path to what I want to achieve?"

Don't be afraid to ask for help

"Too many people think you have to do this alone, but it can be a hard and lonely path. We're really bad at asking for help. We always feel like we have to do everything by ourselves. But there are some really great Facebook groups and closed Facebook groups, and free information everywhere, from podcasts to Twitter and newsletters. Also people want to help. I think we forget that people are nice sometimes."

Remember that creativity is good for your wellbeing

"One of the greatest misconceptions we have about work is that it can't make us happy, that it is meant to make us miserable. It's why, though so many of us are creative in our lives, and have creative side projects that make us happy, we rarely see these as careers because they're 'fun'. But work can be fun, and creative endeavours are so important for our wellbeing.

"I think creativity brings confidence and reassures you that your identity is much more than your job. Having this mixture of talents and skills, and really just embracing something for the sheer joy of it, that can bring you back to a good place. Joy can be hard to find right now so I feel like if you can find any sort of peace in your creativity, that's a huge thing."

Skillshare is the world's largest online learning community for creativity. To learn more, go to: skillshare.com

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