The Intersection of Creative Expression & Career Momentum

This post originally appeared in the January blog edition of Tangerine-Watson’s THRIVE newsletter.

One of the challenges of being a creative, whether it’s by trade or by interest, is striking a balance that both satisfies the needs of your career, and satiates your creative appetite.

I admire anyone whose day-to-day career responsibilities cross into creative territory- advertising, marketing, design, technology to name a few. Yet having worked with creatives and ad folks for nearly ten years, I understand the challenges that often come with doing work that focuses around someone else’s creative vision. It’s not exactly what every decorated art school grad had in mind.

Even as a designer, illustrator, art director or anyone else who potentially spends their day creating, designing, writing or strategizing, there still often exists that need to balance the work you do for your client or organization with the need to express your own creativity through satisfying channels.

And many creative professionals do balance this successfully, running freelance ventures that allow them to choose the clients they work with and the projects they take on, or perhaps working for firms whose portfolio of work and clientele they truly admire and identify with. But you don’t have to be a career creative to seek out and put value on creative expression. In the modern careerscape of 2012, the truth is that everyone struggles to carve out a creative niche, both in their work and personal endeavors.

It’s certainly a challenge I’ve waded through as an entrepreneur, and counsel my
budding entrepreneurial clients on. Nothing teaches you to prioritize your time, energy and output quite like working for yourself. In the beginning, whether you’re a consultant, a freelancer, or striving to be the next big tech startup, it’s easy to dive head-first into your work and toss all of your other previously important interests to the side in the name of potential success. “They’ll still be there later,” we tell ourselves.

This is where we entrepreneurs fall guilty of the 80-hour workweek cliche – your business is your baby and if you truly believe in your idea, you will go to extraordinary lengths to assure its healthy development and success. You justify work as your new creative outlet, whether that’s true or not, and suddenly your brushes, journal or Wacom tablet are off collecting dust.

And make no mistake that overworked professionals of any industry are just as guilty of such habits as are the tireless entrepreneurs. The problem with this scenario is that anyone who values creativity at the core thrives on the ability to express themselves, to create good work and to feel challenged, and practices that ignore those needs are simply not sustainable. Because when we ignore our values in any form, whether it’s by taking a job that doesn’t resonate with who we are, doing work we’re not proud of, or letting our passions fall by the wayside, we are placing ourselves in an unsustainable situation. Sustainability by definition is the ability to endure, in a career, in an environment, in business or in life, and in any of those areas where we lack sustainability, potential for burnout is abundant.

As an artist and entrepreneur, I have learned that you simply have to prioritize creativity in the same way that you prioritize anything else in your life – making money, paying bills, fostering your relationships and your career. I’m lucky in that I’ve learned to make creativity a part of my business, in the form of designing new products and services, coming up with fresh marketing ideas, and managing my visual identity and web presence. My New Year’s resolution is to carve out more time to take on freelance illustration projects. While I can be creative in my business, there’s still a large void when I don’t make it a point to honor my inner fine artist, a character that’s defined me for nearly 30 years.

The role that creativity plays in each of our lives and in our work will certainly be
different for everyone, and as a result the niche that we carve out to satisfy that creative drive will take on its own unique look.

With that in mind, it’s not just about what we do creatively outside of the job. If you are someone who places creativity as a core value, it’s important to consider how those values are also being honored as you’re moving through your career. You don’t have to be a designer or writer to satisfy your creative appetite on the job. But do think about the opportunities and aspects of your work that might allow you to really flex your right brain, to problem solve, to come up with innovative solutions and generate fresh ideas. It’s no surprise that creativity is billed as one of the top in-demand business skills that companies value in candidates and employees.

Studies suggest that when we feel creatively engaged at work, our overall job satisfaction often higher.  At the end of the day, who wouldn’t want someone with that kind of work ethic and pride on their team, and who wouldn’t want to work for a team that encourages that kind of healthy and fulfilling environment?

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