The One Thing You Have To Do To Keep Your Creative Career Alive


Let’s skip right past the well-known vent of how liberal arts is OBVIOUSLY valuable even though the economy disagrees as of late.

We need to be real…

No matter how objectively or historically valuable your work/field is as a creative, if the big money-makers of your time disagree, you’re not going to have a straight path to the high-paying job of your dreams unless you get really, really lucky. (Even though these people really need to get their priorities straight– looking at you, CTOs that can’t form a coherent email.)

But, in this capitalist hellscape, we all need to make money. We all may find ourselves working 8+ hours a day at a job we hate that isn’t helping us evolve as a creative.

So here’s how to keep your career in forward-motion even if your bill-paying job isn’t helping – AKA How to have the energy at the end of the day to make career moves and do cool shit when you’re already mentally and/or physically drained from dedicating yourself eight hours elsewhere.

Remind yourself that not everything you do has to be groundbreaking.

However you practice – whether you’re a graphic designer learning new techniques for making cool logos on Illustrator, a writer trying to branch into poetry, a photographer who isn’t getting noticed, or any other type of creative, you need to remind yourself that a small practice at the end of the day is not worthless.

You can take a crappy photo of your backyard. You can paint something you already know how to make look good. You can write a stream of consciousness that doesn’t make any sense. The point is that you TRY at least for a bit at the end of your day to get your creative juices flowing. Remind yourself that not everything you output has to be golden. It’s in the shitty or halfhearted practice that you’ll one day look up and see the masterpiece you’ve been too scared to attempt.

Take it from Julia Cameron, a journalist and writer who published “The Artist’s Way” back in the ‘90s.

When you think you’ve lost your talent

Julia Cameron, in short, was an alcoholic for the earlier portion of her life and nevertheless-successful career. When she got sober, she basically felt as though she’d lost her creativity.

She no longer knew how to get in her creative mindset and felt like she lost her creative ability– something that seemed to come so easy before she was in recovery.

Lucky for us, Cameron went through this and wrote a book about it, so we can all benefit from her findings. And no, you don’t have to be in recovery to find this useful. Here’s what I mean.

In “The Artist’s Way,” Cameron advocated for three main things:

  1. Morning Pages
    First thing in the morning, write (by hand) anything that comes to mind and fill up three pages. It doesn’t have to make sense or have a goal, just listen to your stream of consciousness without judgment and write it down.
  2. Writer’s Date
    Take yourself, alone, on a date. To a bookshop, a park, a movie, on a walk down the street, wherever. This gives you the time to think, without the pressure of holding a conversation or making sure someone else is having fun. They say creativity is often rooted in your emotions — so give yourself time to notice how you feel at the end of the day.
  3. The Block
    Don’t feel down if you have writer’s block, or designer’s block, or whatever. Ask other people (or the internet) for prompts to get your brain going. Creatives often feel constantly under the pressure to ideate the next amazing thing — but this can happen after asking a question like, “What do you want from me?” And your creative brain will start to do what it does best.

The point is, you just DO something.

You’ll feel the liberation of creating without the pressure to do so. And suddenly, on this random Tuesday, something exists that didn’t before. Stop thinking of yourself as a creative generator from deep down in your soul, and think of yourself instead as a vessel through which creative ideas can flow.

Too hippie-dippie for you? That’s fine, here’s another way to give it a try.

You just got home and slammed your keys down after another eight hours at a job that seems to be taking you nowhere. You’re drained, and all you want to do is order takeout and put on Netflix. After your day job, it’s not as easy as everyone thinks to then spend hours on your personal blog or portfolio, or free class you’re taking to get better at advertising theory or web design trends.

Did you know that massive corporate offices, thanks to the mindfulness/self care boom in the last decade, often have something like ping pong rooms? Whatever comes to mind when you think of Google’s bean bag chairs or Quidditch tournaments– there is a professional reason for this.

People do their best creative thinking and problem solving when their brain is otherwise occupied by something simpler. It’s not a coincidence that in the board room meeting you didn’t have anything to say, but on your drive home or in the shower are hit with a moment of clarity. Execs puts devs in a room with a ping pong table and a whiteboard for exactly this reason when there’s an issue to solve.

So when you get home at the end of the day, stop expecting yourself to NOW put in another three hours of work on your website or low-paying freelancing gigs just so you can feel like you’re moving forward. You won’t be able to keep this up, and ultimately will feel even more drained than you did when you got home.

Instead, do small, seemingly inconsequential activities, like morning pages, or take down design ideas that come to mind while cleaning your kitchen. Because even if your morning pages at the end of the year look like crap — you just put so much more time into your creative career than the person who got home and, rightfully exhausted, did nothing.

We know who you are.

We know who you are, you who has so much unique, innate creative ability that can’t get paid to do what you do best because everywhere wants three years experience and will pay you $9/hour.

Don’t give up your dream job, day job holder. Know that you can make progress in the smallest and simplest of ways. Because one of these nights, when you dedicate only 15 minutes to doing something creative, you’ll turn out something better than the guy 10 tiers above you in the marketing department could in eight hours.

Do things for yourself. Be less judgmental of where you are right now. Win web design awards and creative competitions with your unique abilities. Whether you’re a bartender at a shitty bar or a coffee-running assistant at a company you want to run someday, make progress and turn the heads of your superiors by winning an award for your work that work they didn’t want because you didn’t have the years of experience they believe make a good creative. We know you’re out there, existing, trying to get noticed when it seems like the world is against you. That’s why we created The Digital Shortlist, a competition that awards creatives for what they do, not how much they pay to enter or who they’ll hire next time they need a firm.

Do what you do best, even in bits and pieces, and we promise one day you’ll look up at a forward-moving career that had no help from the big guys. (Hint: we like those people.) That’s what we did, and now you’re looking at the best ad agency in ATX.

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