You can be multi passionate and have a successful career.
When I started out my career I was told constantly that I had to choose one thing. I was the sort of person who had several projects on the go, was a science and tech geek and loved to take photos, dance and write. Something that on paper didn’t seem to go together as a career path. But jump forward two decades (and after ignoring the advice from well meaning people), I have had the most exciting career I could have hoped for.
I have worked as an awarding winning photojournalist for publications like Marie Claire and The Guardian, I’ve trekked across the Arctic for work, I’ve hung out in Namibian homesteads, appeared on several television programmes, worked on feature films with actors Carey Mulligan and Michael Sheen, delivered training programmes to creatives entrepreneurs around the world for The British Council, and written a book to help creatives start their own businesses.
If you’re reading this and thinking that I must have had every opportunity handed to me, I want to make sure that you know I did this all off my own back, and I know that you could too.
I had many barriers to over come at the start of my career. My father had left when I was 4 and my mother died when I was 9. Apart from learning that life is short the hard way, it did give me the chance to see what the world had to offer without any other family influence. I said yes to opportunities that came my way, even if they felt out of my comfort zone. I learnt quickly that networking was the way that you got into industries that seemed impossible to enter, and that there were still a lot of sexism and glass ceilings within the media industries.
The positive side of all of this, is that I made sure younger women coming up behind me were introduced to my networks, mentored by me and celebrated when they landed their dream jobs. I’m someone who firmly believes in the power of teamwork, building a ‘career community’ around you who can offer advice, support and cheerleading on the tough days, and asking for help early on.
I’ve been mentoring creatives for over a decade now and I’m pleased to see that it is no longer unusual to have a multi passionate career. In 2014 I realised that there was a real need for female creative entrepreneurs to get more support, access to networks, and funding advice in male dominated industries like media. Off the back of my work with The British Council I set up Creative Women International ® to bridge this gap. I now have the privilege of seeing other creative women succeed in their careers, and playing a small part in their journey makes my day.
How to have a multi passionate career
These are some of the things that I wished I had known when I was starting out and the things that I get asked the most from my mentees.
- If you aren’t sure what career path you want to follow, start by getting really clear about what you enjoy doing every day. If you love your hobby but feel that trying to earn money from it would kill your passion, then find something else to focus on.
- Look at what you are good at. Although it helps to be passionate about something to keep your energy up when times get tough, it is possible to have a happy and successful career without feeling passionate about it. Look at where your skills are. Can you do things easily that others would pay you for?
- Think about the types of people you would like to work with. You might be setting up your own creative business and working alone, but it is important to think about the types of customers you want to sell to as well. They are part of your working life, and if you don’t enjoy interacting with them you’ll become unhappy with your work very quickly.
People are the lifeblood of what we do, and how we earn an income, choose people you want to interact with so that they either share the same value systems as you, or else you enjoy spending time with them. We spend so many hours at work; I believe it is important to enjoy them.
- Get help early on. This is the number one thing that I wish I had known sooner. As creatives we tend to think that we have to do everything ourselves, when in reality the most important thing is to innovate and out source the rest. I wasted so much time trying to figure out software, which I should have paid someone to sort out for me, and then spent that time earning money to pay for their services!
When money and time is short at the start, we think that we can’t possibly pay for help. Often by outsourcing it buys you time to make more products that in turn bring in more money. A bit of a Catch 22 situation, but one that more creatives should look at.
- Get support. This is a massive one, and something I am passionate about. As female entrepreneurs we can often be building our careers around childcare, elder care and a million other things. Getting support early on is vital for your wellbeing and the success of your business. Whether you employ the services of a mentor, or meet up with other women starting their own businesses, being able to reach out and ask for help when your having difficulties is so important.
- Imposter syndrome can be dealt with, even if it feels horrible at the time. The good news is that the majority of people have had imposter syndrome at some point during their careers, and it tends to turn up if you are pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. I know that it might not feel like a welcomed friend at the time, but there are ways to unpick it so that you can see it as a positive interruption.
Start by trying to figure out why you are feeling that way. Is it that you don’t have all of the skills needed to deliver something, or that you are moving up the pay scale, or pitching for a client you have dreamed about landing? Understanding where the feelings are starting from is half the battle won.
The next thing to do is to work out whether what you are feeling has any truth to it. By that I mean are you telling yourself a story that you aren’t going to get that pay rise, or that you aren’t worthy of something, when you have no evidence to back it up? We can be the hardest on ourselves. Unpick the truths from the stories you are telling yourself- things like “I am scared to ask for more”, “I’m worried that I will look unconfident making the pitch” or “I don’t know how to use the software”. All of these types of truths can be sorted out with support, training or a mate who can tag along to hold your hand.
Making a successful career
Impatience is something that I have had to work at over the years. When we are excited about building a dream career we can want everything to happen straight away. This is a natural feeling and something that helps us to jump out of bed in the morning to face the day. It can also flip on its head and make us frustrated that things aren’t moving fast enough. I have seen so many creatives get burnout or give up when things haven’t been successful straight away.
Being a business owner and entrepreneur can be tough at times. You might have to start as a side hustle working in the evenings before you can leave your day job. Or else you might have to stand back and have an honest look at what is or isn’t working in your business and pivot. I have pivoted my business and career many times. The key is to never look at past time as wasted time. I have a friend who describes it as marinating. Sometimes things take longer than planned and that is ok. It is amazing how long it actually takes to be an overnight success!
Find support, test and adapt your ideas, look for amazing opportunities, network, make contacts in different industries, ask for help, find a community online or in person to share with, be bold, take risks and always ask- the worst thing that can happen is that they say no. Remember to celebrate the small wins along the way, as they keep you going towards the finish line.