My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”
“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”
The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.
“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”
O Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.”
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
The quote “we’re not like the others” from the above passage has always stuck in my mind, and it’s a remark that could easily be shouted from the rooftops by many of us creative types. We often feel like a square peg in a round hole, especially when it comes to work.
I’ve worked numerous jobs where I’ve felt seriously miserable, yet others around me seemed to be fine. I mean they would probably prefer not to be there, but it wasn’t seriously messing with their soul or anything.
I felt isolated and wondered if this was some terrible personality flaw of mine. I will own up to having my fair share of such flaws. But it’s not just me who feels like this at work, there’s a lot of us out there who feel the same.
Stuck in a rut
A few years back I realised I was going nowhere fast. Ok, I’d gradually moved up the ladder in the civil service and got better paid jobs with more responsibility, and it looked fairly realistic to say I could continue to do so in the future, but the fact was I didn’t want to. In fact, I couldn’t think of anything worse.
I decided a career change was going to be necessary but I wasn’t sure what exactly to do. I wanted to make sure I made the right choice – I’d already spent four years doing a Communications Studies degree and didn’t feel it was at all worthwhile in career terms as it was a pretty vague and woolly subject with little in the way of vocational training (also I was very young and unfocused at the time).
I decided to research possible careers as thoroughly as I could before making the decision to go back to full-time or part-time education. Especially as I couldn’t afford it and was reluctant to get back into debt.
The truth is, I’m still working the day job, and still researching, still trying to learn new skills in my free time, from books and the internet. But some of the resources I’ve found have really helped me on my mission to become either more clear-minded or more creative, and in this new series I want to feature the best of them.
When looking into changing careers I first read the Guardian book How to Change Your Career, which gave me some initial encouragement. They even have a quote from psychologist Dr Charles Johnson who says: “being stale at your work is a way of ageing quickly.” At last, an explanation for my receding hairline and premature grey hairs. They also said that age shouldn’t be an obstacle to changing careers, so being in my 30s wasn’t necessarily a problem either.
The book has some useful info in it, with lots of details about specific jobs/career paths. But none of them seemed right for me. I mean journalism was the obvious choice, but I’d already done quite a bit of arts journalism in my spare time and found it hard to find work, and I wasn’t interested in news or sports. Plus, the journalism industry was now in disarray due to the ubiquity of the internet.
The next book I picked up at least made me feel a lot better about myself. The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People, by Carol Eickleberry, spoke directly to my experience. (note this is an affiliate link – for more details see foot of post).
Eickleberry focuses much more on the psychology of finding the right career/job and for me this was a breath of fresh air compared to most other career books which only really skim the surface. On the first page the author invites the reader to start their own personal adventure. She says: “the adventure begins when you set out to develop your own unique potential instead of following conventional expectations to become like someone else.”
This was a different approach to careers than those I’d seen before which you could paraphrase as ‘pick a profession which sounds like it might be ok and risk years of your life and a small fortune on the chance that a) you might enjoy it and b) there might actually be some jobs available in the field’.
Eikleberry goes into detail about Holland’s theory, that “there are six basic personality types in the world of work, and six corresponding work environments”. She provides exercises to help you determine which type you most closely correspond to (please note that the theory comes from a psychologist named John Holland, not Jools Holland, former Squeeze musician turned TV presenter).
It wouldn’t take a genius to work out that I scored most highly in the ‘artistic’ category. I also scored fairly highly in the ‘social’ category, which included possible job roles such as counsellor or teacher. Eikleberry explains that knowing this second category is useful if you’re confused about what artistic avenue to pursue or are drawn to a number of different directions.
She also quotes statistics which show that there are a lot more artistic types out there than there are artistic jobs. Again, I started to understand better why I hadn’t yet found a job I really enjoyed.
The Reasons Why You Hate Your Job
In fact the book goes a long way towards explaining my seemingly incurable workplace malaise:
“Creative work requires a very high level of skill. It feels bad to have a high level of ability but not use it. One major study found that underutilisation of abilities is positively related to job dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, and depression.” I certainly felt this way about the lack of writing/creative opportunities at my job at the time.
She also says that non-artistic types (the majority) can consider artistic types (the minority) in a negative light, or even choose to ignore their talents and accomplishments completely because they’re unwilling to see an alternative to their own value systems and beliefs. This lack of understanding, whether intentional or not, can mean constant misinterpretation of what the creative person is all about:
“Many creative people look like chronic malcontents to outsiders, because they are always searching for what can be improved.”
Coupled with our desire to do things our own way, and therefore difficulty in bowing to authority, it’s no wonder some of us don’t fit into traditional workplaces! And the news wasn’t good when it came to mental health either:
“Because psychological adjustment is defined, in part, as the ability to fit in, it’s not too surprising to learn that artistic types as a group demonstrate the least confidence and the greatest psychological distress of all six types.”
Composing Your Ideal Career
Once it has laid out the reasons why a traditional job is not suitable for creative types, the book goes on to give plenty of advice on working out your abilities, interests and motivators (there are plenty of resources for this on the accompanying website) as well as how to ‘compose your ideal career’. Eikleberry also suggests some specific roles you may want to look into further, based on what you find out about yourself.
The book didn’t give me all the answers by any means, but most importantly it made me realise I wasn’t alone, and I wasn’t ‘broken’ in some way, I was just different. And it’s made me determined to find work that suited who I am, instead of trying to fit into to a role which someone else expected me to fulfil.
Was this post useful? Let me know what you think.
If you’re interested in buying this book, I’ve included links below to Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. These are affiliate links which means if you buy it I will receive a tiny amount of money for recommending it, but it won’t cost you anymore than it would otherwise.
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Paperback
Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Paperback
The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People – Kindle Edition
Main image by meddygarnet
14 replies on “Clear-Minded Classics #1: The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People”
Milo, thank you so much for The Clear-minded Creative – you’re whistling my tune. It’s exactly the support and inspiration I need as voluntary redundancy (from the public service) approaches in June.
I thought my job was a means to a more creative end when I started 10 years ago – a way to return to Scotland after some years in the south of England and get involved in Edinburgh life. But after only a few years doing non-creative work, I lost sight of the end that the means no longer justified.
All this is changing. Come June I will fling myself out on a limb and begin to live more creatively and excitingly, earning my living as a copywriter. I’m charting my journey on my blog, The Redundancy Experiment. It’s currently more of a blogging experiment, but I’m working on the structure and purpose. And I’m taking inspiration from you.
Hi Nicola, congratulations on your voluntary redundancy, I won’t pretend I’m not jealous!
It sounds like you already have a great plan for how you’re going to make a living once you leave, and I can’t wait to read about it on your blog. I’m sure we can inspire each other!
Milo, this is brilliant.
I’m going to buy ‘The Career Guide for Creative and Unconventional People’, by Carol Eickleberry (or hire it from the library to help protest against the cuts). Explains a lot!
Another really good book I’ve read is ‘Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative’, by Ken Robinson http://www.amazon.com/Out-Our-Minds-Learning-Creative/dp/1841121258
It goes into the history of learning and the school system and the problems of people being categorised. In the enlightenment great discoveries were being made in art, science, philosophy and people discussed and explored all these ideas at once, we weren’t catagorised as artist, or scientist back then. E.G. Leonardo da vinci
It also advocates finding the thing you love and doing it. It highlights research that shows this leads to improvement in attainment all other areas, for example if a child struggles with maths or writing, instead of spending lots of time trying to correct that, they are encouraged to do the thing they love and are good at (whatever that might be, dancing, art, football, music) then their attainment in all other areas rises (along with their self confidence and self worth). Why aren’t we doing this?
It also points out the UK’s makes most money in terms of export from the creative industries (including gaming) and asks why are children often discouraged from taking creative subjects at school and told they are not ‘useful’ when clearly they are.
And 8/10 8 year olds will be in jobs that have not yet been invented anyway so creativity and an ability to adapt, think for yourself, be enterprising is certainly required.
Knowledge is expanding too fast for us to keep up through traditional learning. That’s why I respect what the curriculum for excellence is trying to do in school, teach children the life skills needed to adapt, contribute, care and be confident.
Sounds great Emily, will definitely be reading that. In many ways this blog is about education, but about educating ourselves. But I could do a whole other blog about the education system itself – maybe it’s something I can explore in the future.
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“Many creative people look like chronic malcontents to outsiders, because they are always searching for what can be improved.”
couldn’t agree more! next article idea: how to handle the uncreatives in your life who just don’t understand.
Great idea Nicole. I take it you can’t just avoid them? 😉
Hi there, as I told Aunty Emily yesterday, that was really interesting, thanks for sharing! Carol Eickleberry’s book is really good and I will definitely check out Out of Our Minds. There’s another one (more career focused than education) called Finding Square Holes by Anita Houghton that’s very useful too 🙂 x
Thanks Hazel! Glad you liked the post and will definitely add the Anita Houghton book to my list – I need all the advice I can get 😉
Many thanks for stopping by and commenting!
Ah . . . one of the rubs is thinking non-conventionally about a non-conventional job. That in itself can be one of the hardest things.
Thanks Mike – the trick is definitely bringing creative thinking to absolutely everything about your life, including the way you think about things! But then you know that already, your drawings are proof 😉
Found your post when researching ‘creative and unconventional’ on google… I remember flipping through this book once when I worked part-time in a remaindered bookstore, and realising ‘oh – she’s talking about me!’ So now I’m in the final project of my art foundation course (at the age of 50) and my title is ‘but different’.
Do you mind if I use some of your post as research for my essay? It’s exploring my journey, and links between mental health and creativity, etc.
No worries Jo, please do use it as long (as you credit the blog obviously) and I’d be interested in reading your finished essay 🙂