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Work • Purpose

The Creative Itch

For many of us, our strongest and at the same time vaguest desire is to be more creative. And when we think about what it would mean to be creative, we arrive at a dauntingly fixed range of jobs.

We might be visually creative: and so identify that we want to be a painter, photographer, film-maker, designer or architect.

We might be intellectually creative: and so want to be a novelist, journalist or academic.

We might be musically creative: and so want to start a band.

Or we might be sensorily creative: and so want to start a restaurant.

The problem is that securing any of these jobs is – statistically speaking – almost impossible. We end up blocked, sure of what we want to be, yet also unable to break into our chosen field.

We end up with what we call a fixation – rather than simply an interest – to signal the mixture of inner certainty and outer impossibility.

The solution to such fixations lies in coming to understand more closely what we are really creatively interested in because the more accurately and precisely we fathom what we truly care about, the more we stand to discover that our creative interests and their associated pleasure-points actually exist in a far broader range of occupations than we have until now been used to entertaining.

It is a certain lack of understanding of what we are really after – and therefore a relatively standard and obvious reading of the job market – that pushes us into a far narrower tunnel of options than is warranted.

When we properly grasp what draws us to one creative job, we stand to identify qualities that are available in other kinds of employment as well. What we really love isn’t this specific job, but a range of themes we have first located there, normally because this job was the most conspicuous example of a repository of them – which is where the problem started because over-conspicuous jobs tend to attract too much attention, get over-subscribed and are then in a position to offer only very modest salaries.

Yet, in reality, the qualities can’t only exist there. They are necessarily generic and will be available under other, less obvious guise – once we know how to look.

Imagine the person who has become heavily invested in the idea of becoming a journalist. The very word ‘journalist’ has become a coveted badge that captures everything they feel they want. From a young age, the job suggested glamour and stimulation, excitement and dynamism. They got used to parents and uncles and aunts referring to them as future journalists. However, the sector now happens to be in terminal decline and pitiably over-subscribed. A block and angst results.

The recommended move is to pause the fruitless job search and unpaid internships and ask oneself what might truly be appealing in one’s intuitive excitement around journalism. What are the pleasures one is really seeking here – and might they exist somewhere else, and somewhere more favourable, in the world of work?

We’re prone to a very natural vagueness here. We often just like the broad sound of a given job. But if we pursue the pleasure-point analysis, we start to prise off the lid and look more assiduously at the pleasures on offer. Once scrutinised, we might find that journalism offers some of the following pleasures: an ability to engage with serious political and sociological issues, to analyse policy, to write up thoughts with elegance and to be respected for one’s critical powers.

Once such elements are clarified, it becomes clear that they cannot be uniquely connected to the sector we call journalism. The combination can’t only exist – and isn’t only needed – in newspapers and magazines. It’s not really tied to any particular sector. The qualities can, and do, turn up in a lot of other places. For instance, a financial investment firm might have a huge need to analyse emerging markets and explain their potential and their possible weaknesses to clients; a university might need to analyse and understand changes in its competitive environment and explain these in clear and compelling ways to its staff; an oil company might need to analyse its future likely employment needs and convey this to its recruitment teams around the world. These industries don’t sit under the heading of journalism – but they all have needs and opportunities which in fact offer exactly the same pleasures which were initially and rather superficially associated with journalism.

Investigation reveals that the pleasures we are seeking are more mobile than initially supposed. They don’t have to be pursued only in the world of the media, they may be more accessible, more secure and more financially rewarding when pursued in quite different sectors of the economy.

This is not an exercise in getting us to give up on what we really want. The liberating move is to see that what we want exists in places beyond those we had identified.

The same analysis could be run around teaching. This doesn’t – it turns out – have to be done in a primary or high school; one might be in essence a teacher in an aeronautics conglomerate (you have to teach new recruits about the nature of the industry) or a wealth management firm (you have to teach executives about how to deal with difficult clients). Or, someone who was fixated on politics might realise that the pleasures they seek (influencing societal outcomes) are as much available (and better rewarded and more consequential) in a job with the the tourist board or an oil exploration company. This can look like a climbdown only if we don’t understand well-enough what we are actually looking for.

The surprising, liberating side of a creative pleasure-point analysis is that it reveals that it can never be a particular industry sector that is the key to finding a job we can love. Because when properly understood a creative pleasure is – thankfully – generic and can, therefore, truly turn up in many different and initially unexpected places.

Careful knowledge of what we love sets us free to love more widely.

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